The Art of Curation
October 10, 2023 |
The Mesa College World Art Collection was started in 1976 and has grown to include more than 1,300 pieces from around the world.
For nearly five decades, students at San Diego Mesa College, along with the surrounding community, have had the opportunity not just to learn about history and culture through art, but to experience it as well. On campus, this authentic experience is offered by way of the World Art Collection, a permanent collection of 1,300 pieces from roughly 60 countries around the world.
The collection — which was gathered over the years through donors such as Dr. Jack Kimbrough, Dr. Richard Ulevitch, Dr. John Ross, and others — was spearheaded in 1976 by Dr. Barbara Blackmun, who wanted to give her students direct access to genuine African art, rather than having to travel to places like the Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see such art and artifacts. The main collection was expanded to include art from India, Mesoamerica, and the Asia-Pacific region when Dr. Denise Rogers, professor of art history at Mesa College, began managing the collection in 2010.
Rogers said the extensive collection, which is owned by the San Diego Mesa College Foundation and housed on campus, is unique to the region as it includes authentic pieces from countries around the world. Items in the collection are mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries, but, according to chemical testing, a statue from the Nok culture of Nigeria dates back to 1,000 BC.
“These are cultural artifacts used in community performances or religious institutions from around the world,” Rogers said. “These pieces were created by communities of people who worked together to tell a story.”
There is much more than the story behind each piece that students and the larger community can admire when viewing the artwork at Mesa College’s Learning Resource Center.
“For me, it’s the skill set of these artists,” Rogers said. “They are incredibly skilled in their craft. The way they shape the materials — they are not just using their hands, they are using the knowledge of cultural symbolism. Visitors will appreciate that as they learn about the culture and history of the art.”
The World Art Collection has other purposes as well. Students can intern with Rogers to learn how to manage collections, design exhibitions, and preserve artifacts, said Alessandra Moctezuma, the director of the Mesa College Art Gallery, whose students work with the collection. In addition, the collection reflects San Diego’s own diverse community, Moctezuma said.
“San Diego is a city that is home to many cultures and backgrounds,” Moctezuma said. “Having this collection allows people to see similarities among cultures. I think it’s very important for everybody to understand and to appreciate the diversity of the world we live in.”
Pieces from the collection also have made their way into exhibitions around the community, including at the San Diego Central Library and the former Lyceum Theatre, with plans for a December showing at the San Diego Museum of Art at Balboa Park.
Currently, visitors can view a small exhibition in the Glass Gallery on the first floor of the LRC and by appointment in a larger space on the fourth floor, which this fall is planned to become the permanent space for the full collection. Those efforts will be made possible by donor contributions and major fundraising efforts underway by the World Arts Council, which includes 15 other volunteer art enthusiasts and scholars who manage the collection with Rogers, and larger support from the Mesa College Foundation.
Since the collection meets specific criteria as laid out by the American Association of Museums, Rogers hopes eventually to declare it a museum.
“I hope one day the collection becomes a part of the college curriculum across the campus — not just in the Art Department,” said Rogers, who noted that the collection already has benefitted students in the Humanities, Black Studies, and Liberal Arts departments, as well. “It’s an amazing resource that people from around the world can experience.”
She also hopes more donors will support the preservation of the collection, and said there is a plan for a large-scale fundraising event in the future. For more information on the World Art Collection, or to volunteer or donate, go to sdmesaworldcultures.com.