Art exists all around us. That is especially true on Chapman’s campus. With the chaos of our academic schedules, we often don’t stop to engage with that aspect of our surroundings as we’re constantly running back and forth from classes, meetings, sports, and other extracurriculars. Perhaps you have stopped to look at the art, but have you ever really stopped to think about it? Engage with it? Or spark a conversation with a friend about it? Maybe you have, but before you could truly express your perspective you stopped out of fear of criticism because you “didn’t get it? Whatever the reason may be, art should not intimidate or stop conversation, it should engender moments of thought, reflection, and yes opinion. A common misconception is often that the art world is a highly complex space and therefore works of art are confined to one or a few interpretations. In reality, anyone can discuss art well and there are multiple emotions and opinions that can be attached to one single piece of art. Few of us, however, look at it long enough to be able to do so.
That concept is what sparked the idea for the Panther Perspectives project. Panther Perspectives is an initiative conceived of by Creative and Cultural Industries (CCI) faculty, Dr. Jamie Larkin in his Introduction to Museum Studies class last spring 2021. Before the pandemic, the course included several field trips to area museums and exposure to the university's art collections. With this in mind Dr.Larkin wanted to integrate a project that helped students remain engaged, motivated, & learning during COVID-19.
Students heard from several guest speakers, one of whom was Dr. Veronica Alvarez, Wallis Annenberg Director of Community Arts Partnership at California Institute of the Arts, who spoke to the class on the many issues that various demographic groups face in attending museums and the issues of interpretation that come with that. Dr. Alvarez also suggested ways in which community members can feel more welcome and valued in creative spaces. So when developing Panther Perspectives, the main goal of the project revolved around the objective of encouraging the students in the class to engage with the art on campus in a meaningful way. In addition, the project helps the audience to realize that all interpretations of art are valued and there is more than one approach to everything. Dr. Larkin explains “once you begin to actively think about [art], and once you’ve had the opportunity to actually say what you think, and feel as though your interpretation is valid, then perhaps you will look at [art] a bit more and engage with it long enough to spark your interest to visit an actual museum.”
CCI students who worked on the project were first asked to analyze and research a specific art piece displayed in the Keck Center for Science and Engineering in order to familiarize themselves with the origin, artist, and the artist’s message behind their chosen piece. Jessica Bocinski, Registrar of The Escalette Collection of Art, explains “that each building displays artwork from the Escalette Collection that relates to the academic area of study of that building. For the Keck Center, the art is either directly inspired by a particular scientific theory or idea or seeks to explain how art and science are more similar than different.” For the second part of the project students were given the option to voice record, video tape, or be as creative as they wanted in their interpretation of a chosen art piece. Finally students placed a sticker with a scannable QR code next to the artwork. When scanned the student’s chosen method of interpretation can be watched or listened to via smartphone.
The Wilkinson College's Escalette Permanent Collection of Art was chosen to be a part of this project because it is the largest collection of art on Chapman’s campus. Its pieces can be found hanging inside and outside every campus building, displayed in public spaces, and scattered all throughout common student spaces. The Escalette Collection has been a distinct part of every student's academic experience at Chapman, whether we’ve come to realize it or not. As referenced on their website, since its inception around ten years ago, “The Escalette Collection as a unit of the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences has existed to inspire critical thinking, foster interdisciplinary discovery, and strengthen bonds with the community. Its core mission is to enrich Chapman’s campus with contemporary works of art that inspire a powerful cross-pollination of ideas.” Often referred to as “a museum without walls,” the Escalette Collection has the same standards as a museum, the same mission and goals as a museum but with the exception of an enclosed space. Bocinski explains that “the best part of being able to display art in this way is that the art is accessible to anyone on campus and in the wider community. People who may not feel comfortable going into a museum or may not feel like art and museum spaces are for them can simply walk around campus and see really amazing art.”
Images Courtesy of Wilkinson College's Escalette Permanent Collection of Art.
Currently the project is solely being produced in Dr. Larkin’s Museum Studies course which runs in the spring semester. However in the future he hopes “that the project will expand to become an initiative that everyone in the Chapman community can be a part of”, and eventually expand to include the public’s perspective if that proves to be feasible. Moving forward Dr. Larkin is excited about the possibility of perspectives being recorded in a diverse set of languages and visuals to increase inclusivity as a reflection of the whole Chapman community.
In closing Bocinski points out, “there are staff who have worked at Chapman for ten years and walk by the same artwork ten times a day and have never stopped to figure out what it means or why it’s there. So there’s a service we need to perform to help people engage with the environment they’ve been living in for so many years.” When speaking on what success for this project looks like for the community at large, Bocinski ends with this thought: “If people can first realize that the art is there, and second of all feel like they have art in a space that is inclusive of them and values what they bring to the table– whether that be their background, experience, memories and thoughts, to the point where they feel comfortable engaging with art, then we have done our job."
Dr. Larkin will be continuing this project with his Introduction to Museum Studies class (CCI 204/AH 204) in Spring 2022. In the meantime you can experience the first installments of Panther Perspective featuring the Escalette Collection in the Keck Center for Science and Engineering or listen here, and view the extended collection displayed all throughout campus.