Student Judges Turn the Tables

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As you might expect, college art students have several opportunities to submit their work for exhibitions, but there are no guarantees. Sooner or later, they must face rejection of their work. It is just part of learning through experience.

But what happens when the students become the jurors of a contest, deciding what gets in and what gets left out? And what if a few of the entries come from your own professors . . . or your boss?

Well, that’s good experience too and a group of five Radford students recently had that opportunity.

On October 25, Radford University’s Tyler Gallery will host an all student-juried exhibition of art created by the university faculty and staff called Look What We Made!

The jurors--Shiheem Barnett, Anne Cassett, Sam Dent, Tori Hale, and Rachel Zerumsky—all work at Radford’s art museum as work-study students. Their task was to select a full show from 36 entries and 15 artists, plus an overall winner for the “Juror’s Choice Award.”

Four of the five are art majors, which means they knew some of the artists submitting work as their professors. Barnett, a fashion design major, was able to dodge that pressure, but he does work for the museum and one of the submitters is the museum registrar, Theresa Rykaczewski.

In fact, the idea for student jurors came from Rykaczewski, and within a few days of their employment this semester, she reached out to her employees to serve. They could have bowed out, but each person embraced it.


Tori Hale said she accepted because it sounded like fun, but it was also eye-opening.

“Sometimes you forget that people where you live are just as talented as people in big cities,” Hale explained.

“Even with art professors, I don’t really think about them as artists that much. They are teaching us, but they have ideas they want to express.”

The selection process involved two rounds of evaluation and a fair amount of discussion and debate.

Rachel Zerumsky organized the entries, and they flipped through each entry as a group on a large projector screen. Each student jury member used a scorecard to record their individual decisions.

Rykaczewski explained that the jurying took place in the Covington Museum workroom and students had free rein to select as they saw fit without influence from the museum registrar, other staff or faculty.

Ultimately, they submitted confidential scorecards to student gallery assistant, Kendra Earls, to tally and report the results.

Sam Dent said there were some pieces that everyone agreed on easily. Likewise, some were ruled out quickly, specifically large sculptural works, because they would have been nearly impossible to install.

Other pieces were not as simple to select or reject.


“There were a handful of pieces we debated because they were not stylistically gelling with the rest of the work,” Dent explained.

The backgrounds of the jurors also influenced the choices. Dent said his prior experience in photography classes gave him a different point of view regarding those submissions.

Barnett said they quickly found those personal experiences and artistic inclinations entered the equation.

“Everyone who works here has their own defined aesthetics,” Barnett noted. “So obviously, we are each going to gravitate to our personal tastes.”

“But honestly, I think it was kind of beautiful to see how our own tastes go into the evaluation process.”

In the end, most of the works submitted were accepted. And in the process, the students got a meaningful look at what goes into assembling an art exhibit.

“The students who participated rated it as one of their favorite gallery tasks so far this semester,” Rykaczewski said, “especially as something new that provided insight on the jurying process.”

There is a free public reception for the show on Wednesday, October 25 at 5 p.m. at the Tyler Gallery in Radford. There will be refreshments and there will be a “People’s Choice” award as well.

Look What We Made runs through November 15. Regular museum hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

Oct 24, 2023
Sean J Kotz