Gallery administration is a constant cycle of installations, opening receptions, artist talks, class visits, de-installations, and negotiations about exhibitions planned years in advance. Late spring is particularly frantic at the CSUN Art Galleries, as a massive juried undergraduate exhibition, a capstone graduate group exhibition, and an annual 30-campus high school invitational simultaneously command attention in their various planning stages. So when Holly Jerger assumed her new role as CSUN Art Galleries Director in April 2023, she had to hit the ground running, working in productive tandem with Exhibitions Coordinator Erika Ostrander, who had ably steered the galleries as Interim Director through shifting modalities during its years of pandemic-challenged operations.
I met Holly during the planning phases of the 2023 Graduate Exhibition as a participating MFA grad. Amid the whirlwind of culminating activities in a graduate art program, the final exhibition is perhaps the most fraught, ripe with possibilities to wow or flame out. While it might have seemed like the worst possible time to onboard a new director, Holly and Erika exuded calm confidence, as if they’d been working together for years. The vibe was ideal in helping grads negotiate gallery spaces and install a coherent, compelling show highlighting 16 personal approaches to contemporary art across seven disciplines.
Over the summer months, well after the exhibition, I had a chance to get to know Holly better. I asked her how working with grad students differed from her work with professional artists. She said she entered each relationship regarding grads as artists with professional goals while understanding that parts of the experience might be new to them. In every case, with both students and established artists, she’s seeking a collaboration to achieve the optimal version of the artist’s exhibition vision.
Her installation game face is supported by years of development and experience. Back in her MFA program days at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, where she made work primarily in printmaking and drawing, she gained experience teaching and saw career potential there. After grad school, her first jobs were in public programming and engagement for institutions like Fullerton Museum Center and the L.A. Dept of Recreation and Parks. She felt particularly drawn to working with this broader demography, interacting with visitors ages 5 to 90 from richly varied backgrounds and with varying levels of exposure to art, all with different takes to bring to art conversations. Her programming thrived under the challenges of keeping exhibitions relevant to guests from many backgrounds and many art literacies.
“Operating in a space that has historically been quite hierarchical and exclusionary, how do you open those fraught boundaries to fresh audiences and expand ideals of what art experiences can yield?” Holly asks rhetorically. “The arts are all about multiplicity, yet we function very much within a system and its histories. It’s relatively easy to talk about equity; we have to do the work necessary to achieve it. Representation isn’t enough, and diverse audiences aren’t enough. Equity and inclusion need to be embedded in everything the galleries do.”
Holly arrived at CSUN on the heels of a 17-year career at Craft Contemporary, situated in a historic building on Wilshire Boulevard directly across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Craft Contemporary, then known as the Craft & Folk Art Museum, had initially hired Holly as Director of Public Programs. Since the museum had a relatively small staff and no salaried curator at the time, Holly naturally assumed some installation and exhibition design projects in her public programming work. When it came time in 2015 to hire a Senior Exhibitions Curator, Holly emerged as the natural candidate for the job, and she remained in that role for seven years, overseeing solo exhibitions by the likes of Betye Saar, Lezley Saar, Beatriz Cortez, Kay Sekimachi, Gronk, and Diedrick Brackens. During that time the museum underwent a rebranding campaign to broaden the reach of its cutting-edge exhibitions beyond the mainstay audience who did not reflexively dismiss “craft” as legitimate art.
Holly wasn’t looking to leave Craft Contemporary when she heard CSUN was looking to hire a new galleries director, but she couldn’t resist a position that fired so many cylinders she cared about: education, curation, exhibition design, public programming, community outreach. Holly was already familiar with CSUN’s Art and Design Center, first as an attendee of exhibitions across the years, and then, in Fall 2022, as a guest professor of the MFA Seminar course, where she first worked with some of the students whose culminating exhibitions she would later oversee. As a bonus to CSUN, Holly knows from her Craft Contemporary experience that “leveling up” is sometimes simply a matter of speaking a bit louder about the great work the institution is already doing. The CSUN Galleries may yet transcend their status as the Valley’s “best kept secret” to claim oxygen on the Greater Los Angeles art scene.
Holly is as excited about on-campus synergies as off-campus visibility. “University galleries have the potential to be epicenters for people to come together, both within art disciplines and across the broad array of disciplines that comprise campus communities and curricula,” Holly says. “There exist all these potential ways across campus to expand content and reach and development of essentially visual art exhibitions.”
If you’re a member of the College or University community who has never seen the north campus Art and Design Center and CSUN Galleries, now is an ideal time to visit to view the recently opened blockbuster exhibition Permutations: The Work of Robert Bassler, surveying the dazzling sculptural optical art of the CSUN emeritus Art professor. You can also still catch some of Holly’s curatorial work at Craft Contemporary when Linda Sibio’s Economics of Suffering, Part IV opens October 1. The exhibition is “an interdisciplinary project that combines intensely intricate drawings, performance, and installation to explore devastating effects and emotional scarring caused by the ongoing worldwide financial crisis that peaked in the period from 2007-2010 and continues to affect 99 percent of the population.” Holly worked with Linda for several years to bring this project to fruition, and she’s so excited that it’s finally about to debut.
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