SGA restoring student art initiative to campus

The existing installation was created back in 2019 across the hallway from the Market in the Student Union. It was orig- inally meant to be the first of an annual contest to fill walls on campus, but the project was interrupted by COVID-19. Photo by Tatwik Bodepudi | Mercury Staff


Walking past the Student Union Market to grab a bite to eat, you might’ve noticed the “Blank Space Project” – a 14’ x 6’ art display. While it’s been a permanent fixture for three years, the initiative is in the process of being revived with new and more diverse forms of artwork.

The “Blank Space Project” was created as a Student Government initiative led by Vice President at the time Alexander Holcomb and later became collaborative with the Student Union once it was chosen as the gallery’s venue. To get the first cycle of the “Blank Space Project” up and running, he worked with the Director of the Student Union, Dan Goodwin, to plan how they’d implement the gallery. Goodwin said they ultimately decided to host a pop-up art show in the SU in Spring 2019, where interested students were invited to display their art. Members of the UTD community who stopped by were allowed to vote on their favorite pieces. The artworks that received the most votes are the ones you see in the gallery today.

“It was and still is a priority for us to reflect the culture and vibrancy of our campus to really reflect our student body,” Goodwin said. “We want to fill up these – no pun intended – blank spaces in the building with what our campus is and where it’s going. And the Blank Space Initiative was great for that – its goal was the same as our goal.”

Goodwin said Holcomb visualized the gallery as a recurring event, refreshed with new art annually for students to enjoy. With the success of the pop-up art show, they were optimistic about renewing the gallery in Spring 2020 of the following year – but then the pandemic hit. All student organizations, including Student Government, ceased operations as students left campus. Holcomb graduated, new SG membership entered and the project was lost in the shuffle. That is, until IPE sophomore and Student Affairs Chair Margaret Moore reignited the initiative in Fall 2021.

“Coming in as Student Affairs Chair, one of the things I wanted to do was work on promoting student art,” Moore said. “That was something that [the previous Student Affairs committee] talked about during COVID, but we didn’t know about the Blank Space Project or anything. Our idea at the time was just to host an event where we’d display art around campus in empty spaces… but then we talked to our student government advisor, and she was like ‘Oh! Here’s a previous project that was trying to do that. What if we brought that back?’”

Since the spirit of the Blank Space Project aligned perfectly with the committee’s agenda, Moore reached out to Goodwin about renewing the gallery. After brainstorming last fall, they agreed that they’d start up the gallery once again in Spring 2022 with a competition to reinvigorate students’ interest and gather submissions, as well as an art gala to show off the gallery in a grand re-opening.

Because the SU is a high-traffic building where students from departments across UTD regularly congregate, Moore said the space already reserved in the SU is perfect to start off with. Her plan going forward is to try and expand the art to other buildings – such as JSOM, Founder’s, Green Hall, the SSA, Jonsson or the McDermott Library – depending on how many submissions they get.

“In terms of the current art on campus, we know we want to swap it out. That will evolve,” Moore said. “That’s something that we’re waiting for – see how submissions are. And we’re reaching out to see if [current artists] want [their art] back or if they want to keep them on campus. It’s potentially something where we could reach out to other buildings and say, ‘Hey, this was in the SU. You want it over here now?’ You know, kind of move it around campus.”

Moore said SG sent out competition interest forms to professors in the Arts & Humanities school to start garnering interest, but any student from any school can participate. Different from the first iteration of the gallery, all art forms are accepted – including 2D, 3D and digital art. Students who submit to the interest form – which is due on Feb. 4 – need to indicate what art medium their craft fall under and fill out their contact information so SG can contact them with a final submission form to submit photos of their work. There isn’t a limit on how many pieces of art students can send in or how many students can submit and there’s no maximum limit on art sizes. So far, over 30 pieces of art have been submitted.

“For mediums, we also included a fourth ‘other’ category on the interest form,” Moore said. “That’s something we’re thinking we’ll collapse into other categories on the official submission form, but we wanted to go ahead and leave it open in the beginning because we didn’t want anyone to open the form and be like ‘Oh, my art isn’t represented here,’ because we didn’t imagine it.”

Goodwin said the SU and the Student Affairs Committee are still considering possible layouts for the gallery to accommodate digital art, 3D art and other non-traditional art mediums, including looking into installing a TV or iPads, expanding the gallery to another area of the SU and getting display boxes for 3D art. Once the gallery is set up, students will be able to vote for their favorite art through a QR code at the unveiling. Competition winners will choose from a list of prizes that SG is still compiling, including art supplies and subscriptions.

“I want to emphasize the excitement of getting to host things in person on campus and get people together over creativity and kind of showing off what they do as a student,” Moore said. “I think, you know, as a STEM school – and it’s a fantastic school, I love UTD – but art can go a little underappreciated. So, getting to kind of show off that talent and the work people put into their craft is a really great opportunity and something I’m really excited Student Government is a part of.”