Behind the scenes: Selecting on-campus art


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

On both Grand Valley State University campuses, one prominent feature in their buildings is the art hanging on the walls. Many may wonder where it comes from, who selects it and why. The people behind the art on campus are a part of the GVSU Art Gallery. 

On the GVSU Art Gallery’s website, four prominent on-campus buildings are featured, including DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health, Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall, Lake Huron Hall and the Office of the Provost. Each building has its own distinct collection of artworks curated specifically to dress its walls. 

Alison Christensen is the Art Gallery’s Project Manager and Curator of Public Spaces and is responsible for the process of curating and placing all public art on campus. She also serves as the GV U-Club Executive Board Secretary, as well as a GVSU alum, earning degrees in 2004 and 2019. 

The process of selecting art to feature has multiple steps, but it’s relatively similar for any specific piece or project. It all starts with a meeting between Christensen and department heads, where they discuss what’s desired and how to narrow the options down. 

“I’ll ask things like, ‘What are the themes or topics relating to your department, the primary role and function at the university? How does your department interact with our students?’” Christensen said. “‘What are the concepts, colors and feelings that you would like the artwork to amplify and support in your space? How do you see the artwork in your space supporting your programs?’”

Christensen says that this line of questioning helps her understand what is being hoped for and helps her be more creative with how she interprets the requests. 

“I then put together a digital set of art options for them to review,” Christensen said. “I ask that they share the digital set of options with all working in the space allowing each person a vote on their favorite works of art. Once I receive feedback on the art selections, I start to lay the artwork out on a digital drawing of the space/building.”

Each piece of art is placed in its respective building for a reason. The curation is meant to inspire and inform students about a wide range of different topics. The pieces are featured in order to encourage civic dialogue, foster creative and critical thought as well as providing a path for reflection and the ability to nurture empathy with others. 

GVL / Annabelle Robinson

“We see our public spaces as a continuation of the classroom and therefore should be a space for students to feel inspired and give them the opportunity to be exposed to imagery and concepts they may not have otherwise been exposed to,” Christensen said. “Having so many works of art on public display is unique to our institution and we feel the artwork enhances the students’ GV experience.”

When asked about the meaning of the artwork on campus to GVSU’s student body, Christensen said that it’s hard to truly gauge the level of appreciation for something like public art. 

“The thing with artwork is that it is hard to quantify how it makes someone feel or how it impacts their lives,” Christensen said. “On the flip side, it is easy to understand that plain white walls feel cold and boring. I know that there are works of art on campus that students enjoy or have touched them in some way. We have heard these kinds of comments and they mean the world to us.”

Although it’s nice to hear students appreciating the art on campus, Christensen says that her main goal with placing art on campus is to get students engaged.

“I also know that some students don’t really care about the art around them and that’s okay too,” Christensen said. “It’s not my job to make sure they appreciate everything that is around them while at GVSU. It is my job to give them as many opportunities as possible to engage with the artwork, find meaning in it, see themselves in it, feel heard as a result of it, use the art in their field of study and feel accepted in their own uniqueness, just like every unique work of art they encounter on campus.”

For more information on the GVSU Art Gallery, featured buildings and how to get art displayed in a department’s building, visit the Art Gallery website.