For the new director of the Herron galleries, art is about collaboration

For Joseph Mella, it was the robust art and design programs at the Herron School of Art and Design and the synergy the school provides that drew him to campus.

Mella started as the new director and curator of the Herron galleries in August.

Inside IUPUI talked to him about his goals, collaboration possibilities and how to get involved.

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Joseph S. Mella is the director and curator of the Galleries at Herron School of Art and Design. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Q: What can visitors expect in the gallery spaces now?

Joseph Mella: New exhibits opened this week. In the Berkshire, Reese and Paul galleries -- the largest of the spaces -- is Sanford Wurmfeld's "E-Cyclorama II," an immersive work that has visitors go through a corridor and up a staircase before being surrounded by Wurmfeld's 360-degree, 90-foot abstract color painting.

In the Basile Gallery, photographer/videographer Endia Beal's series "Am I What You're Looking For?" explores the expectations of women of color in the workforce. And in the Marsh Gallery are the paintings and woodcuts that professor and former dean Valerie Eickmeier did during her sabbatical year.

Q: What are your goals and ideas for the galleries?

JM: My hope is to engage students and build connections, especially across the institution to schools like music and medicine.

I'm looking to work with faculty on collaborations. The door is open -- I want to hear their ideas on how students might benefit from a partnership. We'll soon have an online portal that will help facilitate class visits to the galleries along with sharing their ideas for working together. It can be as close or as independent of a partnership as they want.

Plus, students and faculty are encouraged to make independent visits during gallery hours.

Q: What are some examples of collaborative projects?

JM: In my previous role at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, music students composed pieces based on the artworks in the gallery, and the project ended with a gallery performance as well as making the music available on demand so visitors to the gallery could listen to the music while looking at the art.

Another plan I have is a partnership with Fisk University for a display that focuses on the complicated stories of slavery and how contemporary artists have responded to this history. I also hope to make connections with the state museum and other museums in Indianapolis to add more about slavery and Indiana. And I've just started having conversations with faculty who study things like political science, history and social justice about how they can get involved.

Q: Why are collaborations like these a priority for you?

JM: Art doesn't exist in a silo. When students are exposed to art within a larger context through collaborative, trans-institutional experiences, often through multiple entry points, they are able to participate in the complexity of a given idea.

By taking this approach further, students can begin to understand the diverse nature of society as they themselves grapple with establishing their own voice. Creative thinking, nurtured through art experiences, will go far in helping them achieve success long after they leave the university.