This week, students opened their sketchbooks and studios and, for a single night, transformed the Arts Center into a miniature circuit of stations highlighting ongoing student artwork from the semester. For two hours on Nov. 9, the Center showcased creations that normally remain stashed in the corners of studio spaces or classrooms.
For many non-arts majors, the Arts Center often seems like an intimidating, labyrinthine sprawl of hallways and classrooms. But by embedding student artwork within the space, the Open Studios event encouraged exploration while featuring student work.
With an eclectic mix of design blueprints, script readings, musical performance and even board games, Open Studios welcomed visitors with only one clear instruction: do not fear the Arts Center.
“We need experimentation, we need exploration,” said Julie Stopper, a visual arts technical specialist and one of the producers of the event. “We need to try things that activate spaces — that’s what we’re trying to generate more of.”
Stopper partnered with fellow technical specialist Meredith Meer to organize the Open Studios night, which welcomed both Arts Center veterans and unfamiliar bystanders. It was a night that Stopper and Meer hope to make an annual tradition.
“These spaces are for everyone,” echoed Meer. “I got here in September and was surprised by how many students just had no idea what was offered here. Julie [Stopper] spent all last year making sure mixed media studios could be open spaces, so that students can use them and not be afraid to make art.”
The organization of Open Studios was informed by Stopper and Meer’s backgrounds as students at NYU New York, where the event is a university staple. In Abu Dhabi, Open Studios’ first iteration brought together different professors and departments in a mass effort at interdisciplinary coordination.
Students who showcased their work came from a wide range of experience and majors; whether it was an arts major revealing a single phase in a year-long project, or an engineering student with their first installation piece, Open Studios advocated for the accessibility of arts practice.
The night's interdisciplinary element is part of a larger, concentrated effort by NYU Abu Dhabi arts departments to foster relationships across disciplines. Stopper maintains that the Arts Center's very building facilitates this; having a recording studio next to a visual arts classroom means people are engaging in constant dialogue.
Similarly, the Center’s new co-working studio offers around ten students the opportunity to fiddle around with works in progress while working across different media and disciplines.
"That just explodes the possibilities for collaboration," Stopper added.
This semester, the Arts Center has seen the establishment of two new spaces. Named with fitting symmetry, the White Box and the Black Box strive to help students engage in or reflect upon artistic creation.
The White Box, also called Gallery 15, is a small pop-up gallery that features the works of students artists. Meer put forth the possibility that students interested in curation can also use the space.
Now in its last stages of construction, the Black Box is a design and performance space where students can create theater sets and build worlds. The Box will be inaugurated by the introduction of Student Led Projects, a series of performance pieces unfolding over the rest of the semester.
The ultimate goal is to get students in the building, to encourage students to physically mold and shape spaces that can become their own.
“A great thing about arts practice is that it's a vehicle for understanding any kind of academic focus,” said Stopper. “You can’t access that just by sitting at a desk.”
"Come to a studio, sit here and write your paper," she added. "If you feel overwhelmed, then maybe put your computer aside and make a drawing or use the space. That experience can help you go back to your scholarship with a clear mind."
[gallery columns="2" ids="147091,147121,147101,147141,147151,147111,147201,147211"]
Zoë Hu is editor-in-chief. Email her at [email protected]