On Thursday afternoon, a group of 50 or so undergrads assembled in Room 112 of the Center for the Arts on the University at Buffalo's North Campus to watch a presentation by two young art world luminaries.
Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, collaborators on a wide range of art projects that have turned heads across the international art scene, gave fascinating answers to questions from the crowd and played a series of manic clips from their recent work.
The event, a collaboration between UB and the Leslie-Loman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, was one of perhaps a dozen this week on the university's North Campus to which the public was invited.
The community outreach activities of this great university are no longer quite as robust or defined as they once were. But events like UB professor Jonathan Katz's exciting new lecture series featuring top contemporary artists show that new connections between the school and the region are still forming. You just have to hunt a little harder for them.
The University at Buffalo's current administration is not as focused on intellectual engagement with the community at large as some of its predecessors were. The university's divestment of WBFO -- perhaps its most powerful tool for connecting the swirling university culture to the public at large -- was a major step in the wrong direction.
Even so, many professors and departments there continue to bring their work outside the UB bubble and into places where the community has access to it.
Consider, for instance, the "Art and Science Cabaret" series, co-sponsored by Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and UB's College of Arts and Sciences. That event, which will have its eighth incarnation April 25 in the Buffalo Museum of Science, will feature presentations on photography and holography by UB professors, as well as from Buffalo astrophotographer Alan Friedman.
Then there are the various public programs of the UB Humanities Institute, which includes the ambitious "Fluid Culture" installation and lecture series centered on issues of water, globalization and culture. That series, one of the more exciting pieces of public programming to emerge from the university in recent years, is an innovative way to broadcast the big ideas of top thinkers to the public at large.
At 1 p.m. today in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, as part of its sprawling exhibition "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s," Katz, along with UB professor Bruce Jackson and other academics and artists, will present a panel on the visual culture of the '70s.
Later this month the headquarters of Hi-Temp Fabrication building on Perry Street in the Cobblestone District will host an exhibition of artwork by UB undergrads, as well as two exhibitions of work by grad students in UB's visual studies department. In addition, eight other MFA students have exhibitions in other local venues outside of the North Campus. Not to mention the work of the Anderson Gallery and UB Art Gallery, currently hosting excellent exhibitions that are free to the public.
All of these points of connection between the intellectual resource of UB and the larger Western New York community, of which there are plenty more, speak to the underutilized potential of the university as a broad public resource.
As the bent of the university tends more toward economic interaction with the community rather than intellectual engagement, the ball is increasingly in our court. All of us subsidize UB, and the opportunities for each of us to get our money's worth remain widely available.
The university is still sending out invitations. All we have to do is RSVP.