Cameron Noel (C’21) performs in front of Diedrick Brackens’ tapestry, “American Wedding.” Photos by Lucy Wimmer (C’21).
By Lucy Wimmer
Nine years ago, the Gallery Walk was started in an attempt to link the arts events across campus. “One of the initial and ongoing goals is to make the most of all the amazing things that are happening in different spaces on campus,” Dr. Shelley MacLaren, director of the University Art Gallery, said. The Gallery Walk places performance art such as dancing, singing, and instrumental performances in spaces showcasing visual arts. This year, the Gallery Walk was held during Homecoming weekend and used this opportunity to showcase student performances as well as alumni artwork.
MacLaren spearheads this experience alongside members of other departments such as Mandy Johnson from the University Archives, Courtney World in the dance department, and Hillary Ward in the music department. They work together to investigate the exhibits showing in gallery spaces across campus and decide what types of performances will make sense in these spaces.
“What makes for a good conversation, what kind of performances compliment or speak to those spaces is determined by the exhibitions,” MacLaren said.
This year’s Gallery Walk took place in six spaces on campus. “This is intended to get people to all of those spaces and what they have to offer while putting them in conversation with one another,” MacLaren said.
Professor of Dance Courtney World watches dancers Adelle Dennis (C’21) and Emma Ross-Sermons (C’23) perform in the University Archives.
While the Carlos Gallery in Nabit, the University Archives and Special Collections, and the University Art Gallery are constants in the Gallery Walk, this year also included the lobby of Guerry Auditorium and Spencer Hall. Performances included dancing, singing, theatre, and instrumental music.
Performances happened every 15 minutes, allowing audience members to visit the different venues. “I like this idea of movement,” Melanie Berends (C ’22) said. Both this movement and the intimacy of the performances gives an opportunity to those who may not often frequent the galleries to experience the arts.
“When it’s a little more interactive and it’s all over campus like it was, it opens [the Gallery] up,” Molly Morgan (C ’22) said. “People who wouldn’t necessarily come [to these spaces] are more likely to come because of that.”
Molly Morgan (C’22) plays the harp in the lobby of Guerry Auditorium.
While the Gallery Walk is an opportunity to connect the art departments and to open up the gallery spaces to wider audiences, it is also a way for students to perform. “It’s an outlet for students to showcase things they’re working on, to respond to other things going on on campus, to be creative and experiment in a welcoming and relatively low-stakes improvisational setting,” MacLaren said. “This is not a formal exhibition. This is a fun experiment.”
This is Morgan’s second year performing in the Gallery Walk. As a harpist, Morgan is usually on stage with the orchestra, but this event gives her the opportunity to play in an intimate setting. “I get to interact with people more. They ask questions, you get really good feedback,” she said. She enjoys interacting with different age groups that come to the event. “Older people really enjoy it and interact. Young people always ask really strange, interesting questions that I’ve never thought about. One guy came up like ‘have you tried playing this with a violin bow?’ and then I had to go back and try that, obviously,” stated Morgan.
This intimate experience also allows Morgan to think about her audience when choosing pieces to play.“It’s not background music,” she said. “People are actually here to listen and so I try and pick things that are really interesting for the listener.”
The conversation between performing arts and visual art is vital to the Gallery Walk experience. “It’s one of the few events where the arts coordinate with each other–– we have dance and music and theatre and artwork in exhibition spaces and you’re meant to come and experience a little bit of all of them and they’re meant to be in conversation with one another,” MacLaren said.
The Site-Specific Theatre FYP class performed two plays they wrote focusing on two aspects of Sewanee culture: women at Sewanee and ghost stories. The students found source material from the archives, so for their FYP mentor, Berends, it only made sense that they performed in the archives space. “They used the whole archives space. It was total cornball, I was busting up,” Berends said, “they’re so talented and incredibly good at improv.”
The Gallery Walk brings together community, performance and visual art, and food in a unique and surprising way. “Living [this interdisciplinarity] is a good way to get us all connected with one another and making more sense of things across campus generally,” MacLaren said. “It really is joyful. I love the surprise of it. I don’t see the performances until they’re happening and they’re transformative. They transform the exhibitions they’re part of, they transform the audience.”