Department of Art and Art History News

Undergraduate students in Friends Collective build community

Tue. December 22, 2015

six people sitting on steps in front of house
Friends Collective members with Rachel Parnell of Amity House and Chris Omenihu of Human Influence. From left to right, top to bottom: Kendall Hanna, Henry Smith, Rachel Parnell, Michael Colaianni, Nicholas Osella, Chris Omenihu.

At its core, Friends Collective is pretty much what it sounds like: a group of close friends collaborating on their passion—art. But the group has wider goals of fostering friendship within and outside of the collective.

Members Michael Colaianni, Kendall Hannah, Nicholas Osella, and Henry Smith founded the group as a way to experience each other’s methods. Michael Colaianni and Henry Smith are Studio Art majors, while Kendall Hannah and Nicholas Osella are Design majors.

Although coming from different majors, the members met in their Foundations courses which mixes students from all Department of Art and Art History majors. “By the beginning of sophomore year we were a tight-knit, strange little family,” remembers Kendall Hannah. Once out of Foundations, the friends formed Friends Collective as a way to stay involved in each others’ work.

“We were all curious with what each of us were making and the projects we had going on in different classes,” said Osella. “We wanted to be a part of each other’s art making and collaborate as a way of seeing the process behind work.”

The collective has organized group shows featuring their individual and collaborative work, as well as inviting other art students into the exhibitions. By doing this, Friends Collective fosters a better-connected community inside and outside the art building.

“It is important to build up a community with my peers,” said Michael Colaianni. “Our exhibitions are an opportunity to show work that doesn’t feel like it was made as an ‘assignment.’”

Nicholas Osella recalls the group’s first collaborative project—a series of paintings that passed between the artists until they felt it was done. “After we finished, we took a step back and realized that we made work that we were proud of.”

The collective’s first show was held at Amity Arts House, a project run out of the living room of friend and fellow Studio Art undergraduate Rachel Greene. The members exhibited their collaborative paintings as well as individual works.

“Placing my work directly alongside that of another artist, who's style and approach may be entirely different from my own, forces me to be much more aware of my choices,” describes Henry Smith.

Friends Collective shared their second show with Humans of Influence, a creative group with hands in everything from fashion to house parties. As part of the exhibition, the two groups asked for donations of toiletries for the local non-profit Austin Shelter for Women and Children.

The collective hopes to expand its connections and collaborate with a wide range of people, not just those of a creative walk, that share their appreciation of good attitude, friendliness and community outreach.

“Our message is to be inspired by and collaborate with anyone and everyone in our community to make and support projects that matter,” says Nicholas Osella.


Kayla Jones lives in Austin, Texas where she is pursuing a B.F.A. in Studio Art and B.A. in English at The University of Texas at Austin.
 

Q+A: Alie Cline (B.A. in Art History, 2013)

Mon. December 21, 2015

Alie Cline stumbled into art and social media after starting the art history blog Cave to Canvas in 2011, which at its peak had over 200,000 followers and collaborated with the Whitney Museum, the Pace Gallery, Tumblr, Artspace and more. During this time, Alie also served as the social media manager for the grassroots art organization Slow Art Day. In 2013, Alie graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with dual bachelor degrees in English and Art History. As the Digital Content Strategist for the Blanton Museum of Art since 2013, Alie oversees the museum’s social media strategy, digital communications, some digital marketing and more. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @aliecline, and as the voice behind all the Blanton’s social media accounts.

She answered questions via email.


woman in flowered blouse poses for photo
 

Maggie Conyngham: Last month, you attended and presented at the Museum Computer Network conference. What is the focus of the conference and which panels did you participate in?

Alie Cline: The focus of MCN is “advancing digital transformation in the cultural sector.” It’s funny: for a technology conference, so many of the most important takeaways weren’t actually about computers or digital projects, but about how to connect to people—both internally within the structure of the museum, but also externally to visitors.

I participated in “Irreverent Storytelling: Ups & Downs of Unorthodoxy in Social Media” and “No Dollars, All Sense: Digital Adaptation at the Blanton Museum of Art.” The former was a really fun look at some of the ways museums are starting to let loose online, like the Clark Art Institute and the Seattle Art Museum wagering paintings in a SuperBowl Bet, or the Albright-Knox’s March Madnesss-inspired “Art Madness,” which pitted artworks from museums across the country against each other in a bracket-style tournament. The latter was a Blanton-centric panel where myself and two other staff members discussed case studies of how we’re starting to incorporate digital adaptation into the museum.

MC: At the Blanton, you are a Digital Content Strategist and have helped transform the Blanton using a “digital adaptation” strategy. Could you explain exactly what this is?

AC: Our digital adaptation strategy is headed up by our aptly-titled Director of Digital Adaptation, Koven Smith. He was brought on in 2014 to help lead Blanton in a digital overhaul, both internally—staff members learning how to use Wordpress, contributing to blogs, etc.—and externally for visitors, both onsite and online. Koven is fond of saying what digital adaptation isn’t: a department within the museum, or iPads on railings. Instead, we’re looking at how how a digitally-inclined way of thinking—usability, need and agility—can permeate all departments of the museum and be used to solve problems and facilitate learning for visitors.

MC: How do certain strategies, such as the Blanton’s Snapchat, add to the museum experience? How has it affected visitor behavior or turnout?

AC: So often in the 21st century, our experiences with brands or institutions start online. I want people’s initial interactions with the Blanton to be a good one—not only does it set the tone if they’re planning to visit, but it also keeps them interested if they live in another city or even country. A large part of my social strategy is dictated by how how I would perceive the Blanton if I lived in another state and had literally no intention of visiting—is our twitter feed something I would want to follow, or is it filled with tours and events that I don’t care about? Our social media is a balancing game between local and global audiences, and the Blanton's various online platforms cater to difference groups of people.

That’s why I like our Snapchat so much: we started it to reach UT students, but it’s grown into more of a nationally recognized platform, having recently been featured on Buzzfeed. I was actually in the galleries the other month wandering around waiting for Snapchat inspiration to strike, when I received a snap from someone who was IN THE MUSEUM! I ran around until I found the person, who happened to be a student at UT and decided to visit after seeing some of our Snapchats.

It was the perfect scenario: a potential visitor deciding to come to the museum because of an online initiative. Our Snapchat is a fun way for the Blanton to try and shed the stuffy image that so many museums still have and show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. As a 20-something with a background in art history, I’ll have more respect for the museum who is able to poke fun at themselves instead of the museum who tries to keep its collection bubble-wrapped and placed on a pedestal.

MC: Museums all over the nation are embracing digital adaptation in their practices as well. Do you feel the “No Dollars, All Sense” approach that was discussed at the MCN conference has been effective beyond the Blanton?

AC: I think the Blanton has a unique way of looking at digital adaptation, and I haven’t really seen that phrase used in other institutions. Most museums tend to focus on digital products, released with great fanfare, that they can point to and say, "Look! We built an app! We’re in touch with millennials!" But is the resource-heavy and expensive mobile app actually arising out of a legitimate visitor need, or is it being created because museums are panicking about “staying relevant” in a digital age? (Scare quotes necessary.) Visitors are increasingly demanding a more engaging museum experience with options, both for the patron who wants to sit quietly and look at the art, or the millennial like me who wants to snap an Instagram photo every five feet.

At the Blanton, we’re trying to straddle that line by trying out new technologies quickly, at a low cost, and gauging visitor response instead of getting bogged down in meetings or red tape. We launched our Periscope account on the first day the app was made available because it was new and cool and we wanted to try it out; subsequently, I got (and still get!) tons of questions from colleagues about Periscope, best practices, and how to use it.

Similarly, we were one of the first museums to use Snapchat, so we established ourselves as a leader on that app. Even though we’re early adopters of technology, I want to stress that there is still a overall guiding strategy: Snapchat was a great fit with our brand and continues to flourish, while Periscope has evolved into a series of videos on Vine because our strategy with the original app didn’t fit the platform. Both of these examples are low-cost and (potentially) high-reward ways that we’re experimenting with technology and visitor engagement in a way that I don’t see many other museums doing.

MC: You've worked at the Blanton for a little over two years and started right after you graduated. How does your art history training impact your work?

AC: I hate how art history degrees constantly make the top of “Worst College Degree” lists. Even if I didn’t work in a museum, I’d still use the skills I learned in any job: thinking critically, writing thoughtfully and articulately, and, most importantly, being able to evaluate and read images in today’s photo-saturated society. I once had a former boss tell me that when hiring for his user experience consulting company, he’d pick art history majors over business majors any day of the week because they had a more well-rounded skill set and didn’t come into a job with assumptions or baggage from their degree—that’s really stuck with me as I’ve entered the workforce. On the most fundamental level, my art history degree has impacted my work because a friend in the Department of Art and Art History actually told me about the job—I credit her with helping me land my position before I was even out of school!

One of the main responsibilities of my job is taking content that the museum has, whether that’s a wall label or work from the collection, and making it digestible and relatable for an online audience. My degree helps when I’m paraphrasing or condensing “art-speak” into something that a layperson could understand on our Facebook page, blog, or elsewhere.

I also credit my arts background with helping me seek out the most interesting art-world news items and aggregate them for our audience on Twitter—I’m proud of the collection of articles and stories that make up the Blanton's Twitter, and my goal is that it would be interesting even to someone who didn’t follow art-world news all that often. But mostly, my degree gives me the confidence to talk about art to the Blanton’s online audience in a way that is (hopefully!) knowledgeable and relatable. Our brand voice is tasked with being worldly, vibrant, lively, welcoming, engaging, cool, smart, and local, and I doubt that I would have been able to strike the right balance without my degree from UT Austin.


Maggie Conyngham is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Art History and French. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.

John Clarke published in Not Even Past

Fri. December 11, 2015

Green cube with white graphic design overlay
 

Dr. John Clarke's article "New Digital Technologies Bring Ancient Roman Villa to Life," describing his team's research of an ancient villa destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that covered Pompeii, was published in Not Even Past. 

Adriana Corral featured in Modern Painters' "Artists to Watch"

Fri. December 11, 2015

cover of magazine with artists to watch text over colorful rectangles

Adriana Corral (M.F.A. in Studio Art, 2013) was listed as one of 18 "Artists to Watch" by Blouin's Modern Painters.

Michael Smith featured in The Guardian

Fri. December 11, 2015

Man in baby costume leading graceful ballet dancers in uncoordinated dance
Image courtesy of the artist.

Professor Michael Smith was featured in The Guardian's "Does your nuclear shelter have a bar? Michael Smith on 40 years of mocking America."