Visually pleasing: Local galleries offer students access to the arts

While Boston’s historical roots attracts students to the area, many overlook the vibrant art culture that thrives within it. Art galleries expose students to the local art culture right in Boston University’s backyard, and many students can find a gallery that is suited to their artistic palettes.

Arts in Kenmore Square

The Panopticon Gallery located in Kenmore Square is the oldest fine arts gallery in New England. The gallery is 41 years old and has been located all around Massachusetts, from Newbury Street, to Bay State Road, to Waltham, before finding its home in Hotel Commonwealth about 10 years ago when the hotel first opened.

Owner Jason Landry, who purchased the gallery in 2010, said he has worked hard to produce interesting and thought-provoking exhibits that showcase the works of his artists for the hundreds of people who walk through the gallery on a daily basis.

The layout of the gallery, which appears to be a set of hallways with artwork on the walls, sets Panopticon apart from other art ventures.

“It is a pathway, and more than just a gallery on Newbury Street or the South End, where they are just going to shop,” Landry said.

However, the unique design of the gallery is not the only thing bringing in browsers.

“There is not a gallery in New England that gets more foot traffic than this gallery — because of the hotel, because of the two restaurants and all the area art schools,” Landry said.

The Panopticon Gallery is just a starting point for all types of students looking to learn more about the art and photography culture in Boston.

“With more and more galleries catering to art photography, it has become a hotbed for the fine art world,” Landry said. “It is not New York, but it is a great place to be when you have four to five art schools right around here teaching the medium and the craft that you love. It is accessible. The artists are accessible, the artworks is accessible. Lectures by well known artists come into the Boston area, are accessible.”

The artwork currently displayed at the Panopticon Gallery is indicative of the different experience levels of the artists Landry typically likes to display. Harold Feinstein, an 81-year-old “living legend,” as Landry puts it, has black and white retrospective photos showcased in the exhibit, while emerging artist Alipio Hernandez’s photos are more colorful and a demonstration of modern art.

The juxtaposition of these colorful images against the black-and-white photos of Feinstein’s works reveals a changing of times. Hernandez’s art tends to elicit feelings of excitement and drama while Feinstein’s photographs evoke nostalgia and passion.

“I have the main gallery right now, [which] is showing Harold Feinstein,” Landry said. “Harold is now 81 years old and is a living legend in world of photography. In the back room we have Stephen Sheffield who is more of a mid-career artists, a well-known Boston-area artist. And down in the corner, I labeled that area my emerging artists section. What I did there is showcase artists straight out of school.”

Landry said that he has a passion for exposing people to art and photography is magnetic. When you walk into the gallery, it is clear Landry had dedicated himself to the field.

“Helping artists — part of my job as a gallery owner or dealer is to help the artists build their reputation not only locally, but also beyond the borders of Boston,” Landry said. “Every artists’ dream is to be as big as they can be. Boston-centric is boring.”

From Sept. 14 to Oct. 30, the Panopticon Gallery is hosting a photography exhibition. This exhibit, featuring photographers of different backgrounds and levels of experience, demonstrates how simple it is for students to become involved with local culture, without leaving their own neighborhood.

Students get involved

Landry said a variety of people often visit the Panopticon Gallery.

“I have a good mix of academic students as well as fine arts students that come in. Because we are on the campus of BU, obviously we get a lot of BU traffic, but I have people coming from MIT and Harvard,” he said. “And we have people coming from the area art schools. It’s a nice, even mix.”

Some local students said they have a new appreciation for the arts after visiting the gallery.

“Even though I didn’t stay there long, I think it was actually great,” said Sabrina Toletti, a sophomore in the College of Communication. “I was surprised because I was not expecting it to be that nice. I liked it a lot.”

The Museum of Fine Arts is also a popular destination for students. “I went to the MFA when the Chihuly exhibit was up. It was blown glass and it was really beautiful,” said Emily Bolinger, a junior in the School of Hospitality Administration.

The variety of exhibits appeal to a range of student interests in different types of art.

“The last museum I went to was the MFA for a certain exhibit. I would like to go back because it has been so long, but I have no concrete plans,” said Sarah Donovan, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Galleries at Boston University

Besides Panopticon Gallery, the 808 Gallery, Sherman Gallery and the PRC (Photo Resource Center), for instance, may compell students can go to immerse themselves in the art and photography present on BU’s campus.

These galleries not only give students the opportunity to see the application of what they have been learning in the classroom, but also provide students with the chance to show their work to a larger audience.

“In the Sherman we do four exhibits a year, and there are usually programs like a project space, with one or two artists are invited to one or two person shows,” said Lynne Cooney, the College of Fine Arts exhibitions director. “They can pretty much develop their own content for the show with my facilitation. At the 808 Gallery, we do two curated shows plus a student show at the beginning of the year and our thesis shows at the end of the year.”

One resource that has been especially helpful in getting student work available to the public is the PRC. Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, program and exhibition manager at the PRC, said all programs there are free and open to BU students. These include lectures, a program called Nights at the PRC, student group and class visits and internships.

The PRC also hosts an annual student exhibit, which features 20 different photography programs in New England, including work from both BU’s COM and CFA schools. In this show, there are more than 100 pieces created by students available for viewing at the Commonwealth Avenue gallery.

“We don’t cater to BU, but we are more accessible to BU and the community,” Yuskaitis said.

The arts impact on the BU community has not gone unnoticed, several BU students said. Part of the gallery’s success, they said, may be due to the arts culture in Boston.

“In Boston — something that I have noticed — people are very big into the arts,” said Bobby Heghmann, a sophomore in COM. “I have seen a lot of stuff about photography just walking around — it’s everywhere.”

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