The Baum Gallery began as a way to support students, but it has grown to much more
In 1996, the University of Central Arkansas introduced the Baum Gallery to its campus. Built on funds donated from the Baum family, it had a simple mandate when it first opened its doors.
“The Baum Gallery is a small museum on the campus of UCA,” said Bryan Bryan, director of the Baum Gallery. “Our mission or our mandate is to basically inspire our student body primarily, and then offer a source of artwork for our faculty and staff and people in Conway and Faulkner County for that matter.”
As the Baum Gallery enters its 25th anniversary, it has grown into one of the top contemporary art galleries in the region.
But according to Bryan, that wasn’t the initial goal for the Baum family.
“It wasn’t that they had this great desire to support the visual arts,” Bryan said. “It was really a great desire to support UCA, and UCA thought that would be a great addition for our students to have a museum or a gallery so that they could look primarily at contemporary art. It’s really what it’s for. It’s a place for our students to showcase their work.”
The Baum now features three main galleries and currently they have the works of 25 artists on view with a total of 50 to 75 pieces on display.
The gallery does more than showcase the works of students. It prepares them to enter the art world and handle all the pressures that come with it.
“We have twice a year an exhibition of the work of graduating seniors. We also have once a year our annual exhibition, it’s called the Annual Student Art Competitive,” Bryan said. “It’s open to any UCA student. We really try to do exhibitions that will inspire our students. So, I try to show the work of professional artists so they can see what do professional painters or printmakers or sculptors, what do they make? What do they show? What goes into that? So our goal is not necessarily to drive attendance, but it’s to inspire people.”
It’s during those exhibitions that students have to go through the same rigorous preparation to have their work displayed. Bryan said this can be a pressure point for those who have never gone through it before.
“It can be a little bit intimidating for some artists. You would think it’d always be exciting, but it’s a little bit like the bright-lights analogy for sports,” Bryan said. “When you have facilities like that, that can be a little intimidating, but as you know, that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. You want people to get used to that. You want them to be acclimated and you want them to have the opportunity. And if that comes a little bit of nervousness, that’s good. That’s a good challenge. So that’s part of it too.”
Bryan is in his sixth year as director of the Baum and has watched the UCA students create some amazing pieces of work.
But it’s just recently that Bryan has noticed a different depth to what was being presented.
“So this generation of students, who are in their early 20s, they’re used to expressing themselves, whether it’s politically, social or even as it concerns their own mental health for example. The number of taboos that are out there are diminishing. So people can express themselves, their thoughts,,” Bryan said. “So it used to be that a lot of art was based on a technical proficiency. Now we’re seeing that a lot of our students are using their work as a vehicle to relay their thoughts about our current environment, whether that environment is political, whether it’s about the pandemic, or whether it’s about other issues that our current students face. I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.”
Bryan wants to make sure the Baum Gallery not only encourages young artists to express their feelings and beliefs through their work, but also provides them opportunities going forward.
“I think we have a couple of different roles to play. One role is again, the Baum Gallery is a physical space that will encourage them to rise up,” Bryan said. “So if you know that your work is going to be on view along with your peers, there’s a certain responsibility that comes to that. And then it’s also a way to affirm what it is they’ve done. So by having a space where they can invite their parents, their family, that’s kind of reaffirming as well. It also gives them practice so that if they’re going to show their work in the future, that there’s a standard that they should follow. They don’t have to, but at least they know where the bar is.”