An interview originally featured in MATCHBOOK, the editorial extension of MIXD Gallery, Jeannie Hulen, Associate Dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, speaks on inspiration, hope, and opportunity for the next generation of artists.
MIXD: Will you share with us a bit of your background?
JH: I grew up in a Prison, South of Houston in Texas. Long story short, my father was a Chaplain in the Prison system, who also worked a lot of odd jobs every minute of every day to send all five of his kids to a boarding school in St. Louis. His goal was to make sure his kids would not work for the prison like generations of families end up working it.
MIXD: When did you first begin your work in ceramics?
JH: I started working in ceramics in high school, went to the Kansas City Art Institute for my undergraduate degree, and Louisiana State University for Post Baccalaureate and Graduate School.
MIXD: In your own work as a ceramist, where do you draw inspiration?
JH: Everywhere really, but most recently in the natural world of what seems supernatural. The things that are explained in science are still awe-inspiring to me visually and experientially. I am not religious, and most of the time, I’m atheist, but fog hanging low to the ground with mountains and cities sitting on top of these clouds is pretty mystical. I also love the science of ceramics and how it is both geological and chemical in material, but can be made into almost anything—parts of our body or surrogate, like teeth and bones, to vessels and materials in spaceships.
MIXD: You’ve been at the helm of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, serving as Associate Dean since 2017, but in the mix for much longer. In your time at the university, how have you seen the students and arts evolve?
JH: This is a huge question. I’ve been at the University of Arkansas since 2002, and this is my twentieth year. I have seen and done a lot in these past 2 decades. I have mainly raised a lot of money for the School of Art, and I taught or supported many students that have gone on to make careers in the field. Several have left for graduate school and made careers all over the world, and some have recently moved back to NWA as artists among our community. The level of student and alumni success seems infinite, now especially with all the support our students receive to become artists while in school.
MIXD: Can you tell us about the new Windgate Art + Design Building accommodations, tools, and access? What has been your role in the school’s development and funding for the new building?
JH: In 2015, I wrote the first Windgate gift and we received $2,064,000—that’s 64K for summer travel for students, 500K for the Sculpture facility, and 1.5M for art equipment. In 2017 after years of conversations, I was the primary content writer for the $120 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and the primary contact on the $40 million gift from the Windgate Foundation for the new 154,000 square foot Studio and Design building. In 2021, we also received 30 Million as a Challenge grant for the next building on the site and we will need to raise an additional 7M to unlock this grant. The building includes galleries, an advanced 3D technology lab, and our freshman foundations studios. Outside of these large fundraising grants, I have secured several smaller grants that are close to a million in support of art programs and programming.
MIXD: What are you most excited about the new Windgate Art and Design district and where do you see the University of Arkansas school of art in 5 years?
JH: Due to the endowment support for student scholarships, fellowships, graduate stipends and travel grants the student body will grow and not take on the debt that most do in the country. Coupled with the best facilities in the country for Arts education and tutelage from internationally-known faculty in fields of Art Education, Art History, Graphic Design, and Studio Art, our students will thrive in their education that will enrich the art community not only here, but also internationally. We are currently getting the best applicants for all of our graduate programs and for many years in our oldest program the MFA in Studio art. Our MFAs have turned down top schools due to our rising reputation.
MIXD: How many students are enrolled in the UA art program in 2023? BA and MFA?
JH: Currently, there are a little over 500 majors. This fall was the largest freshman class of 200, and we expect the same next year. The MDes terminal degree for Graphic Design welcomed their first cohort, and the MA in Art Education also had their first class. This growth will continue next year with the addition of more graduates in these fields, as well as our new MA in Art History starting Fall 2023.
MIXD: Can you tell us about any other exciting news for the art school’s future? We’ve heard the graduate programs are expanding to include art education, art history and more.
JH: The MFA is only for Studio Art, and the other new terminal degree is the MDes for Graphic Design. The two MA programs are Art History and Art Education, and in the future we will be adding the terminal degrees in these fields through PhDs in the next five years.
MIXD: Does the school of art collaborate with the Fay Jones School of Architecture?
JH: Yes, a lot. Primarily through classes with a mixture of instructors, students, and studio lab collaborations, with more to come once our respective buildings are built.
MIXD: How can the public and community art fans support artists at UA making their way? Buying their work when available at locally run places like, ahem, MIXD Gallery?
JH: Yes, as well as coming into the building when we have studio walks and openings. Come Spring 2023, you can come get a cup of coffee at the café, look around and buy some student work! All are welcome.
MIXD: What does accessible art mean to you?
JH: This has a lot of meaning. One is that it should be available to communities that are less likely to see art. It should also be relatable to broad communities. I also think art is mostly accessible; it is primarily venues that are not.
MIXD: In regards to your own work as an artist, is there any advice or encouragement you’ve held on to?
JH: Never have a plan B, only put all your effort into doing what you want to do. Focusing on plans that you have in case things don’t work out will take time away from making your plan work!