VCU Launches Art Research Institute

The VCUarts program held the grand opening of the VCU’s Arts Research Institute (ARI) at the VCUarts Depot Oct 2.

The ARI was created to be a resource specifically to help VCU school of the Arts faculty with research development. This includes finding funding for research, building partnerships and collaborations that allow them to expand their work and develop interdisciplinary work.

Salem Tsegaye, the Assistant Director for the ARI,  said that the Institute is a place where artist also can engage more with their environment and in turn create an open discussion about various ways art can impact people’s lives.

“My experience taught me that raising fund for any project is always challenging no matter what discipline but I think for artists in particular time is so precious,” Tsegaye said. “Our faculty are artists as well as professors with loads of time consuming administrative work so we want to help carry the burden [of funding research] and let them do their creative work.”

Currently, the ARI features eight VCU faculty: Michael-Birch Pierce, Guadalupe Maravilla, Pamela Lawton, Bob Paris, Susanna Klein, Nicole Killian, Gaynell Sherrod and Sasha Waters Freyer. The work of these artists incorporate several art mediums including interactive multimedia films, kinetic image, fiber based sculptures, fashion, graphic design and dance.

“We’re going to try to rotate the faculty we showcase every semester but we’re starting out with just trying to rotate it annually,” said Tsegaye.

Tsegay joined VCU’s initiative to create the ARI in June 2016. Previously, she worked at the New York Community Trust where she managed the New York City Cultural Fund which supports arts advocacy and cultural policy and equity.

“We want to forge new partners with departments in the university that are non-art so we are trying to work with education and health fields and create large scale projects,” Tsegaye said.

The ARI’s open-concept office and exhibit space was created by the Institute’s’ inaugural research fellow Debbie Quick and VCU interior design faculty member Roberto Ventura. It features large, floor-to-ceiling posters in the center of the room.

Each poster has a photo of the artist or designer taken as they work on their specific branch of art and is accompanied with a quote on how they define research.

Throughout opening night of ARI around 100 guests roamed around the gallery and actively interacted with the various arts mediums shows in the exhibit space.

Majority of work featured was created by the ARI’s inaugural batch of featured faculty — j ust as the artists and their form of mediums range in the diversity, the types of art present at the ARI was diversified as well and included paintings, hung installments, films and forms of kinetic imaging.

An exception to this is the ARI’s Living Lab which will be given to VCU faculty on a more regular basis. Currently, John Freyer’s exhibit, Free Hot Coffee’s the exception. The piece is an active art project in collaboration with Rams in Recovery where JohnFreyers gives free coffee on campus and uses the communal aspects of coffee-making to show how community can help people struggling with addiction.

The ARI has been in the works for a couple of years. Sarah Cunningham, Director of the ARI and Executive Director for VCUarts Research, independently worked with VCU arts faculty width of helping them find research funding and work collaborations. In many ways the ARI is an extension of Cunningham’s work.

“We want to bring our artists and designers into the world in more socially engaged ways,” Tsegaye said. “Being a public urban university we are accountable to the issues around us and so what role does the artist or designer play in this?”


Siona Peterous, Spectrum Editor

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