CREATING A SPACE FOR ARTISTS: BETHEL COUPLE RESHAPES UNIVERSITY GALLERY

The News-Times
Wednesday, April 1, 1998

By Eileen Fitzgerald

Bethel – In 1991, on their first date, Kaz McCue and Pamela Ayres collaborated on an artistic project–they carved pumpkins. Another collaboration took place on Halloween when they married. Now they've assumed their most ambitious collaboration–reshaping The University Gallery at the University of Bridgeport.

Since discovering the dormant gallery space in 1994, the Bethel couple has been committed to strengthening its appeal and contributions to the school and the community by offering quality exhibitions.

Their initial efforts to create an exhibition schedule in the Fall of 1996 were thwarted by a flood in the gallery. Still, sparse funds and limited staff have failed to diminish their enthusiasm.

In the past two years, they have mounted a juried exhibition of national artists, landed a $4,500 exhibition grant, created a gallery review committee and committed shows into next year.

"When we started, our goals were to put art work in the space–good art work–and to have it open," said Kaz, a full time visiting assistant professor of art at the school, who was named manager in 1996. "We wanted to present some sort of quality; we wanted to make it reputable. Now, we're open and have some quality shows."

The 1998 Invitational features works by 13 artists from across the country in various media. The exhibition closed Saturday.

The 34-year-old Kaz views the future of the gallery space as including not just art shows but other events such as poetry readings and artists' talks.

Ayres, 31, a part-time professor of sculpture at the university, feels strongly about presenting all styles of art to the community.

"Our mission is to be an educational gallery space not only for the student body but for the community." Ayres said. "We want to make sure that the artwork is sincere and honest, that it's by people who are trying to make art to communicate with other people. These are the people we want."

Ayres credited her former professor at Long Island University at C.W. Post Campus, Noah Jemisin, for articulating the value of art for her.

"He taught me that artists are healers in our society," she said, "they teach us to look and experience life."

The individual strengths of the Bethel pair dovetail in their collaboration. McCue focuses on curating, administrative duties and public relations. Ayres volunteers her time, coordinating with artists the delivery and handling of works and taps her visual skills by installing the exhibits.

"We push each other quite a bit, but it's not competitive," Kaz said.

The gallery is making a comeback, said Thomas Juliusburger, director of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the university.

"We have a professional, fully appointed space. The kind of space a university needs for showing a variety of media to the students and the community." Juliusburger said.

The gallery, 100 feet long and 30 feet wide with 12 foot ceilings, received a new wooden floor and a paint job in the past year. Its lighting is being upgraded.

Kaz's management serves the university well, even as he's learning the job, Juliusburger said.

"He's young and talented. He's open-minded and efficient. He's met every one of the goals I set," which include a regular schedule and making local contacts outside the university.

Juliusburger recalled that the gallery was opened in 1972 with ambitious plans. It was inconsistent, though, in producing exhibitions and suffered when the university began to have financial troubles in the 1980's.

He credits Kaz's enthusiasm and efforts for restoring credibility to the gallery. Now, artists come asking to show in the gallery instead of having to go out looking for exhibits, he said.

"It's just the beginning. I would love to think that as the university grows, it would use the experience of the university gallery. There are many ways we can capitalize on the experience," Juliusburger said. That may include creating an outdoor gallery and redefining other space on school grounds for multi-media use.

Juliusburger's optimistic that as Bridgeport transforms itself, the school, and particularly the gallery, will benefit.

"What we need to do is go with the wind and do it intelligently," he said, "taking it one piece at a time."

Kaz's immediate plans for the gallery includes a spring show for juniors and seniors at high schools in Fairfield County.

Plans for the future include using a Richard Florsheim grant to help pay for expenses for an exhibit and catalog of work by senior American artist Stan Brodsky in April of next year. It will be a collaborative effort with a New York City gallery. The University Gallery also will host an exhibit compiled by Rutgers University that will explore community planning and garden cities. Bridgeport has two neighborhoods that fit the concept, Kaz said.

"The gallery is a cultural tool for the university," Kaz said, "rather than an instrument for any one department."