Top senior Olander takes her Art History talents to Columbia

Calista Olander traded one canvas — the ballet floor — for another in Art History when she enrolled in the University of Arizona School of Art.

But her love for learning and performing arts didn’t stop there, as she minored in Japanese and mathematics, learned two other languages, helped curate multiple student exhibitions, interned at MOCA Tucson … and studied the history of Korean and Italian cinema.

That explains why Professor Irene Bald Romano calls Olander a “modern-day Renaissance woman” — and why Olander has been named the spring 2023 Outstanding Senior in the School of Art for the College of Fine Arts.

Calista Olander

Olander, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, has been accepted into Columbia University’s Art History and Archaeology master’s program in New York.

“I’m very excited for grad school,” she said. “I’ll be studying European art between 1700-1900 and working with Professor Anne Higonnet, whose extensive study of Berthe Morisot will aid in my research of Morisot’s contemporary, Mary Cassatt.”

Olander’s first love was dance. She joined the Arizona Ballet Theatre when she was 8 and began teaching ballet, tap and jazz to children and teens when she was 16.

“I absolutely loved teaching and choreographing,” Olander said. “I unfortunately had to stop because of the pandemic, but the experience helped me in my college career … and in my research at the U of A.”

Olander became interested in Art History at Tucson’s University High, where she was a National Merit Scholar. Her Art History teacher’s “passion for the subject made me absolutely love it,” Olander said. “I learned how collections came to be and how museums can improve their exhibition practices to better represent the communities they serve.”

As a University of Arizona student, she continued her research on museums, which culminated in her Honors College thesis about “Decolonize This Place,” a newly formed collective dedicated to challenging issues found within art institutions that affect marginalized communities.

Her adviser, Dr. Sandra Barr, said Olander has “proven herself to have integrity, intelligence, humor and resilience” – in class and in her research on the “Decolonize” group.

“Decolonize This Place is trying to garner attention and protection for Native American art and grave goods,” Barr said. “Calista wrote a very thoughtful account of what the group is and what their aims are.”

Barr, Romano and Gallery Director lydia see nominated Olander for the outstanding senior award.

“Calista is a rare talent of a serious young scholar of art history and mathematics, with outstanding foreign language skills, and a love of the performing arts,” Romano said. “She is a modern day ‘Renaissance woman’ and justly deserving” of the award.

Olander can speak Japanese, Korean and French, and impressed the Art History faculty with “her thoughtfulness, thoroughness and excellence in every aspect of her work: writing, speaking and mentoring other students,” the nominating letter said.

Under see, Olander co-curated the “Donors & Scholars” exhibition in February and served as student gallery manager for the school’s Joseph Gross Gallery, assisting with four exhibitions.

“Calista has been a pleasure to work with and I have enjoyed co-creating exhibitions with her as she expands her curatorial practice,” see said. “She throws herself headfirst into experiential learning opportunities and … has already developed a skilled eye for exhibition design and a keen understanding of how the often-unseen tasks of preparatory and registration work contribute to this overall process.

“She has a bright career ahead, and I’m grateful I was able to work alongside her for a year.”

Olander volunteered at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) last year and interned there this spring.

In spring 2022, she also studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, taking an intensive language course and a History of Korean Cinema class, which Olander said “connected well” with two courses she took on campus: Art History of the Cinema, with Anthropology Regents Professor David Soren, and an elective class in Italian cinema.

“It was really interesting to compare film made in Korea, Italy and the U.S., and helped me to appreciate this different art form,” Olander said.

During her final two semesters, she flourished under the guidance of Barr, Romano and see.

“Each of these three people helped me grow, both academically and personally,” Olander said. “They helped me find my path forward and I would not be where I am without them.”

Creating art in Danielle Hunt’s DNA

As the youngest in a family of musicians, dancers, artists and storytellers, Danielle Hunt was a perfect fit for the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts.

The senior is graduating Magna Cum Laude this month with a BFA in Studio Art and Extended Media. She started out in Theatre, Film & Television but changed majors and became one of the School of Art’s most engaging students. Hunt spoke at the Donors and Scholars Exhibition this spring and was a member of the Arizona Arts Equity in the Arts committee.

“I view my role as that of a messenger,” she said about the equity panel, “listening to my fellow classmates, taking note of their concerns regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion, and voicing them in a space where they will be heard.”

Hunt, who’s focus is sculpture, recently answered questions for the School of Art.

Q. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A. I come from a family of five, with my parents and three older siblings (yes, I’m the baby). Both of my parents graduated from the U of A — my father (Craig Hunt) with a degree in chemical engineering and my mother (Cassandra Hunt) with a degree in general fine arts. They actually met here at the university. All my family members are creative in some way: my father is a professional French horn player and pun master; my mother, a dancer and traditional artist of many talents; my sister, a photographer and writer; my eldest brother, a martial artist and storyteller; and my second eldest brother, a musician and special effects guru. Growing up surrounded by creative people, I always felt particularly drawn to the arts and I’m very blessed to have been supported in my artistic endeavors.

Q. You started at U of A with a different major. What attracted you to the School of Art?

A. Having taken film courses throughout high school and enjoying them more than any other subject, I thought it was a no-brainer to enter the U of A as a film major. While all the film classes here were interesting and engaging, I found that they weren’t hands-on enough for me; I needed to be creating things ASAP! I decided to explore Studio Art as a minor and loved the way the classes were structured. I generally felt more productive in my Studio Art classes as well, as physical evidence of my effort would appear in the form of tactile objects, rather than words on paper.

Danielle Hunt

Q. What were your favorite class(es) and project(s) as an undergrad student and why?

A. I would say my favorite class was Beginning Sculpture (ART 287) since it was the class that introduced me to the world of sculpture and allowed me to meet all the amazing faculty and other sculpture-oriented students that I know today. My favorite projects have been those that challenge me as much as they excite me, with my piece “Sensory Maze” being a prime example. “Sensory Maze” was my first ever large-scale installation, and I took tremendous value from being able to create an impermanent environment for others to experience.

Q. You talked about wanting to focus on sculpture now. What is it about this medium that is so intriguing and motivating?

A. Honestly, I would say sculpture just fits my brain the best! Tetris was my favorite video game growing up (still is to this day) because there’s something immensely satisfying about fitting shapes together neatly. Getting to that point of fitting those shapes together neatly, though, involves a lot of problem solving. That’s really all that sculpture is, too: creative problem solving! I love the tactile and sensorial nature of it, being able to really see, smell, hear, taste and feel what it is that I’m creating. Sculpture feels like the truest form of creation to me.

Q. How important is culture and self-identity in your work?

A. I’m finding that culture and self-identity are becoming more and more important in my own work. I tend to gravitate towards exploring abstract thoughts and feelings, many of which have surfaced from my own experiences and personal history, so I hope to incorporate more aspects of my culture and self-identity in my work as a form of self-discovery.

Q. Can you explain the two sculptures you exhibited in the Donors and Scholars Exhibition: “Diverging Timelines Converge” and “Headrest”?

A. “Diverging Timelines Converge” was heavily inspired by Tamara Kvesitadze‘s “Man and Woman” kinetic sculpture. I wanted to explore the idea of sharing a certain amount of time with someone only to be separated before and after that time has passed using perspective. Looking at the sculpture from the “front,” you see two separate figures; looking at them from the “side,” it appears as though they are embracing. The oval base on which they stand leaves some ambiguity as to which direction the figures are facing and questions whether there is a front or side to the sculpture; their timelines are continually converging and diverging depending on how the sculpture is viewed.

“Headrest” became a sculpture where the meaning lay in the process rather than the final product. I had at least five separate wax molds of my face and no clear idea of what to do with them. Eventually, I discovered that the crook of the nose fit rather nicely behind the ear and was able to assemble my own triumphal arch of sorts by fitting three of the molds together. To me, this piece symbolizes tranquility, based on the facial expression and how each face seems to flow into the next. It was certainly an enjoyable piece to work on!

Q. You were an intern for Arizona Athletics. How cool was it to work over there?

A. It’s been great working as an intern in Athletics! When I first started in 2019, there were only three or four interns, me included. Now, it’s closer to 25, so it’s been very special to have seen the internship’s growth from the start. The internship is focused on creative services and media, so most of our work as interns is specific to producing content, creating graphics, and helping with live production during games. I typically help in the control room, controlling the remote camera, queuing up prompts for the video board, or assisting the replay operator. Recently, I’ve been hoping to lean more into producing animated content, so hopefully that’ll be a path I can continue to pursue!

Q. What was your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you overcome it? What was your favorite accomplishment that made you feel happy?

A. One of my biggest challenges as a student, specifically an art student, has been time management when dealing with burnout. I’ve somehow managed to add on more outside projects with each semester, which certainly hasn’t helped. Struggling to keep up with a strict schedule is even more difficult when you’re burnt out and unable to think creatively, and deadlines for finished art projects don’t wait for your burn out to dissipate. The only way I’ve been able to overcome burnout and get back on track with managing my time has been focusing on self-care: taking time to go out in nature, talk with friends, sleep, and take inspiration from the ordinary. It’s been especially helpful and relieving to have understanding professors that can relate to this cycle and will incorporate flexibility into their courses to account for it.

I’d say that one of my favorite accomplishments that has made me feel happy is simply talking to people. Socializing with others has always been a challenge for me, so being able to talk to my peers and other like-minded individuals about things we’re passionate about has been hugely inspiring and encouraging.

Q. What are your goals after graduation? Are you considering grad school? How can you use your art degree?

I plan on staying in Tucson for another year or so after graduating, just to nurture some relationships and give myself time to create more art and expand my portfolio before looking into grad schools. One of my main reasons for wanting to attend grad school, besides continuing to grow my craft, is to have the opportunity to teach and evaluate if I want to consider teaching as a career path. If I decide not to pursue teaching, I imagine I’ll consider attending a trade school for welding or carpentry in order to elevate my current skill set. I’ve had some very exciting opportunities here in Tucson, so it’s possible my plans will be completely derailed and led in an unexpected direction, to which I say: my plan is to go with the flow and see what happens!

• Danielle’s portfolio

Alum Hardy’s postcard projects connect artists

Postcards make Camden Hardy happy.

Designing and mailing them — and, of course, receiving them — helps him connect with other artists and stretch the limits of creativity, a process he says that “simply cannot exist in cyberspace.”

It’s why he started the Postcard Collective 13 years ago as a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Arizona School of Art, and why he’s now leading a storytelling project in which his fellow Ph.D. students are making postcards for a class co-taught by Professor Ellen McMahon.

Camden Hardy

“Postcards promote an ethics of care that is often at odds with our culture of fast-paced, transactional consumption,” Hardy said.

“To create and send a postcard to another human being is to deliberately forge a personal connection without any guarantee of reciprocation,” he added. “To receive a postcard is to be reminded that someone cared enough to reach out. The relational dynamic between sender and recipient is a poignant reminder that our wellbeing is directly tied to that of others.”

McMahon is co-teaching the course, “Art Research in the Unruly World: Questions, Forms & Methods” (SCCT 510),  through the SCCT Graduate Interdisciplinary Program — a class that brings together faculty and Ph.D. students like Hardy from different units across campus.

Hardy, a doctoral candidate in Applied Intercultural Arts Research (AIAR), gave each student in the class three stamped and addressed postcards with the prompts “space / place,” “time” and “identity” printed on the back. Students responded to the prompts on the front of the postcards in whatever form they desired — words, images, collages — and then dropped them in the mail.

Hardy collected the postcards to compose a visual narrative, which was on display in early May in the School of Art’s Visual Arts Graduate Research Lab, 1231 N. Fremont Ave. An opening reception was held May 2 in the lab’s Palo Verde graduate gallery.

McMahon is ecstatic about the collaboration with Hardy and other students from units such as the School of Art, Agriculture, Anthropology, Educational Psychology, East Asian Studies and AIAR. Most are minoring in Social Critical and Cultural Theory through the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program (GIDP).

Robert Warner, The Postcard Collective, Spring 2014

She also worked with Hardy on her 2013 co-edited book “Ground/Water: The Art, Design and Science of a Dry River.” Beyond his personal project for the book, he provided beautiful images for the inside covers and the section dividers, McMahon said.

“Camden is soft-spoken and humble about his work,” she said. “He’s generous, persistent and dedicated to cultivating a creative community around him wherever he is.”

Hardy received his BA in Media & Theater Arts Photography from Montana State University before getting his MFA in 2012 at UArizona, where he started the Postcard Collective as an effort to maintain relationships with artists in different cities and regions.

“We hold seasonal postcard exchanges — about four per year — in which approximately 30 artists create and send postcards to each other; each participant receives a postcard from all other participants,” said Hardy about the exchanges, which are themed with prompts such as “The Sound that I Saw.”

For Hardy, the May exhibit at the School of Art brings back memories of the Postcard Collective’s first exchange in the graduate gallery toward the end of the Spring 2010 semester. It was busy time.

Camden Hardy addresses guests at a May 2 opening reception in the Palo Verde graduate gallery.

“Graduate school is a pressure cooker,” Hardy said. “A group of young artists suddenly find themselves surrounded by like-minded individuals, all with the shared goal of learning about themselves and how to make their work in the most authentic way possible, faculty and peers challenging them at every turn.

“Looking back, it is truly remarkable to consider what graduate school inspired us to make of ourselves.”

After getting his MFA, Hardy worked and taught at Southwest University of Visual Arts for the next eight years while the Postcard Collective gathered momentum. Hardy said postcards from the collection have been exhibited inside and outside the United States in a variety of contexts.

Hardy decided to return to UArizona as a doctoral student to “explore the ways in which communities of practice can facilitate and support unifying discourse among artists,” he said — and he’s using the “evolution of the Postcard Collective as a space for artists to conduct their own research and connect with each other.”

“Let’s be honest: we’re going through some dark times,” Hardy said. “Our culture has been flooded with divisive, toxic rhetoric that has pitted us all against each other.

“Art, on the other hand, can be the cure. It has the power to remind us of what it means to be human, and that we are all in this together.”

Senior’s documentary ‘brings Tucson’s water story to life’

When Tia Stephens needed a local issue to explore for her honors capstone documentary film project, the School of Art graduating senior picked a topic we sometimes take for granted in the desert.

Water.

“Every day I interact with water in the most intimate of ways and yet I had no idea where this water came from and how it was managed,” Stephens said. “This disconnect from our most precious resource is something that I’ve noticed all around me, and so I want this film to serve as a way to reconnect people with water.”

“Every Last Drop,” Stephens’ feature-length documentary, explores Southern Arizona’s water practices and policy. A free screening of the film will be held Tuesday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.

Stephens blended her skills as a Studio Art student in Photography, Video and Imaging along with her multimedia journalistic skills gained as an editor at the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

For the past 18 months, Stephens collaborated with film students, obtained grants, consulted water and hydrology experts, and executed a data research project to bring “Tucson’s water story to life,” she said. In the film, experts include a faculty and student, and officials from Tucson Water, the Senora Project and the Apache Nation.

“Water must be priority number one for us in Arizona,” Stephens said, “and currently it’s clearly not. I think most people are aware of how important water conservation is, but … we need to bridge the separation that exists between us and the planet and stop seeing it as merely a resource to use.”

Stephens grew up in Flagstaff, speaking out on climate issues at the Arizona Capitol as a senior in high school.

It also helps that Stephens has a keen sense of how government works as a Political Science double-major in International Relations in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences.

“With her high quality of work, a 4.0 GPA and her leadership across activities, Tia is doing exceptional community-engaged research on environmental issues,” said Marcos Serafim, her capstone project adviser and a School of Art assistant professor.

“Tia’s exceptional creative practice is informed by her journalistic agency and her knowledge of world politics,” he said, “frequently employing investigative strategies to generate poetics and artwork about relevant social issues.”

Serafim “guided me every step of the way,” said Stephens, who will graduate Summa Cum Laude with honors with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

“He gave me the space to dream big and be ambitious and connected me with the resources I needed to get the project running,” she said. “I have learned so much under his mentorship and am forever changed as an artist because of it.”

After graduation, Stephens has a summer internship with AmeriCorps as a videographer.

“My immediate plans are to stay in town, take a much-needed rest, and do some self-discovery in order to figure out my next steps as an artist,” she said. “Eventually, I plan to pursue an MFA, but first want to gain some work and life experience.”

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