Arts & Culture

The Boxed Art Gallery

Framing Art Amid the Pandemic

While many art galleries are closing their doors due to the pandemic, there is one that is opening up avenues to uplift young artists and help them reach greater audiences. Founded by sophomore Ned Carlson, a student in the SMFA’s combined degree program, the Boxed Art Gallery is an online art gallery that aims not only to revive art during the pandemic but also to give practicing artists opportunities for exposure.

“As someone who has had their art in galleries before, it’s difficult for students to break into that realm. Even if their work is good, it’s not even considered. That’s the key difference between the Boxed Art Gallery and traditional art galleries,” said Carlson. 

Carlson launched the Boxed Art Gallery to provide an exhibition space for emerging young artists to share their work on a platform that is more professional than social media. “I hope to give back to emerging artists who are struggling to make it in a kind of competitive and exclusive world of art,” he explained. 

Allowing viewers to scroll through rows of colorful art pieces over a white background, Carlson aimed to recreate the traditional gallery experience digitally. “It’s a very tactile and fluid wall of pieces that I’ve curated, so it’s very natural and feels like you’re looking at the works on a wall at a gallery,” he said. “But it’s not meant to be specifically like that, so it’s based around looking at these things in the frame of a screen. That’s the reason for the name Boxed Art Gallery.”

Though the gallery started during the pandemic, Carlson said, “This was an idea that I played around with even before the pandemic hit, but once I realized that it would be that much harder with galleries closing or working with limited budgets and not accepting younger artists, it felt like the right time and place. So I took it and ran with it.”

Carlson launched the project with funding from the Tisch Student COVID Response Summer Program, an initiative started by Tisch College to support student projects that address the impacts of COVID-19. Along with connecting Carlson to professional contacts and mentors, the program provided a total of $2,800 for the Boxed Art Gallery’s website, advertising, and awards for contests.

The artwork in the gallery comes in all mediums. Many of these pieces are thematic, centering on topics such as COVID-19, economic inequality, and racial justice. Of over 200 pieces entered in the Boxed Contest in July, three received prizes. First place went to a digital painting called “Resilience” by sophomore Quinn Luong, which reflects on the Black Lives Matter movement and its struggle against years of disenfranchisement and oppression. Using a dramatic light source, bright saturated colors, and majestic tones of gold and brown, Luong hoped to create a piece celebrating Black beauty and power amid the protests over the summer. “There were so many protests that were vilified or ignored, and I got really angry—no matter what people of color do, they get shut down,” Luong said.

In second place, senior Wilamina Heifner’s sculpture called “Tics I” sheds light on the importance of mental health issues, especially during COVID-19. The sculpture shows a King Charles Spaniel clutching its face with hand-like paws. Heifner explained the symbolism behind her subject: “I felt like the way I have to express myself at home is reminiscent of the way the King Charles was bred. It’s a very socially careful dog, meant to keep people warm and be a full-time companion.” She crafted dark undereye circles to emphasize stress, blue eyes to mirror her own, and human hands to capture the gesture of clutching or scratching one’s face.

 “I wanted to open up the conversation about the more physical aspects of anxiety—those involuntary coping strategies which can be a bit embarrassing, but there’s nothing you can do about them except open up the floor and talk about the reality of it,” said Heifner. She hopes that her work will help others realize that they are not alone and that the symptoms of anxiety are nothing to be ashamed of.

Both Luong and Heifner were able to submit to the Boxed Art Gallery with ease, noting how straightforward the process was. “It was way less intimidating than trying to go out into the world and finding calls to work and speaking with prestigious members of the art community. It broke down that barrier of entry,” Heifner said.

Luong spoke about the challenges she faced sharing her work on social media, specifically Instagram. “Recently, people have been complaining about the Instagram algorithm, which makes it harder to share other people’s work and posts in general. It’s been difficult trying to advertise myself as an artist on the social media platform,” she says. Luong prefers the online mode of the Boxed Art Gallery over in-person viewings, since her digital pieces can be displayed in high resolution and viewers can zoom in to see details.

Participating in the gallery not only as artists, but also as viewers, Luong and Heifner draw inspiration from looking at the work of their peers and gain greater motivation to improve their own skills. “It’s a great way for me to learn more about people at the SMFA. Now people are moved online and we can’t meet each other in class, so this alternative to learn about other people’s work makes me really happy,” Luong said.

Heifner described her amazement at seeing her friend’s work evolve. The third place prize recipient, junior Claire Valentine, submitted a piece titled “Forecast,” celebrating female friendship and spiritual empowerment. “I had no idea the direction in which her art had taken recently, and it was honestly really wonderful seeing Claire speak on it,” Heifner said.

The upcoming call for submissions will open this month, and features four prizes of $500 each. While prizes will favor artwork related to COVID-19 and other important issues, the call encourages artists to submit anything they have.

Carlson hopes to double or triple the number of artists entered in the last contest. To accommodate the expected increase in submissions, he is working to add jurors to his team, who will be tasked with reviewing artwork. To connect with members of art councils and other professionals in the art world, Carlson is consulting the Office of Government and Community Relations at Tufts. The office works to bridge the school with its neighboring communities. Currently, Carlson is working closely with the office director, Rocco DiRico, to expand the Boxed Art Gallery’s reach beyond Tufts.

“I’m very excited about this project as it’s an innovative way to partner with local artists in our host communities,” DiRico said in an email. He has recently helped add judges from Medford, Somerville, and the SMFA, and hopes to add a judge from Boston as well. DiRico notes that while the campus is closed to visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Boxed Art Gallery provides a way to connect local artists across communities.

But even within the Tufts community, the gallery plays a part in connecting student artists who can’t meet like they used to. As Heifner said, “That’s one of the things I’ve missed. You used to be able to visit other people’s studios and see what they’re working on, but with everyone in different corners of the world, you don’t get that same experience. So, the little snippets you do see are really special and I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for it.”

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