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Looking forward at what art has to offer

For more than 20 years, FM alumnus Joel Chapin has had a prime view of the rapidly changing arts ecosystem. As a professor of the arts, his courses have spanned the spectrum from classical Watercolor Painting to technology-infused Three-Dimensional Design. As Director of the College’s Perrella Gallery, Joel has introduced FM students and the greater community to both nationally renowned artists and emerging local artists. Joel’s immersion in an evolving field gives him a unique perspective on the changing nature of art as well as the importance of FM Foundation’s invaluable support of the program and gallery. In a recent interview, Joel shared his thoughts.

What changes have you seen in the arts during your time as a professor at FM?

There have been a lot of changes over the years, and you can see those changes reflected in the Media Arts and Digital Technology program. We’ve gone from being in the humanities department to being housed in the technology department, so I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills, which is good for keeping you on your feet. So have our students.

Now, there’s a whole other set of tools you have to learn, and if you step into a props house or exhibition design place, for example, you may have to know how to 3D print, digitally draw, or laser cut. There’s a lot more territory to cover in an arts program. The Foundation has helped tremendously through funding new initiatives to equip students with 3D printers and laser cutters that they’ll need to know how to use in real world jobs.

How has the arts scene changed on campus and in our local community?

Back in the early nineties, we had no gallery, of course. We were one of the few campuses in the SUNY system that didn’t. There was no community gallery art space either. Numerous arts councils rose up but then lost momentum. Through really generous donors, we got our gallery, and that has been a success not only for the campus, but the community.

We’ve had a high school regional every year for, I think, 28 years. Many, many capital district high school teachers said it’s one of their favorite exhibitions because we don’t treat their artwork as kid stuff. We hang it professionally.

How does the Perrella Gallery support FM’s Arts and Digital Design program?

The Perrella Gallery allows us to incorporate more hands on learning experiences for students who want to pursue curatorial design job opportunities, and they’re out there for skilled gallery installers. I have a student at Cooper Union right now, and we’re collaborating on curating an exhibition. He got his first exposure to galleries on our little campus, but he was able to move on to a much bigger venue.

We’ve had several national artists who they would find in their textbooks. Photographer Dr. Jonathan Singer was one really notable artist. We have some really very, very good regional artists around here. John Van Alstine was a really popular show. I also like to leave room for emerging artists whose work hasn’t been considered. They may have a certain something that hasn’t been recognized yet, so we’ve had some artists who have started off here – maybe Fulton Montgomery was one of their first exhibitions, and they have gone on to do wonderful things. Our students are a part of that process and get to have the experience of working with artists and with installation.

It just made sense from an educational standpoint. A lot of our students don’t get to go to the Met in New York City. They don’t go to big museums in Boston or Montreal. We can provide some cultural experiences that they may never have otherwise. These are art experiences that make you think or put you outside your comfort zone sometimes. Sometimes they’re downright crowd pleasers, and sometimes the work is a little more challenging. Most importantly, they expose students to new art and new ways to curate art.

What role does the FM Foundation play in the success and evolution of our Arts and Digital Design program?

The Foundation has sponsored a lot of arts in the community over the years. For the most part, it would not have happened without those infusions from generous members. I’ve talked with other colleagues at other colleges. They don’t have the funding support we do. The Foundation has made it possible for Fulton-Montgomery to stay at the front of the arts as it becomes more and more mixed up in technology.

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