Originally posted by Jennifer Kopf on January 28, 2020
Pennsylvania College of Art & Design Blog
Meet Alana Coates: PCA&D’s Director of Exhibitions
(photo of Alana Coates by Osmyn J. Oree)
For Alana Coates, who’s built a career at galleries and museums of all kinds, the role of a gallery at an art college is especially pivotal.
“The enhanced hands-on learning opportunities that a gallery provides as a platform of creative exploration is crucial for students to transition to successful creative careers outside of school,” Coates says.
Coates, whose tenure at PCA&D began at the start of this academic year, comes to the College after filling a wide spectrum of roles in museums as well as commercial and academic galleries. The opportunity to help create, shape, and refine opportunities for students here, she says, was irresistible. She’s drawn to the chance to spotlight creative perspectives that challenge, educate, and inspire students in their own work.
What attracted you to this position at PCA&D?
AC: I was attracted to PCA&D because of the talent it exudes. I am thrilled to be working at an art school — this is the dream to be surrounded by people who LIVE for art — people who “get it.” I’m always impressed by the student work I see walking the hallways of the College, and the personalities that I encounter remind me that this is an incubator for creativity.
I also thought the city of Lancaster was pretty fantastic; I appreciate the city’s support for independent businesses and its walkability.
Most importantly, what I had learned about the vision of the leadership and the culture of the organization attracted me to apply. At this moment, PCA&D radiates with innovation, change, growth, and collaboration, and that very much enticed me to join the team.
As a small school that is experiencing significant growth and change, the opportunities for impact from my role as Director of Exhibitions are tremendous and exciting. I am lucky to be able to be part of making and shaping the new infrastructure of this academic gallery. This includes developing an enhanced mission and vision for the Gallery, collection policies, formulating an advisory committee, building and expanding partnerships, designing pop-up exhibitions, artwork loan programs, and formalizing a learning experience for students that better utilizes the gallery program as an educational tool.
And lastly, I am very much looking forward to adding a global perspective to the exhibits with a greater emphasis on scholarship to the exhibition programming, as well as dreaming up new innovative approaches to the academic gallery setting here at PCA&D.
PCA&D Director of Exhibitions Alana Coates presents a guided tour of the Gallery earlier this year to students from Cedar Crest High School. Community outreach, as well as learning opportunities for PCA&D students, are crucial parts of Coates’ role.
How do you see the Director of Exhibitions’ responsibilities?
AC: The Director of Exhibitions stays in tune with the student body, abreast of the global art world, and remains cognizant of industry best practices. They spearhead, shape, and lead the College’s comprehensive and innovative exhibition schedule and programming that reaches far beyond the walls of the Gallery on campus.
The Director researches, develops, and oversees intellectually significant exhibitions of curatorial merit. They are conscious of serving both the local public and the needs of the PCA&D community while maintaining a dialogue with a broader perspective capable of art historical prestige. They produce accompanying publications of the highest possible caliber partnering with scholars and experts in the field. Maintaining a sense of cultural diversity, and consistent rotation of artistic mediums that reflect the majors of the College, are very important.
The Director maintains a mission-centered focus while keeping a keen eye for outreach opportunities and collaborations within PCA&D and beyond. They create opportunities for the students to learn the best professional practices, elevate their presentation, and provide spaces for experimentation. The Director looks for opportunities to better connect the public with the gallery program and searches for ways to enhance learning opportunities for the students by working closely with the faculty to better integrate the gallery space as a learning laboratory.
“I am thrilled to be working at an art school — this is the dream to be surrounded by people who LIVE for art — people who ‘get it.'”
How does the role of an art college’s gallery differ from that of a commercial gallery?
AC: There are many operational models that art galleries can follow. When the phrase “commercial gallery” is used, it simply means that the gallery engages in commerce and intends to make a profit, usually by the sale of art. However, the term “commercial” can also have negative connotations. There are many different levels of commercial galleries: Some can be operating with attributes of local retail/gift shop, while others are dealing within the broader art markets and infrastructures of the international art world.
Nonprofit galleries operate under a different financial structure and tax code; they might sell the artwork that is on display, but nonetheless, the business model centers on the organization’s mission rather than the profits driven from the sale of those artworks. Academic galleries fall under the nonprofit category, and the purpose of a college’s gallery is closely aligned with the institution’s mission. Most universities and colleges have a gallery or museum, and their focus can be on different time periods or genres. These galleries are used for educational purposes, develop original scholarship, and employ art-based and experiential learning.
Academic galleries and the upper echelon of commercial galleries will place a greater emphasis on intellectual rigor within their curatorial approach and correlating programming akin to museums. Scholarship and dissemination of research through publishing is also important.
I am joining PCA&D with a broad background in a spectrum of commercial galleries, art museums, and academic galleries.
“Luckily for me, I get to live my dreams all of the time — this is why I love what I do,” Director of Exhibitions Alana Coates says. “When I get to work on a project that I’m interested in, I’m obsessed and fully invested.”
What role would you like to see The Gallery at PCA&D play within the College?
AC: The role of a gallery at an art college is pivotal. The enhanced hands-on learning opportunities that a gallery provides as a platform of creative exploration is crucial for the students to transition to successful creative careers outside of school.
Furthermore, at PCA&D, the Gallery is a critical first impression of the College; it is literally the first thing a visitor sees when walking in the doors — this includes students and potential students, to donors and potential donors — so the Gallery must convey the best impression on behalf of the entire College. Therefore, by design, the role of The Gallery at PCA&D is equally as important internally as its projections outward.
My dream would be to have 10 students employed by the Gallery, (to serve as) the face of the operation during open hours. These students would be mentored by me along with local gallery business owners in the form of a gallery practicum course and independent studies. In addition to the Gallery functioning as a teaching/learning space, a similar aim would be for The Gallery at PCA&D to be one of the premier tourist attractions in the City of Lancaster. I would like to significantly increase visitor traffic and draw in art enthusiasts, connoisseurs, and a diverse audience of generally curious people from all over.
I want to implement greater utilization of the Gallery within the PCA&D community and beyond. For example, there are opportunities to better integrate all classes on campus, from foundation classes to advanced studio classes, liberal arts, and independent studies. In addition, I would also like to include more programming for our neighboring K-12 students in the public school districts, including outreach to the most economically challenged schools. I would also like to design more involvement opportunities for the large senior citizen population of Lancaster.
What role should The Gallery at PCA&D play within the local art community and the greater community around us?
AC: The Gallery should be a meeting place, a creative incubator, an artistic laboratory, a learning and teaching space with art objects, installations, symposiums, lectures, and performances for the students, alumni, faculty, staff, community, and visitors.
The Gallery currently is undergoing some renovation. Can you talk a bit about what that entails? What will it enable the Gallery to do?
AC: The Gallery’s construction will be expanding the height of some of the shorter walls, substantially expanding the exhibition space.
And, finally, what artist(s) – of any era – would your dream exhibit include?
AC: Luckily for me, I get to live my dreams all of the time — this is why I love what I do. When I get to work on a project that I’m interested in, I’m obsessed and fully invested. Some of my upcoming projects thematically deal with the crisis in Syria and the revolution happening currently in Chile. I am also very excited to bring a greater emphasis on exhibits with Latinx artists and themes to better reflect the large Latino population in Lancaster. I’m looking forward to experiencing my first PCA&D student show as well as the Faculty Biennial.