Photograph courtesy of IU Art Museum

An exhibit by Ohio-based artist Sarah FitzSimons called "Fusion Culture: Transportable Living and the Landscape" is an environmentally focused exhibit at the IU School of Fine Arts Gallery. It opens Feb. 22 with a lecture and reception.

Betsy Stirratt feels your pain. "Parking on campus is very frustrating," she agrees. And while she's not exactly proposing that anyone break any laws, the IU School of Fine Arts (SoFA) Gallery director did recently say -- out loud -- that, "Many people find they don't get ticketed on Friday nights when they park in the main library lot, probably because a lot of events are happening on those evenings."

Opening receptions for the SoFA Gallery exhibitions, featuring works of students and faculty, as well as that of regional and national visual artists, for example, tend to be held on Friday nights. With a slew of provocative exhibitions on the horizon, Stirratt would like to see more folks from the community visiting the SoFA Gallery, for Friday receptions and otherwise, even if that means maneuvering around parking headaches and the invisible but daunting divide, that in the imaginations of many, segregates the townies from the gownies.

"We have stuff you won't see anywhere else in Bloomington," she says. "We have a unique mission that involves showing experimental, cutting edge work, and it's really important to us as staff and the artists that we're not isolated here on campus. We strongly encourage people from off campus to come to shows. We love it when we get the 30s-50s crowd coming through."

'Stirratt, who has reared the SoFA since its birth 20 years ago, hopes that an upcoming exhibition by Athens, Ohio-based artist Sarah FitzSimons, called Fusion Culture: Transportable Living and the Landscape, will attract art lovers of all ages to the gallery when it opens to public with a lecture and reception on Feb. 22.

FitzSimons is one of several contemporary artists whose work deals with environmental woes, as well as the psychic wanderlust and rootlessness attributed to the triumph of unfettered globalization and fast-moving communication technologies. With a background in sculpture, photography, video and outdoor installation, the artist's show at the SoFA will revolve around her piece Tent/Mountain Range, a mobile, elegant tent-like structure that is at once visually arresting and wholly functional.

Photograph by Steven Higgs

SoFA Gallery Director Betsy Stirratt has been running the show since it opened 20 years ago. Stirratt is a successful artist in her own right.

Originally installed at Grand Teton National Park, the monumental piece has the capacity to sleep 10, and can be carried in a backpack when collapsed.

An artist with a discerning aesthetic eye herself, Stirratt asserts that what makes FitzSimons' work more salient than others in a sea of environmental artists, who too often rely on visual gimmicks and hollow slogans, is that it answers the unspoken question: What now?

"There's a lot of cool work related to the environment being done at the moment, some of it more impressive than others," she says. "There's a place for structures made out of pop bottles and that sort of thing, but the SoFA's goal is to ask what's next, what comes after that, and we think this show is a good example of solutions to some of the problems being raised."

Stirratt credits SoFA Associate Director Rob Off with securing the FitzSimons show and says that his research interests in the intersection between sustainability and art will likely lead to a bigger exhibition next year featuring "eight to 10 artists doing inventive things that offer solutions to environmental problems."

The possibility of a future more comprehensive show hinges on how much funding Stirratt is able to procure this year, which, as she adds, can be challenging, as nearly all SoFA operating costs are covered by "private donations, art sales and grants" that she and staff members raise themselves.

Another activist-oriented show coming up at the SoFA, Writing on the Wall: A Focus on Democracy, takes on an ideal that most understand conceptually, but the actualization of which is becoming increasingly complex and challenging. A collaborative project headed by local artist Joe LaMantia, the exhibition entails several mural-sized panels, all "tagged" by a demographically diverse pool of people throughout Indiana with "their personalized thoughts, ideas and feelings about democracy," according to the news release.

Photograph by Steven Higgs

The SoFA Gallery is located in the IU Fine Arts building and is open to the public.

Strirratt says the project has garnered a lot of attention and that she is excited it will be culminating at the SoFA. "We're happy to have it here," she says. "There's a real need for this right now and I think people will really appreciate seeing it."

The once blank panels, now animated with a stunning array of visual representations of democracy, some sublime and wordy, others cartoonish and satirical, will run from Feb. 19 through March 7 with a reception and panel discussion slated for Feb. 29.

Stirratt hopes students and non-students alike can make it to the SoFA Gallery, for these two shows or any of several other student and professional exhibitions coming up this semester and beyond. Parking pains and all, the energetic artist and director seems keenly aware that her gig is a good one.

"I just love that we're able to present this amazing experimental work to the public all the time. I am so lucky to have my job!" she says with a grin.

Lori Canada can be reached at


The SoFA Gallery is located in the Fine Arts building on IU campus. For a more detailed description of the exhibitions discussed here, as well as a full schedule and list of behind-the-scenes SoFA staff, please visit