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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Art students protest the closure of the Viking Union Gallery

By Jack Taylor and Katja Tunkkari

Confusion and uncertainty over the Viking Union Art Gallery continues to worry art students.

Art students gathered in Red Square to protest the closing of the VU Art Gallery on Wednesday, Feb. 28, in attempt to garner attention toward the issue and with hopes of a resolution, protest organizer Kat Varela said.

Art student Mikah Washburn said the protest came together quickly.

“This kind of came to a head after fall when one of our students met with some faculty and VU administrators to talk about the VU gallery,” Washburn said.  “It became apparent that there was no plan for it. So we realized that we needed to get something happening.”

“We’re trying to convey that we’re literally out of options,” senior Mikah Washburn (pictured) said. // Photo by Taylor Nichols

Previous reporting by The Western Front found that long term plans for the VU Gallery had not been determined, and the chair of the art and art history department said there had been a lack of transparency. The Front also found that a petition by art students contained an incorrect claim that funding from the gallery would go to the Ethnic Student Center.

Washburn said he believes the space where the art gallery currently is will be turned into a variable use space after construction is complete, rather than back to an art gallery.

Western senior and art student Kat Valerla helped plan the protest in Red Square today. The planning took two weeks, Varela said.

The students’ effort to preserve the  VU Art Gallery will likely continue throughout the Viking Union renovation, which is scheduled to last 18 months. Varela said they will continue to advocate for a secure location for the gallery until construction is complete and a suitable location has been determined.

Due to the longevity of the effort to locate a new home for the VU Gallery, Varela emphasized the importance of involving younger art students such as freshman and sophomores.

The petition to “Save VU Gallery” has amassed over 950 signatures. // Photo by Taylor Nichols

As seniors like Varela graduate and leave, the younger members of the group will be integral to the success of preserving the gallery, Varela said.

Student support for the gallery is key to keeping the gallery alive, protestor Serena Southwick said. She commented on students approaching them and wanting to sign the petition.

“There are 950 signatures, and there are still more people who say they will sign it today,” Southwick said.

Washburn said collaboration will be essential in providing a space for art to be displayed.

“What would be amazing is if we were able to coordinate with other student organizations around the fine and performing arts like design club or dance club, to make a joint arts space that could be usable for performances and exhibitions,” Washburn said.

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