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Earlier this month, West Virginia University affirmed its decision to cut 28 majors and more than 140 faculty positions.
Now, more than 40 university faculty, students and alumni from the ceramics, prints and sculpture departments are coming together at a local art gallery to put on an exhibition of their work titled “Deep Cuts.”
Reporter Chris Schulz sat down with WVU professor and owner of Morgantown art gallery Galactic Panther, Eli Pollard to discuss the exhibit and the effects of the university’s cuts.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Schulz: Can you tell me a little bit about your teaching at the university?
Pollard: Well, that’s rapidly changing as has been the case for quite a while now. I do teach at the university currently, but this looks like it will be my final semester. I started here in 2008, in the humanities department. I had about 300 students a year teaching Western Civ. Unfortunately, all the faculty from that department has been fired, let go, which was kind of mind-blowing considering the amount of students I had for about $23,000 a year. We made a lot of money for the university, but it wasn’t quite cutting it, I guess.
I was able to transition over to the design department, which has been great. I’ve taught fashion design for them. I’ve taught interior design courses for them as well. Landscape architecture, I do a lot of drawing and foundational courses and portfolio courses for those departments. And I’ve been teaching and designing community development and also developing study abroad courses, which have been amazing for the students. We’ve gone all over.
I started in Central America, then things got a little bit difficult working in Central America, I wasn’t allowed to go there anymore. So I started working more in Europe, and I’ve taken students all over Europe, and we’ve had incredible experiences over there. It looks like my last one of those is going to be Greece this winter. If any students are listening, you have until October 1 to sign up for that program. But I just got word last night that I won’t be able to run those anymore either, which is a huge loss, again, to the students.
Schulz: Western Civ and design, those are two, at least to my mind, pretty disparate topics. How did you end up there?
Pollard: Doing backflips to survive here is kind of the short answer. But in more detail, humanities and western civilization has a lot to do with art history. We had people in that department that had backgrounds in history, and we had people who had backgrounds in fine arts and literature. And because there’s so much content covered in the humanities, in western civilization, each of us were able to kind of develop the course with our own kind of unique perspectives. That fine arts perspective, of course, transfers very nicely into design work, which is a lot of what I do as well.
Schulz: What has been the impact on your role? Are you slated to receive one of these potential RIF notifications in the coming weeks?
Pollard: Yeah, just these past few days, maybe four or five days ago, I was told my position teaching is over. And I had always understood that there was a possibility to continue the education abroad courses if my regular teaching had to come to an end. They have just apparently switched that stance and now I will no longer be able to teach those as of last night or the night before, I was told that one. So, they’re both done.
So my focus is here on the gallery now, which is fine. I’m still trying to kind of grapple with, I’ve been here for 15 years teaching now. It’ll take a moment to adjust, but I’ve had a lot of warning, like I said, my first department was completely slashed. And then I took an impact from an earlier budget cut where I went from full time to adjunct staff. So, I’ve been kind of grappling with this before all this headline news hit. It’s just unfortunate now because I’m seeing so many people I know and respect facing the same kind of future, basically.
Schulz: Are you from West Virginia originally?
Pollard: No, I was born in Florida, but I moved here when I was three, my family’s from here. So, everything except born here, pretty much. My parents, my mom and my stepdad had to leave the state for similar reasons. They were teachers in the school system, well, teacher and school psychologist, and everybody’s getting pink slips in education. So, they headed out of state. I ended up coming back for school. So, I’ve been back and forth many times.
Schulz: You know obviously this has a much wider effect, which is why we’re going to be talking about this event happening later this week. But before we get into that, can you tell me a little bit about the background of Galactic Panther and this space? I understand that it’s not exclusive to Morgantown even.
Pollard: I started Galactic Panther, working on renovating this space right before COVID hit. So, we pretty much opened up here in Morgantown during COVID, which was tricky, of course. It’s already tricky to have an art gallery. To make it extra tricky. I’m on the outskirts of Morgantown and to make it that much more challenging it was opening during COVID. So, kind of a dreamer’s tale I guess. But it’s worked to a certain extent, the gallery is still here in Morgantown. And because of my efforts here, I had a partner who was interested in assisting with opening a second space in the DC area.
We are focusing on art exhibits, of course, as a gallery but we have events in there with live music, and a friend of mine has been doing sound baths if you’re familiar with that, which is kind of a beautiful form of meditation, where he brings in his Moog synthesizer and does full analog sound baths where you just kind of let the sound wash all your troubles away. So some healing events and music events and art events are kind of the real focus.
Schulz: So tell me a little bit more about this week’s event on Friday.
Pollard: This Friday, the 29th from 5:30 to 9:30 is when we’ll be having an event.
Schulz: And what is the event? I understand that it’s titled “Deep Cuts.”
Pollard: It is. “Deep Cuts” is an exhibition from the WVU printmaking, sculpture and ceramics departments. This includes faculty, students, and alumni. So, it’s quite a large grouping of artists, we’ve got about 40 visual artists involved. Many are, in the area, household names, I would say, a lot of talent coming in. I’ve also gotten music booked for the evening as well, by alumni of these departments.
Schulz: How did this all come together?
Pollard: This is something that I came up with, it just felt like a need. There was a necessity that this happen, I felt, and I didn’t see that anybody else was offering this. So, I reached out to the art department. They were very positive in the response and have had a strong hand in curating this exhibit. They’ve reached out to many students and alumni to expand our voice, so to speak. Everybody seemed to really appreciate the idea, so we’re all coming together. And I’ve gotta start running now and make sure we’re all ready for Friday.
Schulz: So many exhibitions are often so focused on a topic or a subject or a medium. I think it’ll certainly be interesting to see so much variety in one show. What are you hearing from the people that are contributing to the show about the need to do this now? Because it seems kind of bittersweet to have simultaneously such a great plethora of local artists coming together, but also the reason behind it is, obviously, a bit of a weight to say the least.
Pollard: Yeah, it is bittersweet. And I have heard a lot of frustration coming from the artists as they’re bringing their work in. It’s just a blow, not just to the students at the university and to the faculty, but to the community. As I mentioned, these artists are doing things like the Morgantown Studio Tour. If that faculty has to leave, then that is going to leave, probably, with them. One of these artists designed our state quarter, one of these artists teaches at BOPARC for everybody’s kids in the summertime. So, there’s huge impacts here, culturally, beyond what’s happening at the university.
These impacts culturally, of course, will have eventual economic impacts, which brings us full circle. Which makes you wonder why these are even happening if the folks making these cuts are doing this for economic reasons. They’re mistaken. They’re deeply mistaken because these are the people that build the economy of a community. They build a community and they build the economy, so if you’re getting rid of the people that do this, you’re shooting yourself in the foot ultimately. That’s part of the message that we’re here to convey.
Schulz: Is there anything else about this situation about this process more generally, that I haven’t given you an opportunity to discuss?
Pollard: This is a free event, it’s Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Donations are greatly appreciated for snacks and musicians and things of that nature. Buying artwork is highly encouraged, we would accept payment plans because this is supporting artists. It also, from day one, Galactic Panther, we have given a portion of all sales to local food banks, and this is no different than any other event. So you’re supporting the artists in the gallery and local people in need as well. So please come out. Please be respectful of the neighborhood but come out numbers and be heard.
I don’t know that I’m the spokesperson for the full process of what’s happening at WVU. I’m just a kind of a modest megaphone for the artists in the area and the community that’s being affected at large. I think this is a great opportunity this weekend to come together and discuss this. This is maybe beyond the 11th hour, but there’s a lot of intelligent people here. If our voices can be heard, maybe we can come up with a positive solution here.
“Deep Cuts” will run through November by appointment at Galactic Panther, 462 Dunkard Ave. To book an appointment to see the exhibition after Friday, contact Eli Pollard at firstname.lastname@example.org