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Texas State galleries add to vibrancy of area arts scene

Jeanne Claire Van Ryzin, Seeing Things

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Curator Mary Mikel Stump has ushered in summer shows featuring local artists at the University Galleries at Texas State.

SAN MARCOS The Texas State University campus is in summer mode. Classes proceed, but extracurricular activities quiet down.

Inside the Joann Cole Mitte building, however, the tall doors to the gallery stand wide open.

Texas State's University Galleries are open all summer.

In fact, two exhibits just debuted. "Homegrown" features artists connected with the Eye of the Dog Art Center just a few miles from campus. "Swarm" spotlights the vibrant abstract paintings of Austin artist Naomi Schlinke.

As she has in years past, gallery director Mary Mikel Stump is using the summer months to highlight local artists.

And if the 30 miles from downtown Austin to the Texas State campus doesn't seem local to you, Stump has a suggestion.

"The longest distance is between your front door and your car," Stump says. "In most urban areas, something that's 30 minutes or so away is really not the big deal. It's all psychological."

Increasingly, University Galleries have become a salient component of the percolating greater Austin contemporary arts scene, a venue with lively, timely exhibits that showcase artistic and curatorial talent that's often regional or local.

Increasingly, it's a contemporary art destination.

Last year, Stump's program netted an Austin Critics' Table Award for the exhibit "Substainability," which included an impressive installation by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres that was on loan from New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The roster for this coming season includes exhibits focused on South African graphic artist Garth Walker and New York-based native Austinite Colby Bird as well critically acclaimed Austin artists Beili Liu and W. Tucker.

And in previous seasons, both the Houston collective Box 13 and the celebrated Austin collective Okay Mountain have created site-specific exhibits. Funded entirely by student service fees, the gallery, Stumps points out, is there first and foremost to serve students. The exhibits are an auxiliary to Texas State's School of Art & Design degree programs.

"You have to shift the paradigm of what a university gallery can be," says Stump, who has run the galleries for more than a decade. "It should be about providing a mix. We want to educate but also challenge students. And I think it's important that they feel a connection to the (artistic) community here and what's going on now.

"And if we can be relevant to the local community at the same time, great. There's so much talent in Austin."

Despite a small budget, Stump has been able to offer visiting artists not just the chance to have solo show in a museumlike setting but also an honorarium for their efforts.

"Artists come here really anxious to do something adventurous," Stump says. "And that really resonates with the students."

The cultural offerings at many universities are tucked away in hard-to-find places with limited hours — a combination that often proves insurmountable for off-campus audiences.

But in devising a schedule that would offer students and their idiosyncratic hours the most opportunities for gallery visiting, Stump came up with a work-around that works for the community, too: Texas State's galleries — which are free — are open morning until late night seven days a week.

"It makes our building seem alive," Stump says of the long hours. "And I see more people in here in the evening than I do in the middle of the day."

Stump keeps exhibits changing out nearly every month, with each of the two high-ceilinged museumlike galleries hosting its own show. (The department has only a very small permanent collection of modest artworks.)

If the exhibits are proving popular now, Stump thinks their real measure will come in the future.

"I want students to have their most important art-viewing experience long after they've left campus," Stump says. "I want them to be at a museum years later and suddenly realize they're seeing something very much like they saw here on campus. My goal is to have this experience resonate later."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

University Galleries at Texas State University