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.”
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:
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.