Creating Meaningful Spaces

By Rachael Powles '22, March 24, 2021
Ithaca College’s Handwerker Gallery is open for business.

On Feb. 24, the neon sign in the window of the Handwerker Gallery lit up for the first time in 11 months. Open for in-person visits once again, Ithaca College’s home for art has been a beacon of perseverance in an uncertain time.

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, the gallery, like the rest of the college, had to adjust quickly. The staff was able to photograph the current exhibitions to present in an online gallery. Curatorial intern Abby Haley ’20 was tasked with putting together an entirely virtual senior showcase to honor the work of her classmates. The result was “Again, again, again, & again,” a website where anyone could view the paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures and video projects created by the Class of 2020.

“We had three times the number of people visit the online gallery in one day then we would have in a whole semester in person,” said Haley. “A bunch of people totally unrelated to the school left testimonials on the website saying things like ‘This is great,’ ‘This is so refreshing to see,’  ‘There's so much bad news, but this is beautiful.’ I remember crying because I was so happy with how it turned out.”

table with written prompt and pencils

A prompt for children asks them to come up with names for books that do not yet exist that they'd like all children to read.

With the Handwerker reopened with limited hours, it has been difficult at times to draw in new visitors, with typical large events and class visits now impossible. Gallery director Mara Baldwin explains this has been an opportunity for everyone at the gallery to evaluate its mission, and come up with new ideas to bring artists’ voices back to the campus community.

“Running a gallery space is a lot like running a theatrical production or a film,” said Baldwin.  “A lot of the work is hidden; you’re not meant to see the work behind the scenes. But it is a lot of work. There’s a lot of planning, coordination and a lot of physical work too.”

Two exhibitions are being hosted in the gallery this semester. The first, “do it (home),” is a project that spans almost three decades, created by the artists Hans Ulrich Obrist, Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. The exhibit is an art experience where all gallery visitors participate in the creation of an art piece. An early iteration of the “do it” project was hosted at the gallery in 2013 that was much more physically active. Now, the Handwerker is one of 50 galleries across the country participating in an adjusted version of the project, where all of the art projects can be done individually. Activities are placed at individual tables, with colored pencils placed in boxes labeled “clean” and “dirty.” The community members follow the prompts, together creating a new art piece, a collaborative project in a time when we often feel so far apart.

Pieces from the Handwerker’s permanent collection are placed side by side with the “do itprompts in a show titled “A Closer Look.” Bought and donated by Ithaca College alumni across the years, the etchings, paintings, prints and lithographs provide guides to contextualize the “doit” prompts. History and the present converge in this space.

“This particular set of exhibitions was curated around trying to build intimate but safe experiences where students could look at artwork with physical space between everything, but also be able to interact with the exhibitions,” said Baldwin. “People want to have hands-on experiences that are not necessarily assignment-based, but they have a choice in their participation, so I decided to couple the installations together rather than put them in separate spaces.”

“For creative people, this is our time to shine. We have to get creative about finding new ways to do the same things and we have to get creative about finding joy and doing it safely.”

Abby Haley ’20, curatorial intern

Next in the gallery’s line up will be the annual senior art show, organized by current gallery intern Lily Hoffman ’21 and titled “Never Settle.” The show will be a hybrid of in person and online events, showcasing work from majors across the college, with special focus on the four graduating BFA art majors.

“The artists have been working on these pieces for the whole year, and it’s been a pretty rough year at that,” said Hoffman. “Some have found repetition and nostalgia in the last year, some have found chaos and anxiety in it. This show is about finding the balance between that comfort and discomfort.”

Other exhibitions originally scheduled for the 2020-21 school year have been rescheduled to open next year, so the gallery is ready to come back in full force.

“You can make a space meaningful,” said Mara Baldwin, “but it doesn’t really vibrate with that meaning until people start coming in.”

Now an alumna, Abby Haley is proud of the work she and the staff at the Handwerker have been able to do in these trying times.

“For creative people, this is our time to shine,” said Haley. “We have to get creative about finding new ways to do the same things and we have to get creative about finding joy and doing it safely.”

Current Exhibitions

View the 2020 Senior Showcase.

Check out the Current Exhibitions.