On the “threshold”

Stivers students create art in the public space

By Kevin J. Gray

The sculpture students at Stivers School for the Arts had a busy summer. Nine students, working with adjunct Sculptural Studies Director and local artist Ryan McCullough, designed, fabricated and placed a new outdoor sculpture made with more than one and a half tons of steel at the entrance to the school parking lot, and on Friday, Oct. 5, the piece will receive its official dedication in a ceremony open to the public.

The work, entitled “Thresholds,” is described by the school as “an impressive example of public sculpture that extends an invitation to the community while enriching the visual legacy of the Stivers campus.” The intersection of blue, orange and grey painted steel planes provides the piece’s structure, and the work plays on the use of straight and curved edges. This sculpture invites the public to interact with it. Situated near the corner of Keowee and Fifth Streets, visitors can walk around and through the two main components of the structure.

“Thresholds” is the product of the 2012 Stivers School for the Arts Summer Sculpture Apprenticeship Program, a three-week intensive course. McCullough, who facilitated the program, had the goal of providing a hands-on workshop with a smaller number of students that could function as a true apprenticeship. As a result, all decisions on the piece were collaborative, from picking the design and color to choosing the location, placement and even the orientation of the piece to the school building.

The nine students were selected from thirty that applied, with ages ranging from incoming high school freshman to high school seniors. The 90-hour program provided an opportunity for students at varying skill levels to expand their technical and conceptual knowledge of the process of executing a large-scale sculpture. Over the course of the program, students gained experience with welding, grinding and painting steel. They also learned how to communicate their ideas and to assist other group members in individual learning processes. Every student played a part, with every step being a learning opportunity. Explains McCullough, “Everything had a purpose and the entire sequence was about having purpose in the studio and making your time well-spent, valuable, and focused and being present in the studio.”

Week one was a welding boot camp, which in and of itself is pretty impressive (how many other high school students do you know who can weld steel plates?). The next two weeks were dedicated to fabricating the piece. McCullough is proud of the group dynamic that evolved through the process: “More advanced students would help newer students, [with] little pockets of teaching and learning and everyone participated at every level; everyone chipped in in every aspect of fabrication and design.”

McCullough sees the 2012 summer program in a larger context, and expects to continue the program in future years. He hopes that the campus, which already houses some smaller pieces, can become a destination to see public sculpture. “Thresholds” is one step in that direction.

Stivers has always had a strong connection to the larger Dayton and regional arts community. In fact, the dedication of “Thresholds” is timed with an Artists Reception at the school’s Fifth Street Gallery. The show, which runs from Oct. 1 to Oct. 26, is titled “Concentration: A Look at the Contemporary Object.” McCullough played a large part in arranging this show. The sculpture department wanted to recognize the detailed work that goes into fine craft and the abstract nature of more theoretical sculpture. This show blurs the line between crafts, often the realm of the everyday, usable object, and more abstract sculpture, with its tendencies toward the more philosophical. The show features works that straddle craft and sculpture, works made with non-traditional processes or materials. The artists presenting are professionals from across the United States, many with connections to the school or Stivers alumni.

Like the intensive sculpture workshop, the gallery, open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, provides another means for Stivers to nurture its students and to connect the school to a larger community. Over the course of a year, the gallery features three to four professional shows like “Concentration,” with artists associated in some way with the school. Shannon Grecula, the director of Fifth Street Gallery, explains that the gallery “is an opportunity to expose students to working artists, to show them that this is a realistic goal for them, to see how professionals are working and showing stuff in the area.” In addition, three times a year, the studio features student works. The school’s Soup Dressed Up fundraiser showcases work from students working in clay. There is also a photography fundraiser, and at the end of the year graduating students can showcase their works in the Senior Show.

“Thresholds” seeks to strengthen the interaction between the school and the larger community. While the gallery shows bring professional work to the students, the outdoor sculpture allows the students to give back to Dayton at large. Liz Whipp, Stivers Magnet Director, sees inspiration in this process. She notes that, “Our kids should serve as an inspiration to the city council and the city. That given nothing, and looking at how they can give of themselves through their head, hand, and heart should be an inspiration.” Whipp notes that while negative press abounds about the city, Stivers students are able to “put that aside and see what can be, instead of what people predict it to be and the city should celebrate this.”

The official “Thresholds” dedication is on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. outside of Stivers School for the Arts, 1313 E. Fifth St. While there, pop into the school for the opening of “Concentration: A Look at the Contemporary Object” from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Both events are free to attend and open to the public. For more information, please contact Shannon Grecula (937-542-7448 or SRGrecul@dps.k12.oh.us) or Ryan McCullough (937-408-3578 or ryanmcculloughart@gmail.com).

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin Gray at KevinGray@daytoncitypaper.com

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