There’s a space in the Visual Arts Building at Penn State where hopes and dreams go to come true. It’s a blank canvas where the mundane realities of everyday life give way to the wild imaginings of free spirits and maverick thinkers, a place where rules were made to broken and boundaries are pushed to the breaking point.
The colloquial term is “hallway.”
In the interest of specificity, we’re talking about the the stretch of flooring winding its way through the first floor of the Visual Arts Building. That’s where the Hump Day Gallery calls home and where students like Helen Maser work.
Maser is a senior who is in the process of earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture. Soon she’ll begin an internship with the Woskob Family Gallery in downtown State College.
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It’s not a bad gig — one that Maser is almost certain she couldn’t have landed without the benefit of the many hours that she and other students like her have spent turning the connective tissue of the Visual Arts Building into a destination all of its own.
To the casual observer, what they do looks and sounds a lot like the last Sunday afternoon you spent haggling with your significant other over where to hang the latest family portrait in the den.
But there’s more to it than that. Strategy, geography and a strong sense of visual panache all play a supporting role in this off-Broadway production of “Little Hallway Makes it Big.”
Headlining are students like Maser, many of whom are hoping that the gallery is, if not their big break, at least a crack in the window to the art world at large.
“I feel confident going into a space and knowing exactly how to put the work up,” Maser said.
The particulars usually go a little something like this: A curator — maybe a student, a professor or a face from the community at large — approaches Hump Day with the idea for a show. Just like in brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. One of the earliest exhibits that the gallery put together asked artists to contribute a work that they had mostly forgotten was in their repertoire.
The curator can select the pieces that wind up on the wall with impunity or request input from the students.
“We see a lot of talent but often times it comes down to what can we do with the space that we have,” said Kristina Davis, gallery coordinator.
Davis is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in printmaking. If hallways can be said to have managers, then the one on the first floor of the VA Building can be said to have her.
Conceptually, Davis’ goals are simple — put on a good show and in the process, teach students what it takes to manage an art space.
“The hallway allows us to show the potential that is here that you don’t get a feel for in the course catalog,” Davis said.
This is of course accompanied by long and arduous hours of ridiculously hard work.
Each month, students spend days arranging the visual components of a new exhibit for maximum effect. There’s also press releases to be written, fliers to be designed and relationships with contributing artists that require tending.
They also do their own catering on opening night.
Needless to say — but we’re here, so we might as well anyway — it’s exhausting. Davis said the warm reception that Hump Day’s exhibits have been greeted with helps keep the gears turning from month to month.
“You’re immediately rejuvenated and ready to do it all over again,” Davis said.
The gallery has been operational for about a year now, but Maser has already noticed a distinct difference in the migratory patterns of her fellow Nittany Lions.
Lounging and loitering had been activities that were normally contained to the neighboring café, but have since spilled into the hallway in the advent of its artistic renaissance.
“It’s a space that you normally walk through,” Maser said, “and now they stop.”