Many artisans toil as “starving artists,” and Grand Valley State University is doing what it can to ease the burden of its art and photography majors by purchasing some of their work.
Last semester, the university bought a still-life painting of light coming through glass bottles from junior Elizabeth Uitvlugt, who constructed the work in her Introductory Painting class.
“You normally don’t see work being bought from an introductory class,” Uitvlugt said, adding that she sold the painting because she did not plan to include it in her post-graduation portfolio. “It’s $200. I’m not going to turn down $200.”
The student said the opportunity to say she has artwork on display at a university will also benefit her professionally.
“It’s important to be able to show that you’re involved in the art community in your area, and I think that can be done in multiple ways, but I think the more things that you have out there, the better,” she said. “Even if it is just a couple people looking at it in a hallway sometimes, it’s still out there.”
Uitvlugt is one of many students who capitalize on the university’s art interest.
Henry Matthews, director of Galleries and Collections at GVSU, said a lot of students put their artwork up for sale during senior exhibitions for the art and photography programs.
“I try, if I can, to buy one work from each graduating senior,” Matthews said, adding that he can’t always purchase something from every student. “It’ not always possible to buy a piece of art. It’s just too expensive … I do have to be selective.”
After the sale is made, the art enters the university’s permanent collection and is oftentimes displayed in student housing centers, hallways and conference rooms.
Art professor Brett Colley said students can learn a lot from their first sale.
“The first time you sell a piece of artwork, it determines the market value that you can expect for your work for future sales,” Colley said, adding that selling artwork as a student is advantageous. “Selling your work is one of the critical ways we continue to subsidize making of the work. Students who sell work put the money right back into materials to continue [making art].”
The sale of a piece of artwork also allows students to start making tax deductions based on materials used.
Essentially, making sales sustains a career in art production. Colley said sales also benefit students applying to work specifically in commercial galleries. “A [hiring] commercial gallery is pretty interested in the financial viability of that person,” he said.
Matt McLogan, vice president of public relations, expressed his pride in GVSU’s art collection, which he said began under former president Arend Lubbers who picked out much of the artwork, himself.
“[Former] President Lubbers believes that art in public places not only enhances our surroundings but provides everyone on the campus with exposure to a museum-quality collection – a teaching experience that few other campuses offer,” McLogan said. “That’s why a number of local collectors have given us wonderful works of art to share with the campus community.”
Jim Bachmeier, director of Finance and Administration, said the art collection is “very dependent on donor gifts.”
“We have received many great pieces from generous donors who value the university’s practice of displaying art all over campus rather than a single gallery,” Bachmeier said.
Nonetheless, the university allocates $215,500 to the Art Gallery each year for the purpose of art acquisitions and operating expenses, including framing, labeling, maintenance and office costs.
Matthews said the funds also cover “mini programs” and 16 exhibitions held throughout the year. He added that the annual amount apportioned to the Art Gallery does not come close to the value of the art collection, which he said far exceeds $3 million.
The appraised value, he said, comes from the many gifts donated by people in the U.S. and abroad. However, the professional work does not overshadow the pieces produced by student hands.
“I treasure the student work that I may buy for $50 as much as I treasure the masterpiece artwork [donated to GVSU],” Matthews said.
And he’s not the only one who appreciates the aesthetic scenes.
“When I take folks on tours of the campus, our guests almost always comment on our artwork and note how it sets us apart from other universities,” McLogan said.