Columbia, China to exchange art, students

By Lisa Schulz

From intricately painted colorful dragons to washed-out, tie-dyed paper dresses with skirts lined in crisp Chinese lettering, each piece of artwork from the art and design freshmen at Jiujiang University in China told a story of their past.

The “Tell me a story.” exhibition opened Jan. 17 and will continue until Jan. 27 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., in the Center for Book and Paper Arts at the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., on the second floor. The art exchange partnership was started three years ago by Rose Camastro Pritchett, adjunct faculty member in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department, although this is the collection’s first exhibition.

Now, Columbia students can read beyond the stories shipped from China and create their own to tell. Along with a transfer program of art from Columbia students to a gallery at Jiujiang University, the arrangement of a possible new student semester in China program is also in progress, according to Chris Greiner, director of International Programs.

“It’s very, very early,” Greiner said. “We don’t know if Columbia students would be interested, quite frankly. That’s why we want to have the meeting, and that’s why we are wanting to sit down and talk.”

Although the exact date is undecided, Columbia invited the director of admissions, an interpreter and the vice president of Academics to discuss the transfer program this semester, he said.

Since Jiujiang University had classrooms with no access to heat, air conditioning or water, school officials asked Pritchett to teach 15 students for a semester—six hours per week for five months—in her spacious apartment in China and where pulp casting, the water-based portion of papermaking, was performed in wash buckets on tables on her veranda, she said.

“In terms of things that they learned, it was OK to make mistakes,” Pritchett said. “It was great to take risks. It was challenging to work with other people. But I was so taken with their enthusiasm, their generosity.”

The initial connection to Jiujiang University originated three years ago when Pritchett visited her son, who was a professor at the college for six years. Though she had a teaching background in foreign countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Pritchett had no experience in the Chinese language, which didn’t affect her lessons, she said. Two student translators helped Pritchett convey her lessons, even though her students learned English in the first grade, she said.

However, the development of trust between Pritchett and the college didn’t come as quickly as the students’ ability to learn papermaking or pulp casting, she said.

“Relationships take a period of time when you get to know somebody,” Pritchett said. “You eat with them and you have this bond, then things start to happen. It took three years for this to happen, just getting to know [the director] and inviting us back again.”

Past exhibitions, such as the summer reading exposition and artist books, brought 100–200 guests visitors and 10–15 classroom visits from Columbia and surrounding colleges, said Jessica Cochran, curator of “Tell me a story.” and Exhibitions & Programs in the Book and Paper Center.

The gallery shows end-of-the-year projects from the graduate Master of Fine Arts program each semester but typically aims to show work from non-Columbia artists, she said.

“We generally try to show professional, really established artists so students who are around can see that kind of work,” Cochran said.

The gallery tries to accommodate spontaneous shows, but the concern about a 10-day display was the time frame for the amount of work required for setup, Cochran said.

With Pritchett teaching Entertainment Marketing and Art and Entrepreneurship courses at Columbia, Cochran said the gallery will attract more students. Pritchett plans to teach at Jiujiang University again, but no plans have been discussed, she said.

Even though Pritchett would like to see Columbia students’ work in the gallery, Cochran said student work won’t be displayed in this exhibition.

“It will open up a lot of students’ minds,” Cochran said. “We’re a big university. They’re a big university. I think it will remind us that other students in other places have a slightly different point of view, even though they’re working in the same media. That said, there are a lot of commonalities, too.”

The “Tell me a story.” exhibition opened Jan. 17 and will run until Jan. 27 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on the second floor of 1104 S. Wabash Ave.