You don’t have to walk very far on the campuses of the College of Saint Benedict or Saint John’s University to see visual art on display. Now, through the medium of film, the schools have become the first higher ed institutions in the country to offer access to a resource that provides interdisciplinary learning about how art, business, and the law intersect.
For the calendar year of 2022, CSB and SJU faculty and students have access to Art Vérité LLC, a multimedia production company with a library of eight films – and many more on the way – that transcend the arts into entrepreneurial business, international partnerships, governmental agencies, foundations, not-for-profit organizations, communities, and the law.
“As an instructor, Art Vérité is a fantastic career resource for students interested in the studio art major or minor at CSB and SJU,” said Steven Lemke ’08, Environmental Artist-in-Residence at Saint John’s University and associate director of The Saint John’s Pottery, who has used the library in all three of the design courses he taught during the spring semester. “The films showcase to students the wide variety of career opportunities and professional questions related to the work of creating a life in the arts. Fortune 500 companies regularly seek to employ individuals with advanced skills in critical thinking, creative problem-solving, brainstorming, and visual and cultural literacy. That’s exactly what a degree in art provides.”
Art Vérité was founded by Jane CH Jacob, who previously worked at the Dallas Museum of Art, Worcester Art Museum, and Terra Museum of American Art, and taught at New York University. For more than 20 years, she has operated a consulting company, Jacob Fine Art, Inc. Among her patrons are Gene and Sheelah Windfeldt, who have been longtime supporters of Saint Ben’s. In 2013, Jacob helped the Windfeldts donate a three-ton, six-foot marble sculpture, “Breaking Free IV” by Martin Varo, for display at Clemens Library.
“I approached them with the idea of being able to sponsor an inaugural year for the Art Vérité license to give the school a test drive,” Jacob said. “When you drop a new program into the laps of the professors, they may have their year planned or curriculum set up, but this library is meant to enhance what the instructors already give their students.”
CSB and SJU precede prestigious institutions
The films can be used in classes, seminars or as extra-curricular options. On the heels of CSB and SJU, Art Vérité has developed arrangements with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Northwestern University. Jacob is in the process of making similar connections with Duke University and the University of Notre Dame. Other art collectors, in a manner not unlike the Windfeldts, have expressed interest in making the library available at Harvard University, California Institute of the Arts, and the University of Chicago.
The films available to CSB and SJU feature stories about artists to share with students – whether their future is in art, entrepreneurship or law. Art Vérité is getting ready to release three more, including one about the forgery of a painting and another about the preservation of a mural, threatened by a $30 million development, under the Visual Artists Rights Act.
“It’s a continuously building library,” Jacob said. “We are in different stages of producing another 20 films. It’s ongoing. There’s no end to amazing art stories.”
Lemke is well aware. In 2017, he traveled to Documenta 14, one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art exhibitions – held once every five years – in Germany and Greece. Among the pieces on display was a sculpture by Dan Peterman, a Minnesota native who is a world-renowned ecologically themed installation artist and an associate professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Peterman’s work included a vintage ingot table, inviting commentary on how metals can and should be reused around the world.
Peterman became a subject to one of the Art Vérité films after the ingot table was damaged during its return shipping to the U.S. His story was included in the film “Thinking Through Art Loans” that Lemke screened for his class in April.
“There are lots of films I could show in class,” said Lemke, a magna cum laude graduate at Saint John’s. “It’s more about the quality of this particular film. It touches on environmentalism, economics, globalism, logistics, the professionalization of being an artist and the qualifications of someone who works on the gallery end. I think it really resonates – especially in the spirit of our new integrations curriculum.”
Art professor relates film to his own experience
Lemke knows what it’s like to sit in the very chairs his students occupy today. A decade ago, he was privileged to assist Br. David Paul Lange in creating the statue of Saint Benedict, which sits near the Great Hall on the SJU campus.
In 2019, Lemke earned his Master of Fine Arts from Notre Dame – which only accepts one sculptor into its program each year. Later that year, he became the first Notre Dame student to earn a U.S. Fulbright Research Fellowship in Sculpture, examining the relationship between folk architecture, modernist housing and identity in the former Czechoslovakia.
“As a first-generation alum of the CSB and SJU art program myself, I know firsthand that our majors and minors develop the tools and techniques to gain not only exciting employment opportunities in their field upon graduation but real-world success across their career,” said Lemke, who has worked in arts program management, foundation relations, exhibition design and national tour management, and even professional grant writing. “I’ve received numerous competitive grants to sustain my own art practice and, of course, now I work and teach here on campus. I directly attribute all of that to my education as an art major at CSB and SJU, and to the work of the faculty in the Art Department in particular.”
Jacob hopes people like Lemke see enough value in Art Vérité that CSB and SJU will continue the relationship, whether it’s through continued funding by patrons, grants, through activity fees or as a library expense.
“Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are forever going to be the first,” Jacob said. “These films aren’t just for museum-established artists. They’re for all artists.”