The new University Galleries space in Uptown Normal hadn’t even opened yet, but it already inspired student artist Gina Hunt to think bigger.

Hunt is a painter who recently got a sneak peek of the University Galleries space ahead of its October 17 opening. The third-year M.F.A. student is excited to be creating art for an upcoming exhibition in the space, which features unusually high walls that climb more than 18 feet.

“I’m making larger work,” Hunt said. “I’m thinking about the space in a very specific way.”

That’s exactly what University Galleries Director Barry Blinderman wanted to arouse in Illinois State’s art students as the new space was designed. Years in the making, the new University Galleries at Uptown Station is now set for its grand opening, anchored by an expansive exhibition of painter Walter Robinson’s work that runs through December. The M.F.A. Biennial, including Hunt’s work, opens in January.

Moving from its former home in the Center for the Visual Arts (CVA), the new University Galleries now occupies a unique 8,370-square-foot space in the heart of Uptown Normal, at Beaufort and Broadway streets. It’s a partnership between ISU and the town of Normal, from whom the space is leased.

“This is the ultimate expression of town and gown,” said Blinderman, who’s run University Galleries for 27 years. “And we’re going to do our utmost to make the connection between town and the University as strong and fruitful and as engaging as possible.”

Barry Blinderman outside his new space

University Galleries Director Barry Blinderman outside his new space in Uptown Normal.

The gallery’s easy-to-find location is perhaps its greatest feature. In hopes of capturing new visitors, the space features big windows where passers-by can even see exhibitions from the sidewalk. Leaving the old space in CVA was bittersweet, Blinderman said, but the new location is absolutely more accessible.

“We’re thrilled it’s moving, even though it’s leaving our backyard,” said Michael Wille, interim director of the School of Art. “We think we’re going to have an even bigger audience over there.”

University Galleries will be hosting more than just art shows. Tapping into a campus and community full of talent, poetry readings and musical and theatrical performances are already planned for this fall. That means University Galleries could become a social destination for students, Wille said.

“We will host any cultural event here that I think we can handle,” Blinderman said. “That’s how we’re going to succeed.”

And the space can handle a lot. Its modular design can accommodate one larger exhibition—the Robinson retrospective will feature more than 80 pieces—or several smaller ones. Its beautifully muted aesthetic features silvers and grays and embraces its unusual home, with slanted ceilings and exposed ductwork.

There’s a room that will be equipped with projectors for video installations, but it will double as just another place to hang paintings.

“It gives us a lot of flexibility,” Blinderman said. “Every single wall that I can use, I will.”

A space like this is rare for a state university art gallery—closer to what you’d see in the heart of New York City than the heart of Illinois, Wille said. Students won’t have to drive to Chicago to see world-class art.

“By walking 400 yards down the road, they get to see high-caliber art in a state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “We’re going to get a space that’s equal to the caliber of exhibition and (research) that comes out of it.”

Blinderman thanked College of Fine Arts Dean James Major and the Town of Normal for leading efforts to build the new University Galleries. It’s a sign of a thriving town-gown partnership, Major said.

“The University Galleries project symbolizes how both Illinois State and the Town of Normal value the arts,” Major said. “One knows what is valued by how we spend our resources.”

University Galleries will be open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12-4 p.m. on weekends, with special hours for events. For more information, call (309) 438-5487.

See more photos of the new University Galleries ribbon-cutting event October 9 on our Flickr:

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Ryan Denham can be reached at

2 thoughts on “University Galleries opens whole new world for students

  1. B. Jarboe, ISU grad, BS in Art Education, 1980 says:

    Am I understanding correctly that the opening of the new gallery will coincide with the closing of the CVA galleries? I hope not. Though the new gallery is an exciting meld of community and university efforts and accessibility, it is not as accessible to ISU art students. When I was at ISU, I would go to the CVA galleries at least every month, and sometimes more often than that. I did not have access to a car, and there is no way I could have visited a downtown gallery with the same frequency.

    Perhaps the CVA galleries could be used to give more students and teachers an opportunity to display their own works and to see the works of their fellows. That would beat converting the space to offices or class rooms.

  2. Barry Blinderman says:

    Dear B. Jarboe,

    I understand your concern and am happy to assure you that until construction begins in CVA the summer of 2016, Galleries 2 and 3 will continue to house both BFA and MFA solo exhibitions, as well as student- and faculty-curated shows. The main gallery will be a multi-purpose College of Fine Arts space, available by proposal to all for concerts, exhibits, plays, and the like. When the new College Complex opens in 2019 it will feature dedicated student galleries. It is a 5-minute walk from CVA to our new space, and quite frankly, I’ve seen more students in here over the past two weeks than I used to see back in CVA. Also, importantly, students outside the School of Art now are drawn to the accessibility of our new location. I can’t tell you how many times students visiting the new space have told me they always had wanted to visit the CVA galleries but just didn’t.


    Barry Blinderman