What Matters Most

A sample of the work that will be featured during LUAG's "What Matters Most" exhibition. Pictured top left: “Carolina Memory,” by Romare Bearden; Bottom left, “Ballston Beach” (1984), by Joel Meyerowitz, and "Woman Posed on a Boulder, Mer des Glaces” (1935), by Ilse Bing.

LUAG Asks “What Matters Most” with New Exhibition

The Lehigh University Art Galleries asks faculty, staff, students and the community to explore what matters most to them as they navigate the pandemic.

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Christina Tatu

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What matters most?

Lehigh University Art Galleries posed that question to more than 100 Lehigh faculty, students and staff, as well as members of the Bethlehem, Pa., community, for a community-curated exhibition that opens Aug. 24 across the Lehigh campus and along the South Bethlehem Greenway. 

Participants were asked to select an artwork from Lehigh’s extensive collection to help them think more deeply about the question as they continue to navigate the pandemic.

“We are asking, What matters most? What are our priorities now, and what should they be as we all try to re-emerge in the world?” said LUAG Director William Crow, who is also a professor of practice in the Department of Art, Architecture and Design.

LUAG also will launch a series of 30 videos featuring Lehigh students interviewing participants about what matters most to them and discussing their chosen artwork.

What Matters Most

"The Boat / El Bote" (1994). By Sarah Ramos Lorenzo Cuban.

The “What Matters Most” exhibition will continue through the 2022-2023 academic year in LUAG’s five satellite galleries across campus. In partnership with the Southside Arts District, 20 works also will be depicted along a nearly two-mile stretch of the South Bethlehem Greenway Trail, from South New Street to the Bethlehem Skateplaza across from Wind Creek Casino. A free, public opening reception on the Greenway will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 featuring commentary from Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82 and Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds.

The last few years have been challenging for everyone, as the pandemic shifted the ways in which people work and function, Crow said. Additionally, individuals have had to confront systemic inequality and racism in their communities, as well as climate change and other issues, he said.

“When people explore these works of art, they are making connections I would have never thought about,” he said. “They are making connections through their own memories, culture and sometimes their native language. That’s the great power of bringing people together around works of art. It creates knowledge, and that’s what universities do.”

For the purpose of “What Matters Most,” participants chose from more than 5,000 pieces available digitally through LUAG’s website. Since the exhibition will be spread across the five galleries in high-traffic areas, the artwork is limited to two-dimensional pieces such as photography, prints and paintings.

In answering the question in the accompanying videos, participants talked about issues that included inequality in society, bringing people together, identity and gender, the environment and climate change. 

There were 30 students who were enrolled in museum studies classes or who were interns for LUAG who participated in the exhibition by conducting the interviews. Exhibit curators identified  people to interview–from local business owners to nonprofit leaders, and faculty and staff.

Meghan McCabe ’23 who is majoring in accounting and business information systems with a minor in museum studies, was among the students to conduct interviews. McCabe, who also interned for LUAG, said she was surprised  by the responses of the five people she interviewed.

“I found that the answers usually correlated with the person’s job,” McCabe said. “For instance, the librarian values creativity, the doctor values health, and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion values diversity. It was quite inspiring to see people pursuing a career that correlated with their passions and values.”

Beth Dolan, interim dean of the College of Health and a professor of English, was among those who helped curate the exhibition and who was interviewed.

“What matters most to me is having a sense of purpose,” she said during her video interview. “I’m 54, so I think what that sense of purpose has been has changed over the past five decades.” 

Dolan said she found her purpose in education, particularly women’s education and seeing women succeed. She took joy in raising her daughter and watching her learn.

Dolan chose a black-and-white photograph called “Woman Posed on Boulder, Mer des Glaces” (1935) by Ilse Bing, for inclusion in the exhibition. In the picture, the woman is in silhouette, poised on top of a peak with her hands tucked into her pockets.

“Her hands are in her pockets and she seems relaxed. She’s on top of the world. She’s at a pinnacle looking out, so clearly she had to do some work to get there,” Dolan said. “But there’s a deeper purpose here…A sense of purpose that’s not necessarily about striving or achievement, but also about internal development and change."

What Matters Most

"Keith Haring For Emporium Capwell, South of Market, USA" (1985). By Keith Haring

Melanie Lino, owner of Made by Lino and Lit Coffee in South Side Bethlehem, said during her video interview that access to food and trying to combat food insecurity matter to her.

“My hope is to create community spaces in areas where people don’t necessarily have access to land so they can grow fresh food,” Lino said. “I know that’s something we struggle with in our part of the world. I want people to feel connected to the land again.”

She chose an abstract print called “Carolina Memory,” by Romare Bearden. The print features a rainbow against a cloudy sky and a woman’s face. It looks like she is being held by someone. “I see a connection to nature here and support,” Lino said.

Erin Zebertavage, Downtown Manager with the SouthSide Arts District, also was among those interviewed. Community, family and friends continually came to mind for Zebertavage as she contemplated “what matters most.”

“One of the things I think [the pandemic] highlighted was the implications to mental health,” Zebertavage said, explaining that having community, family and friends is necessary to combat the isolation many people felt.

For her artwork, she chose a photograph of a beach scene titled, “Ballston Beach” (1984) by Joel Meyerowitz. There are people pictured sitting on the beach and frollicking in the waves of the gray ocean, set against the backdrop of a gray sky. 

“It was a diverse crowd. Older people, younger people, some on the beach, some in the water, and I really thought it brought a sense of community as well as sparking joy,” Zebertavage said. “When you have an open, public space where people can come together, what can be better than that?”

It’s the third time Lehigh and the SouthSide Arts District have produced an exhibition on the Greenway. “Art doesn’t necessarily have to exist on museum walls,” Zebertavage said.

In addition to the artwork and videos, a notebook is being designed by members of Lehigh’s Counseling and Psychological Services. The notebooks will be available at the exhibition and feature prompts to help people work through the question of what matters most. One of the pages will ask people to draw, paint or write about what matters most to them.

Bill Way, a postdoctoral fellow with Lehigh’s Counseling and Psychological Services, said the exhibition is an example of how people can express difficult emotions through artistic expression, whether it’s painting, drawing or even cooking. “There are so many ways we can express that stuff and it can be pretty powerful,” he said.

Briana Luppino, a psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services, said that for her clients, when they didn’t have access to certain things or life seemed unsteady during the pandemic, it helped them to realize what was most important to them.

“We are going through this shared hardship, a very difficult time and it seems like it refines or brings clarity to what matters most,” she said.

The exhibition will also be incorporated into training for Lehigh Gryphons, who are responsible for promoting an inclusive, supportive and engaging environment in Lehigh’s residence halls. 

Oftentimes in our work in residence life we are involved in those moments when members of our community are having a difficult time,” said Keith Blankenship, assistant dean of students and director of residence life. 

“Creating space to reflect on those things that are most important to us, our core values, can be a helpful way to ground oneself and serve as a much needed guidepost when we are uncertain about the future,” he said. 

“If we can utilize a project like this to help facilitate those reflections and conversations among our team, our hope would be to help students and professional staff come to better understand themselves, but also help forge more meaningful relationships with their peers.”

“What Matters Most” will be on display in the following galleries through the 2022-2023 academic year:

  • The Gallery at Rauch Business Center
  • The Fairchild Martindale Study Gallery
  • Dubois Gallery, Maginness Hall
  • Siegel Gallery, Iacocca Hall
  • Alumni Memorial Hall

On social media, people can their thoughts on the exhibit using #WhatMattersMost.

Story by

Christina Tatu

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