University Leadership: Sherri Geldin

September 18, 2012

We’ve seen that the Wexner Center is turning 21 this year, and we know that you’ve been here for much of that time.  What is the role and status of the Wex at this “coming of age” moment?
In just 21 years, the Wexner Center has achieved remarkable success in the field, catapulting itself into the first rank of university-based museums and widely perceived as among the “short list” of leading U.S. contemporary art institutions—the Whitney in New York,  SFMOMA, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to name a few. But Ohio State has something totally unique in the Wexner Center, the only fully multidisciplinary art center connected to a major U.S. research university.

As part of a research university, the Wex has a steadfast commitment to the creation of new work, supporting artists in all fields with financial, technical, intellectual, and moral support in their pursuits. The center acts as a laboratory for artistic experimentation and production. 

We are proud to serve as a forum where extraordinary artistic experiences enable audiences to understand and navigate the most compelling issues of our time, even as they are entertained. We also engage with thousands of K-12 students and their teachers every year, enriching their academic curricula and hopefully enhancing cultural literacy among the next generation. The center also seeks to offer new and virtual avenues into our programming, whether through our Market at 15th & High; the Virtual Pasture; and increasingly sophisticated uses of technology, whether for live-streaming, social media, cell phone tours, or our new Wex app for iPhone.

How has being located on campus and being part of the university played a role in the Wexner Center’s programming?
The Wex is deeply embedded in OSU’s DNA and vice versa, and as such the center serves as a distinctive and highly differentiating asset in the university’s efforts to be the land grant campus to the world. Already a force in the international arts arena, I believe the center helps to further advance OSU’s profile, scope, and reach—in part by serving as a cultural bridge to the best creative minds and networks from around the globe. The Wexner Center serves as a vital resource to multiple and diverse faculty members across campus.  Many professors in art, art history, theater, dance, architecture, humanities, and allied fields comment that the Wex was a considerable factor in their decision to join Ohio State, and others cite it as a reason to stay.

The Wexner Center also regularly collaborates with more unlikely partners, including the Medical Center, the Department of Athletics, Fisher College of Business, the Moritz College of Law, the College of Engineering, the Byrd Polar Research Institute, the Aquatic Ecology Lab, the Glenn School of Public Policy, and the Mershon Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences.

The center’s comprehensive student benefit program, which began in 1994, is likely the largest such university-based program of its kind in the country. Every student enrolled at Ohio State is automatically entitled to a variety of benefits, including free gallery admission; $10 tickets to select Wexner Center dance and theater productions; year-round discounts to music and film events; “students only” sales in the Wexner Center Store and other special events. The program is designed to acquaint all Ohio State students with the Wexner Center and to encourage their participation year-round, resulting in one of the highest percentages of student audiences among our peers at university-based arts institutions. In addition, over the past five years, we have made a concerted effort to design programs with specific youth appeal, such as “Next at Wex” indie rock concerts, student-oriented film series, and visiting artist programs that allow for student interaction.

“Wex Up Next” is an important part of the Wexner Center community’s vernacular. For those less familiar, we’d like to ask what’s up next in 2011?
The joy and privilege of working in the contemporary arts field is that there is always something up next; I often say the Wex is like one-stop shopping for contemporary culture in all guises. Currently on the horizon is a remarkable opportunity for campus and community audiences to experience the genius of playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith via her theatrical tour-de-force, Let Me Down Easy. This one-woman show explores illness, injury, mortality, and the complexities of health care through uncanny and captivating portrayals of 20 different individuals across American society. Among many cross-campus partners in this endeavor, we are working closely with our colleagues throughout The Ohio State Medical Center, and in particular its STAR Program (Stress, Trauma, and Resilience).

The spring also brings an international exhibition featuring the extraordinary work of one-time Wexner Prize winner Louise Bourgeois, who passed away just last year at the age of 98, along with gallery installations by two young women artists who perpetuate Bourgeois’s legacy. A Charlie Chaplin retrospective is a highlight of our upcoming film program, and renowned graphic novelist Art Spiegelman returns to the Wex as part of his creative residency (which also involves OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library). There’ll be two outstanding performances for families: Baobab and The Tragical Life of Cheesebo.  And in the fall, we present the world premiere of ROAD TRIP  by NYC-based theater company the Builders Association, which has used its Wex residency to examine the foreclosure crisis through the lens of The Grapes of Wrath. This project is being developed in collaboration with campus colleagues in the fields of business, law, architecture, theater, and agriculture. I could go on, or you could visit wexarts.org for full event listings!

It’s no surprise that much of your giving has been directed to the Wexner Center. You’re a member of the Wexner Center Donor Circles—how would you describe the impact of giving by donors, including yourself, at this recognized higher level?
I am committed to many arts, cultural and social service organizations in the community, but needless to say, I’m passionate about the Wex and hope to inspire that passion in others. I am so grateful for the many individual members and donors that support the center year-round, and making my own contribution to the center is the least I can do to express my profound appreciation for their belief in our mission.

The center enjoys significant support from the university and from corporations and foundations. But engaging participation among people throughout Columbus—as visitors, members, and patrons—is absolutely vital to the center’s ongoing success. Personal philanthropy in Columbus is a real hallmark of this community. It’s hugely gratifying to me that the Wex, too, has inspired that kind of generosity!

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