By Allison Nitch, Senior Writer, Seattle University
A fusion of art and science is underway at Seattle University. The curation of artwork exploring the interface of visual arts, life sciences, digital technology, engineering and math will soon imbue a sense of excitement for scientific learning and discovery for all who enter the newest and largest building on campus.
When the new Jim and Janet Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation officially opens next fall, students will be greeted by a cutting-edge collection of contemporary art curated by a 13-member interdisciplinary committee that includes Seattle U faculty knowledgeable in fine arts, art history and science—all working in consultation with external collectors, artists and thought leaders.
Rev. Josef Venker, S.J., MFA, fine arts assistant professor and curator of the university’s permanent art collection, leads the project and serves as the committee chair. Jim Hembree, senior director of development for University Initiatives, guides the committee’s work with external donors and collectors.
Over the years, Seattle U has “developed experience and a track record of having an excellent public art collection,” says Hembree, who has been involved with building Seattle U’s campus art collection since the mid-1990s.
And after 27 years at Seattle U, Fr. Venker has developed strong ties with the local art scene. “Actively building relationships with the art community [and commercial galleries] is so important,” he notes. “There’s a real benefit…and a perspective these organizations and dealers bring. I may know an artist for a few years, but they know them for 15 or 20 years. They understand the context within the larger Seattle experience.”
The committee expects 40-60 new artworks and art from the university’s permanent collection, which will be installed in the Sinegal Center and the refurbished Bannan and Engineering Buildings. A total of 49 art walls in the center have been identified for two-dimensional works. In addition, three multi-story interior spaces and an outdoor plaza will provide venues for sculpture and site-specific installations. Among the acquisitions confirmed to date are works by Alfredo Arreguín, Mary Ann Peters, Dennis Evans, Rachel Yo, Michael Schultheis, Intima Rosa Machita, barry johnson, and Craig van den Bosch.
Through engagement with alumni, trustees, art collectors and patrons, Hembree and Fr. Venker cultivate relationships that will allow the end-users of the Sinegal Center to have a sense of ownership of the art that will ultimately adorn the various public and classroom spaces. Themes factoring into this collection have been “composed very intentionally,” such as sustainability, cosmologies and technology, faith and science, diversity and racial equity, says Fr. Venker.
Featuring BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) artists ranks high among the committee’s goals, which happen to align with “narrative through art and symbols”—one of the main priorities featured in the LIFT SU initiative (Listen and learn, Impact through intentional action, Fail forward, Transform together). This includes commissioning portraiture featuring BIPOC individuals who have contributed to science, math and engineering so students “see themselves imaged in the art collection” … and see BIPOC community members who “have been part of these disciplines,” says Fr. Venker.
In addition, a proposal has been submitted to feature a mural within the center’s Billodue Makerspace that is collectively produced by BIPOC students from campus clubs and organizations. “Part of our growth in terms of racial justice and equity is to tell the story [visually],” explains Hembree.
As of January 2021, the committee is halfway through its art acquisitions, while fundraising for the collection continues. Fr. Venker says, “It’s a terrific and exciting opportunity to expand the collection dramatically, both in terms of the wall space and exploring the interface between the visual arts and the sciences in a way that hasn’t been possible in any of the other collections.”
To learn more about ways to support the Sinegal Center art collection, please contact Jim Hembree at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Office of Annual Giving at (206) 296-6301.