Fresh Coat of Paint
Inside the New Third Street Gallery
THREE DAYS BEFORE THE GRAND OPENING of the Humboldt State Third Street Gallery, director Jack Bentley and a group of Humboldt State student curators are working feverishly but wearing a calm demeanor.
They’re in the new home of Humboldt State University’s off-campus gallery, which opened on Oct. 1. On the bottom floor of the revamped Greyhound Hotel on Eureka’s Third Street, it opens into a large gallery with muted light from street-facing windows. It’s an elegant, but unassuming space, with dark wood floors. The move and remodel have been part of a long effort to find a space with more energy efficiency, better public visibility, and a better working space for the students who get hands-on experience in the gallery. Some trim is yet to be finished, and the room smells of paint. Leslie Kenneth Price’s show, “Verano,” is framed on the walls, covered in protective plastic sheeting.
At the back of the room is an entrance into another slightly smaller space with polished concrete floors. This is where four students enrolled in the Art Museum & Gallery Practices certificate program—Juniel Learson, Victor Feyling, Alexia Adams, and Milly Correa—as well as gallery assistant and Art History major Kelsey Dobo have gathered with Bentley to discuss today’s job: hanging the second show that will open the new gallery, Gina Tuzzi’s “The New Mother Nature Taking Over.”
To gain professional experience, students from the certificate program learn curatorial development, exhibition design, conservation, and storage of the University’s permanent collection. They work on temporary exhibits at the on-campus Goudi’ni and Reese Bullen galleries, as well as the HSU Third Street Gallery and other venues around the state and the nation, to gain professional experience. Graduates of the program have gone on to jobs at prestigious galleries and museums around the country.
Price is a retired professor, and once taught Tuzzi, who’s a current lecturer in HSU’s Department of Art. The connection between the generations of the two artists makes a fitting theme for the gallery’s inaugural show.
Price and Tuzzi gave the students carte blanche to design the shows. That includes selecting which pieces will make the cut. Other artists can be very hands-on when it comes to displaying their work. “They’ll stand over the students’ shoulders as they work. And that’s OK—that’s part of the experience also,” Bentley says.
Hanging Price’s show was tricky because there were far more pieces than would fit comfortably in the gallery. Over the course of five hours, the students spotted the show, arguing for the pieces they thought should stay or go, deliberating how to curate thematically while supported by the exhibition design. Eventually, before the students start hanging them, it’s unanimous. Today, the students, with Bentley’s guidance, spot Tuzzi’s show in just about an hour. It was easier, in a way, because they only had to eliminate one piece for space.
This exercise is nothing new. HSU’s fine art gallery sat in the same First Street building for 19 years, hosting decades’ worth of museum and gallery practices students. Bentley works with them, guiding the students in the principles, ethics, methods, and philosophy of museum practices, the production of curatorial materials, and the various tasks necessary to promote, protect, and display art.
Those public materials—essays, videos, and design publications—give students a way to contribute to the gallery, and give them tangible projects to incorporate into their professional portfolios.
WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED that HSU First Street Gallery would move, it was actually the culmination of a years-long search for a new home.
The five-month relocation gave students an opportunity to do another layer of gallery work they hadn’t before: the design and construction of temporary gallery walls.
For nostalgists, the gallery’s move may sting a bit. But Bentley says the move is better in many ways.
For one thing, the gallery will realize big energy savings—upwards of 60 percent.
The new building’s display area is slightly smaller, but the new gallery features something they’d previously gone without: a workshop area. Being able to prep shows behind the scenes will make the viewing experience better for visitors, and give students a more realistic taste of the museum experience.
Finally, Third Street is closer to daily foot traffic, Bentley says. It is in the thick of the Old Town commercial district, and they expect more drop-in tourists and community members in the new location.
If opening night had any bearing, the gallery’s new location didn’t hurt it. Mingling among city and University bigwigs were students, artists, and others eager to see the new space and the opening shows.
To learn more about the gallery,
visit its website at humboldt.edu/third