Art Department: Banner Year

By Abigail Cloutier

University is a formative period in many lives. This is most reflected in the art department, where experimental and transformative works often gain traction.

The opportunity for collaborative work and the intermixing of people from different talents and backgrounds bubbles together like no other place, and this was no more evident than in Teri Frame’s performance, “Whiteface.”

The performance took place in the McDonough Museum of Art April 4 at 5:30 p.m. It featured original music and collaborations from 12 Dana School of Music students and two Dana professors.

The performance began with a brief word from the artist, citing the performance as a statement on whiteness as race beginning in the Renaissance period. Soft classical music played in the background as Teri Frame, dressed in a stark, almost paneled, floor-length white dress, sat on a platform at the center of the dim gallery.

The music rose and fell as she deftly painted her face, neck and hair the same bright white as her dress and surroundings. The music died down and Professor Missy McCormick, assisting with the performance, knelt to press the play button on a Mac by a podium in the center aisle.

“The performance,” Teri explained, “is meant to be viewed as centrally as possible.”  

It soon became clear why, as a projector whirred to life and a play button appeared over Teri’s face. As another ensemble started playing an original composition, Teri transformed into dozens of people throughout history, from famous paintings to flappers to kings to cowboys.

Though her face was vaguely visible under the projections, she aligned nearly perfectly with each image, her eyes bringing their painted or printed ones to life. She moved to align with each image with a practiced grace.

As the projections jumped from famous men and women throughout history, Dana students moved throughout the McDonough, accompanying the performance. Duos and trios of violins and other strings, a solo bagpipe performance and two stunning voice solos spanned the hour-long performance. Yet somehow, the moments of silence between songs were equally as poignant.

But what happened after the performance is truly representative of the collaborative nature of college art and the year the art department has had.

The last projection faded and Teri rose and bowed. All 12 Dana students bowed with her. Audience and performers intermingled and talked in a room full of stunning student art on display after the 83rd Annual Juried Student Art and Design Exhibition.

Wandering and mingling, discussion and blends of thoughts and ideas, telecommunication and journalism students covered and filmed the event, and as a result, also existed as part of the intermingling and collaboration of departments.

Associate Professor Missy McCormick had a similar perspective on the collaborative nature, stating that, “I feel that interdepartmental collaboration is an exciting and rejuvenating process for artists of all levels and media. The experience can be so rewarding, inspiring, and each artist can take a lot away from working outside their comfort zone.”

Performer Teri Frame agreed, noting that collaboration allowed each department to create something that transcended the bounds of their study.

“In this case, interdepartmental collaboration united both students and faculty in order to combine their areas of specialization, such as visual art and music, to support a particular theme that is not limited to either area,” Frame said.

While Frame didn’t have much knowledge of music history or the type of music appropriate for the time frames explored via the projections, she explained, “Professor Cahn-Lipman and his students have a strong understanding of what genres were appropriate for the piece based on the time and context in which they were written.”

This collaboration allowed for a discussion to grow beyond university bounds. McCormick said she hoped that we all go away from our daily experiences and share them with those close to us.

In the end, collaboration and art is all about a discussion and starting a thought process that exists beyond the doors of museums and institutions.

“This performance probably opened many people’s eyes to a broader perspective of race performance, how white face started way before black face and how the race narrative continues to impact us all,” McCormick said. “This performance gives an opportunity to start conversations, to continue the dialogue and to become more informed.”

The McDonough alone has held dozens of art events over the past year, and is scheduled to hold more, including the Spring Graduating BFA Exhibition and the MFA Thesis Exhibition.

The Cliffe College of Creative Arts’ Judith Rae Solomon Gallery has a constant stream of art, including local scholastic competitions and pieces from local high school workshops. The Butler Museum of Art also works with Youngstown State, hosting pieces and classes for the university.

While projects like “Whiteface” represent underground, modern works on commentary, bigger collaborative works like the Federal Frenzy often take the spotlight. The YSU event features a range of artists and mediums, from live art to spoken poetry to sculpture, as well as a range of musicians.

But it isn’t just the art department that has had such a successful year. The theatre department is putting on eight shows for the 2018-2019 season, a diverse array from “Into the Woods” to “How I Learned to Drive” and the annual dance concerts.

A production like “Into the Woods” requires much more than just actors. Musicians put in dozens of hours learning the score for the performance, and artists and set designers put in just as many while painting and building sets to ensure a realistic and entertaining performance.

The music department alone has had dozens of workshops this year and hosted award-winning artists and mentors. Faculty continues to mentor jazz band, pep band, wind ensembles, marching band and more.

Sure, Youngstown State University would still be a fabulous research university with top tier STEM programs, great professors, researchers and faculty without the art department. But the opportunity for exploration, deep thought, artistic presentation and discussion of concepts that are pervasive outside of university doors might be lost.