The first art exhibition at the University of Arizona opened nearly 90 years ago, a time when fine art had a minimal public presence in the southwestern United States.
It took intentional, forward-thinking plans, along with strong and sustained support from donors and friends of the UA, to establish a vibrant professional school and museum with an internationally regarded collection.
Behind the decades-old push is the UA School of Art and the UA Museum of Art & Archive of Visual Arts, or UAMA, whose students, faculty and staff generate national and international attention for their research, productions and outreach.
Today's effort is to harness the expertise and resources of the UAMA and the School of Art, in partnership with other UA arts divisions and external partners, to expand the UA's legacy in the arts, said Dennis Jones, who directs the School of Art and the UAMA.
"The UAMA has always been that trigger, that spark for making things happen in the arts here," Jones said. "The museum was an outgrowth of the School of Art, and I envision the UAMA and the School of Art working together in ways we have never seen before."
Complementing and elevating the UA's arts enterprise are the Center for Creative Photography, or CCP, and the Arizona State Museum, seminal units not only for the UA, but for arts communities elsewhere.
Under the tutelage of Jones, the long-range vision for the School of Art and the UAMA is more cohesion and visibility toward the goal of bolstering arts research at the UA while expanding community-based outreach and efforts to elevate the reputation of the region's visual arts core.
In fact, C. Leonard Pfeiffer, the UAMA's first major donor, once said: "I wish that all men with the love of art in their souls would take these words to heart: Help build collections in every corner of our land."
Uniting a Professional School, Museum
Since Katherine Kitt, the UA faculty member who founded what would become the UA School of Art, organized the first art exhibition at the UA in 1924, the UAMA and the school have grown to become two crucial facilities for research, training, preservation and engagement in the arts in the southwestern U.S.
The ever-growing synergy between the UA arts units has netted a number of important milestones and notoriety for the UA, with a public impact that has been extensive, Jones said.
The UAMA played a key role in the founding of the CCP after hosting an exhibition of Ansel Adam's work in 1974. Today, the CCP is an internationally regarded institution, revered for being the largest organization devoted to collecting and preserving modern North American photography.
The UAMA also gained notoriety for its permanent collection, with all pieces having been gifted to the UA or purchased with donor funds, said Carol Petrozzello, the UAMA's marketing specialist.
"The personal collections of our donors have made a great difference," Petrozzello said.
"There have been so many people who have had an affinity and love for Tucson and the UA," she said, adding that such individuals have long donated major works and helped the UAMA acquire additional pieces over the decades.
Among the prized artwork in UAMA's holdings are works by Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Jacques Lipchitz, Robert McCall and dozens of panels in the Retablo Room, works that comprise the 15th century altarpiece, a gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
With 60 paintings and four sculptures, the Samuel H. Kress Collection is one of the University's prized collections. The UA maintains the 15th century panels from Spain, making the UAMA one among the regional and academic art museums in the U.S. responsible for preserving the Spanish Renaissance paintings while educating the public about the history of the collection.
Jones prides that both units retain strong outreach initiatives, both driven by the understanding and outward mission to regularly interact with off-campus partners, including schools, businesses, nonprofit organizations, community centers and senior centers, among others.
Of note, student illustrators and designers persistently work with business and industry, developing marketing materials, logos, community art projects and other materials.
Studio A, a nonprofit design studio run by UA students, is a perfect example of such work. Now self-sufficient, the studio provides fee-based design and illustration work to offices, organizations and companies. The more recently launched Digital Print Studio is on track to also become self-sufficient, Jones said.
Meanwhile, members of the art faculty have contributed to new publications and exhibited and taught around the world; some also have earned awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Art Education Association and Fulbright Scholar Program.
"Art really stands out at the University and, really, the cause behind it is much bigger," Jones said. "It has always about trying to raise the bar."
Great Integration, Broader Impact
Among the new plans is the future integration into UAMA of Wildcat Art, a K-12 arts education program that involves youth in collaborative learning toward creating artwork, Jones said.
Jones said creating more cohesion between UAMA and Wildcat Art, which is run out of the UA Division of Art and Visual Culture Education, will result in an expansion of regional arts education.
Currently, the museum has an open survey aimed at educators to improve future outreach efforts.
Also, the museum's staff recently collaborated with School of Art faculty members and students on a Renaissance, for which students investigated works in the UAMA collection. Their writings will become part of the museum's collection, contributing to the expanding resources available to members of the public.
That collaboration speaks directly to the work of Olivia Miller, the UAMA's curator of education, who is working toward becoming a faculty liaison.
Serving as the intermediary between the UAMA and the School of Art, as well as other academic units on campus, Miller's objective is driven by a nationwide movement. Increasingly, campus-run museums have appointed faculty liaisons to better integrate repositories of art with the very individuals creating new knowledge and new works of art.
Emphasizing the need for an expansion of art and a better integration of units and disciplines, Miller said the arts stand as an important conduit for public discourse, offering space in which challenging conversations can be safely couched.
"Naturally, museum labels and exhibition themes are designed to create a pathway for thought, but even within this focus, the public can still think critically," said Miller, the UAMA's curator of education.
"It's important for us to consider that the public is diverse and constantly evolving and as such, we have to think outside the box and realize there are a myriad of ways to interpret art," she also said. "What's especially important, particularly for university art museums, is to engage faculty and students from all departments in addition to the public at large."