Rising Above the Pressure: Converse II Student Curates Alumnae Show
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Rising Above the Pressure: Converse II Student Curates Alumnae Show

Studio Art major Caren Stansell

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On the heels of the announcement of Converse’s new School of the Arts (SOA) initiative, Creativity that Works, comes an ideal example of one of the program’s goals: prepare students for successful careers by incorporating experiential learning into every major. Upstairs Artspace in Tryon, N.C. has invited Caren Stansell ’16, a Studio Art major and Converse II student (undergraduate students age 24 and older), to curate the upcoming exhibition, Women Under Pressure, showcasing the printmaking work of nine Converse alumnae. The exhibition opens April 30 with a reception from 6 – 7:30 pm and continues through June 9. An intern at the gallery since May 2015, Caren earned the rare honor of being given curatorial responsibilities for a main gallery exhibition.

Caren’s internship is part of a new class, Art 425: Studio Art Internship, which fulfills the experiential learning requirement for Creativity That Works. Starting this year, all SOA students will gain professional experience through their choice of internship, faculty-mentored research projects in the field of arts, or other arts-related opportunities. Caren’s professor for the course, Andrew Blanchard recommended her to Upstairs Artspace gallery director Tom Madison for the internship.

Exterior shot of Upstairs Artspace“What impresses me most about Caren is her level of dedication to her art, to her studies and to careful consideration of her future career,” Madison said. “She makes deliberate and thoughtful decisions at every step of the way. As gallery assistant, she has often been one or two steps ahead when it comes to our day-to-day operations.”

During fall 2015, Caren headed up 100×100, a fundraising show at Upstairs Artspace featuring local artists in the Tryon area. The gallery was so impressed by the show’s success that they asked Caren to remain on for an additional semester and to curate their main gallery exhibition. “This may very well be the first time a student has been allowed primary curatorial responsibilities at the gallery,” Madison said. “Caren Stansell is someone the art world will be hearing from and I am grateful for the time we are able to work with her.”

Caren makes the one-hour commute tothe gallery every Friday, in addition to attending Converse full-time and being a single mother. “Time management is crucial when having a child, making art, and keeping on top of an internship which is off campus,” she said.

Artwork of Studio Art alumna Katy ButlerCaren typically spends one day a week at the gallery, but often takes her work home. “Larger projects require more than just an eight-hour day,” Caren said. “Curating Women Under Pressure is taking a considerable amount of time corresponding with nine artists. 100×100, the fundraiser I headed up last semester, took careful planning from home as well.”

It’s fitting that the woman who successfully balances these pressures is the cornerstone behind the exhibition named Women Under Pressure.

Caren’s internship director, Dr. Susanne Floyd Gunter, Chair of Converse’s Department of Art & Design, says Caren’s experience hits the mark for what the School of the Arts aims to achieve through the Creativity That Works curriculum. “Caren has gained so much confidence since taking on this internship,” Dr. Gunter said. “She is able to pull various individuals and groups together for a really productive end product. I am so proud of what she has achieved with this.”

Creativity That Works is designed to prepare students for successful careers in the arts by emphasizing collaborations across disciplines, marketing skills for the arts, portfolio development and career management. “At the core of all the arts is experiential learning,” Dr. Gunter said. “The jump start on a career that the internship experience provides makes it appealing in so many ways through networking, skill building, and broadening perspectives.”

Caren agrees, noting, “This internship experience will let me fit into another facet of the arts. I not only can teach but also could apply to positions at a gallery or museum.”

Artwork of Studio Art alumna Hailey HodgeCaren and Professor Blanchard hand-picked the nine alumnae featured in Women Under Pressure, who all eagerly accepted the invitation to participate. The show will allow faculty, current students and the community to see how Converse alumnae have flourished in their art and their careers since graduating from Converse.

With graduation right around the corner, Caren is looking forward to the next chapter in her journey, which includes completing an MFA. The blend of her internship success and her recent induction into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the oldest and largest national honor society for non-traditional students, has caught the attention of impressive MFA programs. Caren has been accepted to East Carolina University, University of South Carolina in Columbia, University of Mississippi, and Clemson University. Professor Blanchard isn’t surprised.  “All of these wonderful student outcomes and achievements of Miss Stansell’s have led to her graduate school acceptances,” he said. “I’m really pleased, and, with her in my classes, she’s been a great role model to our traditional undergraduates as well.”

Caren attributes much of her success to her support system at Converse. Recently Dr. Gunter funded Caren’s trip to the SGCI Printmaking Conference in Portland, Oregon, where Caren represented the Converse art department with printmaking demonstrations. “It was an opportunity to see contemporary print methods, current work from international artists, and an opportunity to network with other artists,” Caren said.

Regardless of where Caren’s art career takes her, it’s certain she has the foundations for success.

Women Under Pressure will be on exhibition at the Upstairs Artspace, opening on April 30 and closing on June 9. The opening reception will be held on April 30th from 6 – 7:30 pm. Upstairs Artspace is located at 49 South Trade Street, Tryon, NC 28782.