ALUM SPOTLIGHT : JEAN PITMAN

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Jean Pitman received a MFA and a Museum Studies Certificate in 2008 from UHM. She currently works at The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University – a contemporary art center located in Columbus, Ohio. She took some time to talk with us about her current work and reflected on her experience while at UHM.

UHM: Tell us about the Wexner Center for the Arts.

JP: “The Wex” as we affectionately call it, has no permanent collection and functions as a multi-disciplinary site for contemporary dance, performance, theater, music, film/video and visual art. I work there as an artist, teen mentor, educator and community projects manager. I like being located on a university campus and having students around all the time. Much of my work right now is about using contemporary art practices to bring different kinds of people together – it really works and is especially relevant at this time.

UHM: How has an MFA helped you in your current endeavors?

JP: Everything opened up so much for me at UHM – it was like a can-opener on my brain and on my heart (and almost as painful!) but completely essential. In looking back I am so grateful for my time there and my teachers and class mates who put up with me and my sometimes agonizing process!

UHM: That is good to hear. You were sometimes unbearable! :)

JP: At UHM I learned to re-examine history, who and what came before (and why), exploring indigenous practices and different cultural practices, techniques and beliefs, really getting familiar with what it might really mean to be site-specific (and where that notion comes from) and beginning to understand my own position of privilege and identity as a visual artist, etc. I had some incredible art history classes I never could have gotten on the mainland that really sunk in deeply beyond facts. It was not so much majoring in Art/Art History that mattered- it was majoring in these things in Honolulu compared to the American Midwest where I came from. For example it was a great lesson to work with restrictive space and materials (being on a small island). I became better at fluidly re-purposing and re-thinking at UHM, which I applied after returning to the Midwest.

UHM: What internships or extra-curricular activities have you pursued while at UHM that have been valuable?

JP: My Museum Studies Certificate (in AMST). I also did internships at Bishop Museum, Mission Houses Museum and Honolulu Museum’s (Orvis Residency) that were deeply illuminating. I was encouraged to be inter-disciplinary both at ART and AMST and found that being able to be flexible and adaptive was a terrific skill to have, which I later translated into so many different life and professional situations. Examples include having taken a Ho’oponopono class while at UHM which got me to look critically at American society, explore my work in the context of the realm of “social work”, the art world and my practice as an artist. While I definitely grew up knowing flexibility was essential, I really examined this in Honolulu. Because of my time spent in Honolulu I can walk into any room at any time or enter into any group of people and find common ground very quickly. I also learned to break down the wall between art and life further.

UHM: Are you satisfied in your current position? Is it putting your creativity to work?

JP: I am grateful that I actually get paid to do what I love. I am valued by my present employers for having a foot in many worlds and being able to move in between a variety of realities and situations all within the context of contemporary art, AND doing all that with “aloha”. My projects through my job are deeply satisfying. I consider them “my creative work” even though they are not “exhibitions” and I am not seen as the “author”. To me, this is irrelevant.

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UHM: Any recent highlights?

JP: I am most proud of The Weinland Park Story Book, my most recent project. It is a graphic anthology published by the “Wex” completely inspired by a neighborhood in transition in Columbus, Ohio. The free limited edition of printed copies were given back to residents and participating artists, and digital edition are available free.

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