USD Magazine -- “Excuse the mess,” says Noé Olivas as he climbs aboard his dismantled 1967 Chevy Step-Van in the cool shadow of a maintenance yard behind Camino Hall. Well-worn by decades of use — from delivery truck to homemade RV — the white steel panel van has been stripped clean of its former lives. Bread and beds are long gone, replaced by wire brushes and bags of steel wool, makeshift work lights and the odd engine part under reconstruction. A stop sign, bent and repurposed as a wheel hub during the RV years, reveals the grass roots history this Chevy has motored through. His wooly mane nearly brushing the roof he plans to raise more than two feet, Olivas, a visual arts major who creates sculptures out of ready-made objects, gazes steadily at his most ambitious project yet.
For his senior thesis, he is transforming this 45-year-old van into a mobile exhibition space that also serves as a social sculpture, where artists can mount a show and then take it into the community, perhaps even use it as a portable artist-residence-studio with an added trailer.
“We are talking about this idea of creating your own art world, about how to make a living in the future by doing what we love,” explains Olivas.
As is typical of the Department of Art, Architecture + Art History, he’s not working on this monster project alone. Initial funding came through a Keck Faculty Fellowship — which funds scholarly mentoring projects — under Assistant Professor Allison Wiese, as well as an Associated Students grant. The inspiration and sweat equity are courtesy of friends and fellow artists like Jake Zawlacki, senior humanities and art history major, who was elbow-deep in the engine with Olivas the night before. As the conversation turns to the exclusive New York art world, Nate Vaughan ’11 steps forward from the adjoining wood shop, where he’s hand-crafting a table to be used at a baked goods and pour-over coffee fundraiser for the project.
The Department of Art, Architecture + Art History, for one, is at a seminal moment in its development. Now at the end of a five-year academic plan — the first strategic plan for the department — faculty and students are reaping the rewards of a discipline energized by new directions. Bring in a renowned scholar in Chinese and Thai art? Check. Add an acclaimed printmaker to the faculty? Check. Add a full major in architecture? Check. (Full Story)