Victoria Gao is the Director of the Bannister Gallery and Exhibitions at Rhode Island College and a scholar of photography history. Born in Rhode Island, Victoria moved away for twenty-four years, but she’s glad to be home again. We asked her a few questions about her life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.
RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday – what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
VG: The last two weeks were spent wrapping up our final exhibition of the 2018-2019 academic year – our Annual Graduating Art Students’ Exhibition – so I had a chance yesterday to finally look ahead to upcoming shows. I just sent out artist acceptance letters for a metalsmithing exhibition we are currently working on around the topic of gun violence that will be in Bannister in fall 2020. I was also actively promoting our current exhibition on social media, updating our gallery inventory, and – as a perk – decluttering my office! I spent the evening at a local Thai restaurant with some friends and curled up at home afterwards to the new Amy Poehler movie on Netflix.
RISCA: What do you love about the art community in Rhode Island?
VG: I love how close-knit everyone is and how supportive and welcoming the art community is to newcomers. I’ve only been back in Rhode Island for less than a year, but I already feel at home here. And I’m excited for future collaborations with different people and organizations from across the region.
RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
VG: I was born in Rhode Island after my parents immigrated here in the 1980s for graduate school. They were among the first wave of Chinese students to study abroad for graduate school after the decades of isolationist government policies. We moved away when I was very young, but I’ve always loved the proximity to the ocean and the temperate weather – especially having lived in upstate New York for a decade. So when opportunity allowed me to move back, I immediately jumped on board.
RISCA: What are you most excited about right now in your work as an arts administrator?
VG: I’m most excited about the shift into digital spaces and all the possibilities that are opened up when that happens. We have a digital media program in our Art Department that brings in really innovative contemporary artists working with 3-D printing and virtual reality, and one of my biggest goals for Bannister Gallery is to reach out to the younger generations who are constantly plugged in to make sure they’re aware of what we have to offer here. I’m also planning to digitize our permanent artwork collection and have that available to the public as well.
RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
VG: I would love to see more collaboration between the different arts organizations throughout Rhode Island. I serve on the board of Gallery Night Providence, and part of our mission is to bring the art community in our city closer together and to make sure that we are accessible to a diverse public audience. I also hope that Rhode Islanders don’t feel inhibited by a twenty-minute drive to see art spaces in neighboring towns.
RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?
VG: One of the biggest challenges that I first encountered when entering the art world was financial instability. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to find a permanent position doing what I love, but the lack of openness and the limited number of frank conversations about finances and systemic pressures within the field have been troubling. We recently exhibited a RISD alumni artist Kelli Rae Adams, whose work directly confronts the student debt crisis in this country, and I think having exhibitions that address this topic and artists who are willing to speak about their own personal experiences will prepare future artists for what to expect – and how to ask for more.
You can see what Victoria is up to at Rhode Island College’s Bannister Gallery by following it on Facebook or visiting the gallery’s website.