TU community brings art to public spaces through digital, outdoor exhibitions

By Rebecca Kirkman on October 20, 2020

International art festival kicks off collaboration between College of Fine Arts & Communication and H&H Arts Building in Baltimore’s Bromo Arts District

People sit on stools outside a window display at night
Visitors experience work by Towson University theatre arts MFA students as part of the international art show Art Prospect at the H&H Arts Building in Baltimore on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth)

Artwork by Towson University College of Fine Arts & Communication (COFAC) students, faculty and staff will be on view in Baltimore’s Bromo Arts District beginning Oct. 23.

A collaboration between COFAC and The French Companies, which manages the H&H Arts Building at the intersection of N. Eutaw and Franklin streets, makes the exhibitions possible.

“Occupy Now,” will feature work from a wide range of COFAC faculty, staff and students alongside artists who live and work in the H&H Arts Building from Oct. 23 to Dec. 15.

Led by theatre arts assistant professor and COFAC CoLab curator Tavia La Follette, the “Occupy Now” exhibition provides the opportunity for the COFAC CoLab, an incubator for ideas, projects and collaboration, to move its work downtown and reach a wider audience.

“I am delighted that the COFAC CoLab students and faculty have the opportunity to present their work in the thriving Bromo Arts and Entertainment District,” says Dean Regina Carlow. “CoLab was designed to be an incubator for ideas, projects and collaborations across the college, and so this new partnership with The French Companies allows TU’s arts and communication students to have a new laboratory in an important arts collective in downtown Baltimore.” 

“Occupy Now” includes works by art history lecturer Ada Pinkston, theatre arts assistant professor Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe and theatre arts academic program coordinator Katie Simmons-Barth with sound by music assistant professor Diana Saez. The exhibition also includes Black Lives Matter and voting posters created by graphic design students as well as “The End is Near: The Nation’s Cartoonists Look at the 2020 Election,” a project from the COFAC CoLab curated by Gary Huck and featuring work by more than 30 artists. There will also be sound and live performance by COFAC Innovator-in-Residence Shodekeh. 

“The name ‘Occupy Now’ is designed to be as charged and provocative as the work it encompasses,” La Follette explains. “The art and the artists ask the viewers to be alive and present in the moment. To recognize and participate in this cultural shift—an evolution in humanity. To make sure that we never return to pre-pandemic normal. To own our past in order to break inherited conflict and bias. And to vote!”

This type of interdisciplinary collaboration benefits students, too.

“COFAC faculty and staff involved in ‘Occupy Now’ embody a powerful art-for-social-change collective representing music, dance, theatre, design and education,” Carlow says. “This rich collaboration benefits our students as they encounter and work alongside world-class faculty and staff artists from Towson University.”

Viewers may interact with the exhibition in person outdoors from dusk to sunrise along N. Eutaw Street or digitally through the COFAC CoLab. During a live virtual panel on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m., the artists will discuss the importance of their work in these times. The “Occupy Now” window unveiling will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on October 23. For more information and to register, visit the COFAC CoLab website.

The partnership with The French Companies began with the international festival Art Prospect, which featured digital performance pieces by members of the MFA in Theatre Arts program projected in the H&H Arts Building windows from Oct. 15 to 18.

Art Prospect showcased work by more than 50 artists in 23 cities and 13 countries in an online–offline format around the theme “Treasure Hunt.” Since 2012, the festival has filled public spaces around the globe with contemporary art. It was founded by the nonprofit organization CEC ArtsLink, which promotes international communication and understanding through collaborative, innovative arts projects. 

In Baltimore, “Exposure” examined disparities brought to light during the novel coronavirus pandemic through digital works by TU theatre arts MFA students Theresa Columbus, Skyler Fort and Megan Lovely. It was one of only 10 Art Prospect exhibitions in the U.S. and the only one in Maryland.

The exhibited work grew out of an assignment in a graduate ensemble class taught by La Follette.

“I asked the students to bring in work around something that they had been reflecting on and was representative of the times we are living in,” says La Follette, who also served as the curator for “Exposure.” “In the U.S., the pandemic has exposed disparities in the country that can no longer be ignored, from the racial reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement to health care and food disparities. Each participant has a digital performative draft of a societal critique that lays bare what was not so transparent in the past.”

Exhibiting in the Art Prospect festival offered the MFA cohort students, who embarked on their graduate studies during a pandemic, a “unique international cultural opportunity,” La Follette says.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.