Perspective is knowing how easy it is to drill through aluminum because you've already tried it with steel.
This mindset came in handy when senior Lauren Faherty spent two weeks on a scissor lift adhering 250 reflective sheets of aluminum all over Tweed's Sax Gallery. Once in a while she'd get complimentary coffee or lunch, but she was never paid for the work that sometimes made her dizzy as daylight bounced around the space.
Volunteering to install the Sharon Louden exhibit Windows was an opportunity that she eagerly signed up for. Lauren had worked with steel in her own art, and large installations are her chosen route. "It's nice having a view of the inner workings," she says.
Austin Olson turned these workings inside out, posting the process on Tweed's social media channels. The marketing major worked in tandem with Lauren, using hashtags and pictures to install some attention. "I was linking everything together just to get that presence online and show that this exhibit is here in as many ways as I could."
The trifecta of students/museum/artist empowered a well-received end result. But the real masterpiece is the opportunity it allotted two Bulldogs with very different backgrounds.
Sharon Louden is an internationally-known artist described as exciting, professional, and a director by those who worked with her on Windows, an ambitious multi-disciplinary installation.
Weaving students into her work isn't new. In addition to being an artist, Sharon's taught at the collegiate level for more than 20 years. While at UMD, her classroom was the gallery and the learning was experiential. Lauren did actual building and Austin did actual promotion, exemplifying Sharon's trust in them.
Austin kind of slid into his role as social media manager of the exhibition. He was working in the Tweed's gift shop when he was tapped to help.
Expecting to apply what he'd learned in his marketing classes, Austin found the opposite, "A huge thing that I've learned is how to make it a conversation that people can join in," says Austin. "I've taken all my marketing classes and learned a lot, but social media is one of those things that you wouldn't know unless you're working in the field."
The results have been measurable. "What's been exciting is that, when I post the progress on Twitter, art critics who have thousands of followers will share it and I've been able to watch the Tweed accounts grow."
Austin says Sharon can pinpoint what will draw attention before it's posted. She's passionate about promotion, with more than 1,400 followers on Twitter and 2,200 on Instagram. She's also written a book about making a living as an artist and will lead an, "Artist as Entrepreneur" workshop at the Tweed on November 21. Because of this, she was the perfect person for Austin, the marketer, to learn from, but also for Lauren, the artist.
Lauren has been thinking about her Senior Show since she was a freshman, which, coincidently, aligns with Windows. "It's really interesting seeing how Sharon makes these materials and does things on such a broad scale because I'm thinking, 'How can I do this with my show?' Seeing how she does things efficiently and trying to relate it to my own work is really helpful."
This serendipity, says Lauren, was awesome yet expected. A bonus is how much she learned about promoting herself. "Sharon taught me that, being an artist, you have to be your own number one fan. If you don't market yourself well, or work at self promoting as hard as you work on your craft, I don't think you're going to go very far in your career."
Windows opened with a kaleidoscope of live music and theatrical lighting last week. Lauren and Austin were there, and so was Austin's proud mom.
The exhibit will close in May, about the same time that Austin graduates. Lauren graduates next fall and is already planning her Senior Show. She says, like Sharon, she'll transform both the space and how she markets her work— a reflection of what she learned perched on a scissor lift observing a mentor create.
Story by Lori C. Melton, October 2015
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