Tucked behind rows upon rows of federal documents in the basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (H-L) is the Ramp Gallery, a new exhibition space for student artwork. Earlier this month, the gallery unveiled its first exhibit, “90 Miles.”

Named for the distance between Cuba and the United States, the show features writing and photographs by Jack Mensik ’14. The gallery, located in the underground passageway to the Hubbard Stacks, is currently curated by James Boeding ’14.

Although a variety of places on campus display student work, the Ramp Gallery is one of the few that isn’t reserved for a specific class or department. According to Boeding, the Ramp Gallery was established “to create an opportunity for students who aren’t in art classes to exhibit work,” though he noted that art students can submit work as well. 

He said that the gallery also presents an opportunity for students to gain gallery experience and see value in “submitting work that isn’t for a grade or class project,” and is instead solely “for reaching out and communicating larger ideas.” 

The gallery will also feature group shows, which will allow contributors to see their work alongside the art of others. 

The story of the gallery’s conception begins in Havana, Cuba, in the summer of 2012. It was there and then that Mensik took the photographs that inspired the creation of the gallery. 

Mensik took classes and lived in a hostel through a program run by Tulane University. Though much of his time was structured, he used photography as a way see more of the city.

Mensik’s photos portray the culture and political climate in Cuba today. The exhibit shows only a dozen or so of the 500 pictures he took while he was abroad there.

“[Cuba is] a very important place for understanding Latin American history in the 20th century. The events that took place on that island influenced the entire hemisphere which is amazing for such a small country,” Mensik said.

When he returned to Bowdoin in July 2012to work at H-L, the library staff invited Mensik to share a slideshow of his  photos.

“He had such excellent commentary to go along with these photos that he’d taken that it seemed like a great opportunity to create a gallery,” said Michelle McDonough, the library’s administrative and serials assistant, who was asked to work with Mensik in developing the gallery.

According to McDonough, using the underground ramp for gallery space was not what she and Mensik had in mind at the start. She said that the two “wandered all around the library looking for possible spaces,” and the ramp just happened to be what was available. 

Though McDonough played an instrumental role in getting the gallery started, she has now passed off her support role to Language Media Center and Technical Serves Assistant Bridget Spaeth ’86. 
“[Spaeth] is an artist herself and has a lot more experience with gallery shows,” said McDonough. 

Boeding was hired as the gallery’s student curator for the academic year. As the gallery is still new, there is not yet an established system for choosing what goes in the new space.

Boeding doesn’t plan to pick all the artwork for future exhibits by himself, and said he hopes to create a team of students and library administrators to curate a show that is cohesive but also explores a lot of different mediums.”

He expects that there will be two more exhibits this year: one opening before Thanksgiving and another in the spring. The theme of the fall exhibit is “place” and students are invited to submit work to rampgallery@bowdoin.edu through November 1. According to Boeding, all written work, prints, drawings, paintings, photographs, and small sculptures will be considered for exhibition.