Student art gallery shares upcoming events, history

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Photo courtesy of Jalen Sims ART EXPANSION–The S.A.G is currently working a couple workshops, where students can attend to get more involved in the organization. Much like the first S.A.G. location, the library location offers great views directly into the gallery.

Sophia Huhta

Whether it’s a pathway from one building to the next or an area to study, the Olson Library has offered students an outlet in more ways than one. A little known escape for students is the Student Art Gallery, or SAG, which is featuring three different shows this semester and is seeking more student involvement.

SAG promotes student art in a professional setting. While the gallery is located on the main floor of the Lydia M. Olson Library, they would often host a pop-up show every semester at the Ore Dock Brewing Co., said Jalen Sims, director of SAG. Sims is a senior majoring in graphic design.

“We would have 20 different artists come out and they’d be able to sell their artwork for a night,” said Sims. “Any and all NMU students are able to submit artwork, even if they are not an art major. It’s really just a space dedicated to them … It’s something they can put on their resume.”

The idea of the gallery is to encourage creation beyond class assignments and to engage people outside of the art major, said Frances Dykema, SAG assistant director and art education major.

“I really wish people knew they were welcome,” said Dykema. “I want people to feel free, to not only stop by but to submit their own work.”

SAG previously held a mixed media exhibition in which many woodworking majors entered lamps made out of cardboard. Both Dykema and Sims named the lamp pieces as some of their favorites.

“The current showcase, ‘Self-Portrait’ which is being shown until Feb. 26, features works from students on who they are or who they think they are,” said Sims. 

The gallery is currently taking submissions until Feb. 26 for the upcoming showing, “Movement”. The showing is for artwork that moves or captures movement, which will be shown from Feb. 5 to Feb. 26. During this time, they will be accepting submissions for another showing, “Unconventional”, that will show Feb. 26 to Mar. 19. 

“The idea of “Unconventional” is to make artwork that is not based on or conforming to what is normally done or believed,” said Dykema.

Students can submit their work to the gallery by bringing it to the gallery and filling out a form and turning it into the S.A.G. or submitting online. Submissions are only $1, according to Sims.

SAG has a long history at Northern. The gallery started out in the 1980s as a small group of students and faculty members decided to put up walls one weekend in the hallway that connects McClintock and the Thomas Fine Arts building to create their own space for an art gallery. Come Monday, when the building administrator saw what happened, they were shut down, said former longtime faculty advisor, Dale Wedig, professor of art and design, who advised the gallery for about 20 years.

But creativity cannot be shut down. Although they had to take apart their impromptu art show, the gallery became somewhat of a discussion on campus, until it became an approved student organization. The first showing took place in the ‘80s, according to Wedig.

“By ‘86, we had a space in the university center upstairs,” said Wedig. “It’s been in existence for a long time.”

When the gallery first opened, SAG’s first location featured a large glass wall, making it easy to view the exhibits just from the hall. In a time when censorship was put under the microscope by the public and the university, the gallery had to find a balance in freedom of expression and whether some things should be censored, according to Wedig.

“The pornography and art question was up,” said Wedig. “Students were pushing the parameters, the buttons, on what they could submit.”

A student had submitted a clay field of phallic objects that some viewers found objectionable. The student claimed they were mushrooms, though Wedig knew the student made the artwork as such just to push the boundaries on what could or could not be done.

“The department came to the defense of freedom of expression,” said Wedig. 

S.A.G. moved when the Northern Center was being renovated to its current location in the Olson Library. The gallery highlights student artworks and gives the ability to students to show their art on campus.

“For some students, they enter something in every show,” said Wedig. “Not all students participate. The participation could be better, there’s no question.”

During the transition process, the gallery was displaced for a while, but the creativity continued. The students took the opportunity to reconnect with community businesses and held off-campus exhibitions to stay active and expand their outreach efforts, said Brian Kakas, an assistant professor of art and design and current faculty advisor for the gallery.

“Being in such a central location for all students has allowed the staff to continually expand outreach and connections with students,” said Kakas. “More foot traffic and expansive programming developed by the student directors has increased the participation of non art majors from all areas of the university.”

As an advisor, Kakas tries to guide, rather than direct, he said. He presents alternative solutions to problems and provides insight to systems and procedures, training on software and equipment and sets up an atmosphere where students can take on leadership roles that will strengthen their voice, he added.

For people interested in working with the gallery as a team member, a form is available on their website. They ask for a cover letter and resume. More information on upcoming events and current staff can be found on the S.A.G. Instagram account.