GALLERY GAL: Julie Sasse, the new curator working the galleries at the UA Student Union and art department, is, for the moment, a woman without a home.
The former Phoenician made five bids on five different Tucson houses before one finally got accepted. Camping out at a tolerant friend's home since August, Sasse is delighted that she'll get into her own place shortly. But it's not as though she's going to spend much time there, judging by her track record of the last two-and-a-half months.
"I'm putting in way long hours," she said one day last week, sitting in her cramped office at the back of the Union Gallery. The room was hot, really hot, and smelled of the baking bread from the restaurant kitchen on the other side of the partition. "This is really two full-time jobs."
The apparently indefatigable Sasse, a small, tidy bundle of energy tucked into fashionable black, ticked off the responsibilities of her new job. For starters, she's running five galleries. There's the large Joseph Gross Gallery and the smaller Art Department Student Gallery. Then there are the three main galleries in the Student Union: the Union Gallery on the first floor, the Arizona Gallery on the second (formerly called the Hall of Fame) and the Rotunda Gallery on the third.
She also keeps an eye on the permanent display of USS Arizona memorabilia in the far recesses of the unwieldy Student Union, and already she's been asked to help out with the changing faculty shows at the Union Club restaurant. Fresh from 14 years managing the successful Elaine Horwitch Galleries in Scottsdale, and a couple years working at its Santa Fe branch, Sasse also teaches a Professional Practices class to art students.
"I go where the latest crisis is," she said, "or where a reception is going on or where a show needs hanging. My first day was August 21 and I had 27 shows to book. I hit the floor running."
All this frantic activity will come as a surprise to anybody who remembers the big hullabaloo at the Student Union galleries two years ago. The university shut down the galleries and laid off curator Karin Erickson, an employee of four years' standing, citing the demands of a tight budget. How is it that the money was found to start up the galleries again?
"I think the university was overwhelmed by the negative PR," said Erickson by telephone from her office at the Tucson Museum of Art. Two months after she lost her UA job in January 1994, Erickson landed on her feet as the membership director at TMA. "They got a lot of negative response from artists. I have lots of copies of letters from artists that were sent to the administration."
Erickson said she was terrified at the time that she wouldn't find another job, but added, "In a strange way, things worked out for the best. Julie has a lot of creative ideas. And I really like it at the TMA."
Sasse herself, who calls her predecessor "really a professional," said she understands the university was swayed by the public outcry.
"As soon as they had any money, they re-opened it," she said. "The administration got things back on track. A lot of people have come in to say, 'I'm glad you're back.' "
Sasse certainly brings sterling credentials to the job. While Erickson had a BFA, student gallery experience, and a little bit of commercial experience when she was hired, Sasse has an MFA in weaving and metalsmithing and an MA in art history, plus 16 years in the commercial art world. The Horwitch galleries, she said, show "contemporary American art, everything from Larry Rivers to regional arts."
She acknowledges she's still working her way into the Tucson art scene. She got recommendations from art faculty on just whom she ought to invite for the alumni show. She's put out a call for entries for upcoming shows in the Arizona Commission on the Arts newsletter. And she's doing her best to get out and about and meet as many Tucson artists as possible.
"I'm excited about the job. There are a lot of drawbacks, the bad ceiling in here and so on. I try to overlook them. It's about giving people a chance to have a show. It's a space. Give it a chance."
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