SCAD’s Paula Wallace Takes Us Behind the Scenes at deFINE Art Festival

Savannah College of Art and Design President Paula Wallace. Courtesy of SCAD.

In 1978, when I founded SCAD, the world was a very different place for artists. Back then, if you said you actually wanted to have a career in art, well … most people either patted you on the head or assumed you were just listening to a lot of David Bowie. Four decades later, artists remain bold as ever, but the world has changed. Art defines our most important national conversations, from #MeToo to the newest works at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. When new contemporary art makes the front page of the New York Times, is there any question that art has something to say about who we are, and were, and want to be tomorrow?

Eight years ago, I created SCAD deFINE ART, a festival designed to celebrate and explore the amplitude of art and to ask: What is art, anyway? Is it protest? Is it beauty? Can art be instrumentalist and entrepreneurial? Should it be simple, or maddeningly complex, or neither? Can it mean anything? Does it have to mean, at all? This year’s deFINE ART 2018 explored these questions with 13 exhibitions at the SCAD Museum of Art.

American conceptual artist Tom Burr‘s “No Access” is a large-scale outdoor exhibition comprised of 18 dark steel structures whose polished surfaces reveal the paradox of the dark screen’s mediation of social interactions. As audiences engage with this installation, their environments are both reflected and refracted, suggesting how screen technology engenders and delimits meaningful human connection.

Melissa Spitz. Courtesy of SCAD.

In “You Have Nothing to Worry About,” SCAD alumna Melissa Spitz—TIME’s Instagram Photographer of 2017—explores mental illness through the heartrending photographic documentation of her mother’s own struggles. These diaristic documents form an intimate narrative that explodes the silence on the culturally taboo subject and compels the audience to quiet and reflect on moments of empathy, frustration, and hope.

Mexico City-based Pia Camil speaks to the local impact of a global economy in her newly commissioned “Fade into Black“—an exhibition in which she has transformed T-shirts (manufactured in Mexico, imported to the U.S., and returned as castoffs to the very communities where the shirts were made) into a colossal fabric sculpture meant to unify audiences and cultures through shared physical connectivity.

Pia Camil’s “Fade Into Black”. Courtesy of SCAD.

Canadian multimedia artists and longtime collaborators Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are internationally known for their immersive sound installations that explore perspective and reality. Their site-specific installations at the SCAD Museum of Art—Experiment in F# Minor and Opera for a Small Room—represent the viscerally engrossing centerpiece of this year’s deFINE ART. In these two exhibitions, Cardiff and Miller create unforgettable sensual environments, interactive tapestries of sound, light, and artifacts that evoke story and memory, reminding us that great art, always and forever, helps us remember.

A lot has changed for today’s artists—all for the better. The creative professions surround us at every turn, in what we see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. Wherever you happen to be reading this post, I invite you to visit the SCAD Museum of Art and other university galleries. All these deFINE ART exhibitions are open to the public through July 2018, inviting students and guests to ask those big questions: What is art? How does it make us more human? And how can we ensure those who make it have meaningful, successful careers? To find the answers, come visit SCAD.