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New art gallery directors aim to share works
that will inspire the campus community

Sept. 20, 2013

The 2013-14 academic year is now underway at the Community College of Rhode Island, with students and faculty alike adjusting to new faces, new challenges and new routines. For Assistant Professors Shawn Parker and Ricardo Rivera of the Art Department, the adjustment has also included new roles; Parker just began his appointment as the gallery director at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln, and Rivera is beginning his first full year, having started his term this spring, at the same post at the Knight Campus in Warwick. While the two have divergent backgrounds and diverse experience informing their teaching philosophies, they share a common goal: to curate work and bring in artists that will educate and inspire not just students, but their entire campus communities.

Shawn Parker: Thrilled by history

Shawn ParkerParker recalled that his father always encouraged him to play sports. “I didn’t really want to do it,” he admitted. “I’ve always been interested in arts, and so I’d fit those classes and activities in when I got home from baseball.”

Thankfully for Parker, his father wasn’t so set on him being the next Babe Ruth that he wasn’t supportive of his passions. When Parker’s Woodstock, Conn., high school eliminated its arts program because of budget cuts, his parents stepped in to make sure that the budding artist still had the chance to take private lessons. He found another serendipitous outlet when a new neighbor – who just happened to be a director at Christie’s Auction House – moved in to a weekend house down the street. Parker, who did some yard work for his neighbors, was referred to this erstwhile mentor, who hired him to take care of his plants while he was away. He also gave Parker access to a “huge art library,” which planted the seed in his mind that art history could be a viable program of study. When he left for college, he jumped at the chance to combine his affinity for art with his long-simmering love of history.

“I’ve always been interested in history as well,” said Parker, explaining how he came to be interested in art history. “Being able to develop a sense of the immediate moment, but also understanding all the connections and roots of things. And art attempts to communicate this history visually; those kinds of connections just thrill me.”

Once he knew that art history was a path that was available to him, he jumped at the chance to further his education, attending graduate school at Binghamton University (then SUNY-Binghamton). He still made his own art – mainly woodcarving and pottery – in his own time. After graduating, Parker went on to work in museums, “most often working in public programs and education, often in collaboration with curators,” he said.

This, no doubt, prepared Parker for his time teaching at CCRI, which began in 2010 as an adjunct instructor teaching art history. He’s been full time at the college now for a year and a half, and teaches classes in art history as well as some introductory studio classes. In his new position, Parker said he hopes to first build a sense of community and connection for students within CCRI, developing connections with one another and across disciplines; to give outside artists an understanding and connection to CCRI so that he may use those relationships to educate the CCRI community; and, finally, to give artists at CCRI access to outside artists in Rhode Island and beyond.

In an economy where arts funding for schools can still be challenging – something Parker knows well from his personal experience – he said that it’s still extremely important to teach art and art history as part of a well-rounded education.

“Visual communication is part of absolutely everything that we do, and in order to compete in the world, there’s great value in being able to communicate visually and also to communicate critically about what we see,” said Parker. “In visual arts classes or art history classes there’s always a process of identifying what you see, what’s going on and reaching conclusions about something. So even if it comes to something like health care, for instance, students at CCRI come here to train for a diagnostic process. It’s all verbalization and thinking intelligently and skillfully.”

Ricardo Rivera: Drawn in by drawing

Ricardo RiveraRivera, a California native who began his work at the college last spring, came into art later in life while taking classes at Sacramento City College, a community college in his hometown. He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and a professor of his in an art class said that he had a clear talent for drawing.

After taking some art history classes, he transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he earned both his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary art (“But mostly painting and drawing,” he said), and his master’s in sculpture and drawing. To support himself while practicing his own art – an eclectic mix of interactive social sculpture and creative use of technology – he has taught drawing and digital arts as an adjunct at schools such as Stanford University,the City College of San Francisco and University of California, Berkeley.

When he’s not teaching or working on programming for the gallery space, Rivera remains active in his own work, which consists primarily of “trying to animate 3-D models with natural movements” as well as documenting his own actions in the public sphere. Most recently, that’s translated to an attempt to become invisible, in a way. “Coming here as someone who is unfamiliar with the environment and people, I wanted to become invisible. But that’s more of a personal thing. On a bigger scale, I was looking at it in terms of what’s going on with immigration and outsiders and how some people are just not accepting,” he explained.

To accomplish this feat, Rivera constructed a reflective Mylar suit, cape and mask that he wore in public – first in San Francisco and then at a beach in Massachusetts. His next stop will be Providence, where he will continue to use photographs to document public reception to his invisibility.

This kind of creativity, playfulness and interactivity is apparent in the work that Rivera does with his students as well as the work that he hopes to attract to the gallery. “I want to bring artists in that are going to be beneficial to the students; stuff that they wouldn’t see other places,” he explained. “I want to think of the gallery as a learning space rather than trying to say, ‘Oh, this is the best art,’” he said.

To that end, he’s bringing in more unconventional shows, such as one designed by Joy Garnett, an artist who has collected a database of pictures that students can experience and respond to, creating their own work based on the random images that Garnett has captured. “I’m really interested in creating social interaction where students become more engaged,” he added. “Not just coming in and responding visually, but actually, physically, being a part of what’s going on in the gallery.”

Like Parker, Rivera recognizes the importance of CCRI’s gallery spaces as part of a holistic – and accessible – approach to education. He noted that, were it not for the encouragement of a friend (and then later, his professor), he never would have found that exposure to the art world. “One of the great things about a community college is that you have the ability to look at a wide range of things and then change your mind if you want. Math and sciences get a lot of attention in economic innovation, but artists are important, too. They’re the ones that have the capacity to think in a divergent way and go outside the scope of what’s already known. That’s why I think it’s important to teach arts at a community college, and at every level,” he said.


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