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Annual MFA thesis exhibition opens downtown

There was a large turnout to see what students presented for their MFA projects. There was a large turnout to see what students presented for their MFA projects. PHOTO COURTESY — LAUREN SCHARF

On Saturday April 6, the 2013 MFA Thesis Exhibition opened at the Star Store building in New Bedford, featuring the work of this year's 17 graduates of the MFA (Master's of Fine Arts) program of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The opening was a tremendous success, drawing in an estimated crowd of over 500 people within just two hours.

The exhibition was curated by first-year gallery director Viera Levitt who, while having curated over 70 shows in Europe and the United States, stated that this was her first experience collaborating with students to this degree. In a written statement at the beginning of the exhibition catalog, she said, "(The show) seems like a musical ensemble, with various instruments playing different 'tunes' together and yet, it is clear that unity will be created, magic will happen, and the entire first floor of the Star Store campus will resound with creativity." In her previous curatorial work, Levitt chose the artists as well as the pieces to be featured. However, with this show, "It's not about my personal taste; it's about helping each of the 17 students to present their work in the best way possible," she said.

In the small enclosed space of Gallery 244, student Laura Ryan assembled her installation, which explores the physicality of light and how we understand time. She took a series of photographs set at one-minute intervals over a period of 24 hours – which are then played back at two, five, or ten per second – of a blank wall set near a window, showing the changing natural light source over the course of a day. For the MFA show, these images are projected onto the four walls of this darkened gallery space.

"I'm very happy with the way the exhibition turned out," Ryan said. "My installation turned out more or less how I planned it – and better in some respects – and I'm absolutely thrilled." Viera Levitt was particularly impressed with Ryan's work ethic, stating that Ryan knew exactly what she wanted to do as early as last November. "It's great to see someone so dedicated and motivated," Levitt said. Over the course of the three weeks students were given to install their work for the show, Ryan worked over 50 hours per week to ensure that everything was in place for the opening. After obtaining her MFA in Photography (Visual Design), she will begin working as a graphic designer for a marketing company in Dartmouth while attending part-time school in Boston to become an art librarian.

At the reception, Levitt was assisted by two of her student interns, Cassandra Quillen and Allison Latina. Quillen, who is a graduate student in UMass Dartmouth's Professional Writing Program, said, "I noticed a real sense of community at this exhibition – undergrads supporting grad students, faculty members supporting their students, the pinning ceremony – I think this support within the CVPA created a really wonderful atmosphere."

Like Levitt and Quillen, CVPA Dean Adrian Tió was very pleased with the outcome of the show. Having served as Dean for the past six years, he marveled at the uniqueness of each year's MFA exhibition. "Every year when I think I've seen it all, they put on an entirely different show – it's a new exhibition every year," he said.

"Yes and no," Tió said, when asked whether he thought that the arrival of a new gallery director played a role in creating a distinctive show. "Each gallery director creates different visual dialogues," he said; however, it is ultimately the different group of graduating students each year who are responsible for the final outcome.

Lindsay Miś, a Jewelry/Metals student in the MFA Artisanry Program, combines mixed media – including digital technology, metal, wood, and paint – to create her sculptures and installation pieces. In preparing for the opening of the show, she worked extensively with her thesis advisor, Professor Susan Hamlet, and Viera Levitt. The determining factor in assembling her body of work was figuring out where it was going to go, eventually deciding on a corner of the Star Store lecture hall. "Anytime you show your work in a new space, you have to prepare your work to fit into that space," she said, describing the difficulty and time consumption of this process. Following her graduation this spring, Miś plans to pursue a career as an art educator and advocate of the arts. She is extremely passionate about promoting the arts and "keeping it a part of day-to-day life for people who aren't artists."

Kelly Jean Conroy, a student from the same program as Miś, likewise struggled with figuring out how to best display her work. She showcased several handmade necklaces constructed from an assortment of materials, including bronze, flowers, mother of pearl, carved bones, and dead vireos. In Conroy's opinion, the biggest struggle with displaying jewelry is ensuring that the pieces do not "get lost in the room" due to the reason that they are significantly smaller than the works featured by her classmates. Having obtained a BFA in Art Education and Painting from Syracuse University, Conroy plans to return to teaching after her graduation, while continuing her passion for jewelry by making and selling unique pieces. "I intend to use the skills learned in school and transfer it into making wearable jewelry," she said.

Ceramics (Artisanry) student Ryan Blackwell exhibited his vibrant, minimalistic furniture designs along a wall in the Star Store gallery. Like Miś and Conroy, Blackwell worked incredibly hard to make the show a success, clocking in a total of 1,300 studio hours over the course of the past academic year. He was pleased with the final product, stating that his work "visually and conceptually shaped up really nicely." Blackwell described the show as "strong" and was content with the end result, noting the challenge of creating an exhibition with 17 different artists and no unifying theme besides graduation from the program. After completion of his MFA, he intends to move to New York City and begin a new career as an art educator while continuing to work in the studio.

"Relieved," said Susan Bauer, an MFA student in Painting (Fine Arts), when asked how she felt about the overall outcome of the show. Bauer began her body of work last year and selected a series of oil paintings for the exhibition, which depict an array of personal apparel, including a pink robe, a yellow dress, silver pumps, and men's wingtip shoes. "I'm very satisfied with my interpretation of color," she said, crediting Professor Suzanne Schireson as being instrumental in the development of this aspect of her work. Bauer estimated an amount of 25+ hours spent in the studio each week during the past academic year, as she strived to perfect her compositions for this show. Following graduation, Bauer's main goal is to "find a job," ideally in either art education or administration. She plans to continue working in her studio, while searching for galleries to showcase her paintings.

The MFA Thesis Exhibition will be on view through Sunday, May 12th on the first floor of the Star Store building in downtown New Bedford, and selections from this collection will be exhibited between June 1st and June 30th at the Soprafina Gallery in Boston. The student artists featured in the show are:

Tracy Anna Bader, Susan Bauer, Ryan Blackwell, Zac Cheng, Kelly Jean Conroy, Brian DiNicola, Allison Elia, Shanth S. Enjeti, Robert L. Greene, Tyler James Hanatow, Charity May Henderson, Edmund J. Merricle II, Lindsay Pauline Miś, Sam Pettengill, Laura Ryan, Brittany Savolainen, Leni Stoeva

The Star Store is open daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM and is free and open to the public, and it is located at 715 Purchase Street, New Bedford. Exhibition catalogs, which feature photographs and student bios, can be purchased during business hours. For more information, visit:,

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