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Let’s do (art at) lunch
Campus budgeteers, joined by an occasional visitor, unleash artistic impulses at a biweekly get-together

| 30 April 2003

 

art gathering


Sandy Ellison, foreground, and her co-workers from the Budget and Finance Office make creative use of their lunch hour.



Sandy Ellison, a policy analyst for the budget and planning office, cocks her head slightly and squints her eyes as she stares down at the blank piece of card stock before her. Finally, she picks up a bright marker and begins drawing an intricate pattern around the paper’s edge.

Across the table, her co-worker, Joyce Jennings, squeezes out a thin line of black, sticky goo on a piece of plastic. After a few minutes, the silhouette of a fish appears. Once the border is dry, she’ll fill it in with bold colors. After the interior paint and the black outline congeal together, she’ll peel the finished piece off the plastic. The translucent fish can then be used to decorate a window or other glass surface.

Ellison, Jennings, and several other colleagues from the office of the Vice Chancellor – Budget and Finance are gathered in a large conference room in University Hall. They meet here at noon one day every other week for what they call “Art Day.” Participants bring their supplies and work on various projects while they nibble on snacks and chat about recent vacations, current events, post-retirement plans, or whatever else pops into their heads.

“It started a little over two years ago, after a co-worker and I found out we had a common interest in doing art,” says Barbara Barnett, another analyst in the department. “We heard that Russ Giambelluca, our assistant vice chancellor, was an accomplished watercolorist, so we asked if he might give us a demonstration during the lunch hour.”

Barnett asked others in her unit if they were interested in attending the workshop, and the turnout was large and enthusiastic. Because everyone enjoyed the event so much, they decided to turn it into a twice-monthly gathering for folks interested in expressing their creativity in a supportive and informal setting.

“The key thing we want everyone in the office to know,” emphasizes Barnett, “is that they don’t have to be an ‘artist’ in order to join us. All they need is a desire to express themselves visually.“

But Art Day is about more than just drawing, painting, or sculpting. It’s a great way to escape the pressures of the job and bond with co-workers, says Ellison.

“Spending an hour in here working on my art puts my head in a totally different place,” she says. “It relieves stress and really refreshes me.”

While the emphasis isn’t on producing great works of art, there’s no denying the obvious talents among members of the group.

For example, Ellison somtimes uses the hour to create fabulous jewelry out of polymer clay, while James Wheeler produces sketches inspired by haiku. On one recent weekday, Barnett produced a wonderfully detailed botanical rendering while Academic Senate Executive Director Maureen Morley, an invited guest, sculpted a lifelike frog that will later be used as a mold for bass-fishing lures.

“Because everyone brings different kinds of materials with them,” says Giambelluca, “it gives us the chance to dabble in media we might not normally come in contact with.”

For example, one member brought her airbrush equipment to show the group how this style of painting — which uses a compressor to blow ink onto a canvas — works. Another demonstrated the technique of matting and framing artwork.

Giambelluca says he likes Art Day because it’s a specific time he can set aside to focus solely on his artwork, something not always possible for him to do at home because of various distractions.

“I would encourage other offices around campus to create this kind of group,” advises Ellison. “It’s a great way to spend a lunch.”