Virtual art galleries created to exhibit works of 13 Irwin Scholars

Collective Solitude includes drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, artists’ books, and video installation shown virtually through a 3D model of the Sesnon Art Gallery.

Irwin 2020 poster
metal artwork
A work in process by Veriche Blackwell.
art by Edgar Cruz
Edgar Cruz uses monochromatic light and shadows through analog and alternative photography.
art by chloe murr
Chloe Murr merges physical, spatial, and psychological experiences into visual form.
Dominic Ramirez primarily works with oil and acrylic paint, ink, graphite, shellac, and oil pastels.
Each spring, the annual Irwin Scholars exhibition showcases works by UC Santa Cruz’s most promising arts students who have been selected for $2,500 William Hyde and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarships.

This year’s exhibition, the 34th annual, typically would be installed at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at Porter College on the UCSC campus. But, as we all know, this is a spring unlike any other. With campus closed because of COVID-19 precautions and a physical exhibition out of the question, Irwin 2020 has gone virtual. 

Titled “Collective Solitude,” this year’s exhibition features 13 artists whose works speak to this extraordinary period in history and draws inspiration from the struggle against great distances for connection. The select student artists are: Aarón Martínez, Anastasia Oleson, Angel Gonzales, Chloe Murr, Dominic Ramirez, Edgar Cruz, Emma McWaid, Jocelyn Lee, Joshua Zupan, Morgan Tomfohr, Natalie Del Castillo, Rodrigo Ramos, and Veriche Blackwell.

Irwin 2020: Collective Solitude includes drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, artists’ books, and video installation shown virtually through a 3D model of the Sesnon Gallery. It will be available online at beginning Wednesday, June 3 through Tuesday, June 30, 2020. 

The virtual exhibition opens with an online reception via Zoom from 6-7 p.m. June 3. Awards and remarks by Irwin Scholars from across California will begin at 6:15 p.m. RSVPs for the Zoom invitation to the online reception can be made here.  

Part of the experience and responsibility of receiving an Irwin scholarship is planning and curating the exhibition each year. With the gallery closed, “everybody kind of assumed this was the next best thing,” said Joshua Zupan, a member of the promotion committee.

Zupan, a  printmaker who works with wood block, etching, and drawing, said he and his fellow student artists organized themselves into different planning committees. They’ve been meeting weekly via Zoom and exchanging countless emails.  “Everybody is doing it on the fly,” said Zupan, who is about to graduate with a double major in art and ecology and evolutionary biology.

The students are wrapping up their projects and will begin “installing” them soon in the virtual gallery.

The idea for a virtual gallery first came up a couple of years ago when Shelby Graham, director and curator of the Sesnon Art Gallery, met a virtual gallery startup company, Geopogo, at a California Association of Museums conference. They began collaborating on a prototype virtual 3D model of the Sesnon Art Gallery using the Charles Griffin Farr collection.

“We launched the virtual Charles Griffin Farr exhibition in 2018 on our website, and I have been using it as a teaching tool at UCSC in my curatorial practices classes,” Graham said. 

“Then in 2020 when the pandemic hit, it made perfect sense to use the virtual model concept for the Irwin show, but we knew we needed a new model featuring all three of our gallery venues at Porter College.”

Colleen Jennings, Digital Arts and New Media technical coordinator, has designed the new virtual exhibition space, using an architectural software program called SketchUp. “The freedom to navigate a space on your own terms is one of the key experiences of the gallery visitor when using this 3D model,” Jennings said. “Moving at your own pace through each section is built into 3D interaction.”

Graham said she and gallery manager  Louise Leong are learning the programs so they can use the virtual model as a curatorial and planning tool for upcoming exhibitions. They have dedicated one of the Sesnon webpages to virtual online exhibitions:

"Whether remote or within reach, a work of art, an artist's work, gives form to their relationship to community and a history of art through provocative, anxious or beautiful manifestations about the unknown,” said associate professor in painting, Melissa Gwyn. “In this year of so many unknowns, the Irwin Scholarships have given these young artists the opportunity to amplify the potential of those relationships.”

The late Sue Irwin established the William Hyde and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship Fund in 1986 in honor of her husband and as a way of ensuring that others would have the kind of art education that allowed her to flourish in the art community.

Irwin 2020: Collective Solitude can be viewed from June 3 to June 30, 2020 at

RSVP for the online opening reception via Zoom 6-7 p.m. June 3, 2020.