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The Intersection of Art and Business feat. Alison Weaver and Dean Peter Rodriguez

Owl Have You Know

Season 4, Episode 4

Join us for a special episode of our podcast, Owl Have You Know!

As our programs grow and change, so does McNair Hall. We're very proud of the permanent art collection in McNair Hall (intentionally incorporated into building renovations since 2018), representing 17 artists of different ages, countries, genders, and backgrounds, and the tenet that art and business shouldn't be siloed.

Alison Weaver, founding executive director of Rice University's Moody Center for the Arts, and Dean Peter Rodriguez give the inside scoop on building the collection, its alignment with Rice Business' teaching approach, the overarching theme, and the significance of public art.



Learn More About Public Art at Rice Business

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00] Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Up Next series, where faculty researchers and alumni weigh in on the trends currently shaping the world of business.

    [00:13] Maya: So, today on Owl Have You Know, we have two phenomenal guests. And I just wanted to thank you both for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with us today. Dean Peter Rodriguez, the dean of the Jones School of Business, and Alison Weaver, the founding executive director of Rice University's Moody Center for the Arts. What was interesting when I was doing some background research on both of you is, Peter, you came in 2016-

    [00:42] Peter: Right.

    [00:42] Maya: ... right after Alison. And you both...

    [00:43] Peter: We're old timers now, by the way, at Rice.

    [00:47] Maya: Well, you've accomplished quite a lot in a very short, actually, period of time. And you also are Princeton grads. Were you there at the same time?

    [00:56] Peter: I don't know. So, I graduated in '98, but I was also there in the early '90s as well for a short period. I took a leave of absence in between master's and PhD.

    [01:05] Alison: And I graduated from the undergraduate program in 1993. So, we may not have overlapped-

    [01:09] Peter: It could have been.

    [01:09] Alison: ... in terms of our...

    [01:13] Peter: If you took ECON I or something-

    [01:12] Alison: Yeah.

    [01:12] Peter: ... I don't know if you had, but there might have been a moment where I was precepting.

    [01:19] Alison: It could have been, it could have been. I don't remember, but it's a great-

    [01:23] Peter: It was.

    [01:23] Alison: ... university. And so, it was, like-

    [01:26] Peter: Transformational-

    [01:26] Alison: ... inspirational.

    [01:27] Peter: ... experience for me, too.

    [01:28] Maya: Well, we're thrilled to have you both here at Rice and what a, what a great opportunity to have you collaborating together. So, Dean Rodriguez, when you came here, you really have transformed the Jones School in so many ways. You've doubled enrollment. You've increased the tenured faculty. You've really deliberately wanted to diversify the student body. You started an undergraduate business program.

    Phenomenal, and on so many different levels. And one of the things that is exceptionally unique, in my opinion, is that you recognize the need to integrate art within the business school and you understood the importance of art and of students, faculty, staff, visitors, everybody being immersed in arts. So, I want to start with you, and ask you, you know, why did you choose to do this, specifically for the business school?

    [02:34] Peter: Well, thank you. It's a good question. You know, arriving in 2016, I remember thinking that I was very fortunate that Rice had these incredible strategic foundations for a business school. You had an exquisite university, well-earned reputation for rigor and academic standards.

    And then Houston really demanded, you know, a school that could meet its global scale and reach. Very cosmopolitan place, but also a large commercial space. So, growth was in the offing. I think my first reaction on the inside, the facilities are wonderful but there was a lack of life and energy on the inside.

    [03:13] Alison: It was stark. It was just a few photos.

    [03:14] Peter: It was a bit stark. I thought it felt unfinished, frankly. And I don't think you were activated mentally coming into the space unless you were in a classroom. So, outside of the rooms, without people in them, it was more of a pass-through building, I felt like, and I don't think that it really was congruent with the rest of the university and what you felt outside.

    And in a funny way, outside, because of the beauty of the campus and the nature, I think you felt really awake as you were in an academic environment, but inside, there was a missing element. And a lot of what we did was to try to address that.

    And it was apparent that we really didn't have any intentional art, for the most part, in the building that really fit with the rest of the vision for the energy in the building. And so, that was part of the initial thought was, "What can we do about that?" And very quickly, people told me about Alison, and it was obvious she was doing a lot in building this wonderful, incredible space, too.

    [04:15] Maya: So, Alison. So, you came from New York. You were at the Guggenheim. And really, world-renowned for all of the work that you've done of really bringing art to the forefront of the world. So, tell me what brought you to Rice from New York, because that's, you know, kind of, a long way to come from New York to Houston. And tell me about how you've been cultivating the relationship with, with Peter.

    [04:41] Alison: Well, thank you. And thank you for having me today. I'm always delighted to talk about art and its intersections with business and with other fields. And that was what, in fact, drew me to return to Houston. I'm a native Houstonian. In fact, both my parents went to Rice. So, in some ways, it was a return to an earlier phase.

    But I think also seeing the potential, just as Peter said, of entering a place like Rice and like Houston that have so much both already there that is active and exciting and innovative, but also the potential to bring that forward and invite both our student and faculty community on campus and our public community off campus to come together and be inspired by, in my case, the intersection of art and ideas. So, I had the opportunity to come to Rice to open the Moody Center for the Arts, which is where we are now. And so...

    [05:38] Maya: Beautiful building, by the way.

    [05:40] Alison: It's a fantastic building. We were fortunate to be able to build it here on Rice campus with the architect, Michael Maltzan, with, really, the goal of creating a platform, if you will, for the intersection of art and ideas.

    And I like to say that the Moody isn't restricted just to the building, but it really goes beyond the physical walls to the campus and even the city to think about the ways in which arts can inspire us to think differently or to at least maybe torque our vision slightly and so that we think about innovative approaches to problems that we're facing in our world and, in our case, in our academic disciplines.

    [06:20] Maya: And also, to really spark thinking outside of the box, you know. I mean, whenever you go to an exhibition in a museum, you walk out changed, you know. And so, that's something that art has this powerful impact on everybody. And the fact that Rice really wanted to focus on that says a lot about the school. And the fact that you really wanted to focus that-

    [06:48] Peter: Oh, sure.

    [06:49] Maya: ... in the business school says a lot about your understanding of the importance of it.

    [06:54] Peter: Yeah. I think in particular, you know, if you think about where organizations create value, it's through the creative process, right? You have to find solutions to complex problems in order to create value in the world.

    And that's less about being cloistered away and, you know, sharpening your pencil and green eye shade on doing work than it is about trying to work together and opening your mind to things that haven't been done before in ways of proceeding.

    And so, that's what we really want our students to think about is how do they, how do they open their minds and use their very best of all that they know to make change happen and to make progress in the directions we want. So, whether it's medicine or the energy transition or tech, creativity is at the heart of everything businesses need to do. And we needed a way to live that a bit more than we were living at the time.

    [07:44] Maya: So, let's talk about the curating process. So, currently, there are 19 installations, 17 different artists, most of whom are women. And I'd like to talk about that. So, how do you choose the installations? How do you choose the artists? Is there a, you know, process that artists go through if they're interested in being a part of Rice University's Public Art Initiative?

    [08:11] Alison: Well, we really start, and certainly in the case of the Jones School, with what would be appropriate for the mission of the school, and as Peter has articulated today and in other settings, how can artists help us think creatively about problem solving, about innovation and new ideas, and the world at large.

    And I think we started by looking at the building renovation and identifying a few of the key spaces. So, the first space we identified was the atrium outside of the auditorium, which is certainly a highly trafficked area.

    [08:49] Maya: I love that piece, by the way. When I came to visit Rice...

    [08:50] Peter: It's awesome. Everybody loves it.

    [08:51] Maya: Yes. When I came to visit Rice, it was right at the... well, during the renovations. And I just remember walking in and just looking up. And just, I just stopped in my tracks, so.

    [09:01] Alison: Well, and I think that's a great example. So, that is a work by Pae White, an American artist, and it's titled Triple Virgo. And we invited Pae to come to campus from her home in California and to meet with Peter and learn about the ambition for the school and the mission of the place and observe the community in action and really the energy and the diversity of the student body and really thinking globally as Peter speaks about and as many of the students are inspired both from by their own background and by their future careers. So, she created a work that she would describe as a globe in flux. So, it is a suspended piece.

    [09:39] Maya: I was going to ask you to-

    [09:40] Alison: Yeah.

    [09:40] Maya: ... describe it for those that-

    [09:41] Alison: There are...

    [09:41] Maya: ... don't know.

    [09:42] Alison: For those of you who haven't been there yet, I hope you will visit, but it consists of 365 strands of suspended elements, each of which is individually designed. So, each element of the piece, it has a different pattern on the bottom and on the top. So, it appears differently both as you circumambulate the atrium but also as you look above from the second floor onto it and as the light hits.

    And when the artist speaks about it, I think she was very taken with Peter's description of the need to inspire global leadership and to think broadly, both about our own communities, but how we interact with the bigger world. And ideally, that world is one that is ever changing. We know that from how we're living today. But also, it's exciting and in that change is inspiration.

    It's not change that's necessarily always challenging or it can be exciting and inspiring and one that intrigues you enough to want to go out and be part of it. So, I think it's a great example of how an artist can speak to the mission of a place, but certainly in their own vocabulary.

    And Pae White's an artist who has worked in this format before, has certainly done other suspended pieces. And of course, there's the practical side of having a hanging work allows us to still use the building in that active way that enables the conferences and classes that we host at Rice.

    [11:10] Maya: It reminds me of a magnificent chandelier almost-

    [11:14] Peter: Yeah.

    [11:15] Maya: ... and it, sort of, rains down on you. And I have lots of photos with my cohort in front of that piece because it's breathtaking. And so, tell me about the other ones that are in the building.

    [11:29] Alison: Well, I think it travels on from there to... We also thought both about the mission of the Jones School but also about its context at Rice. So, at Rice University, we have a wonderful public art collection. And one of the centerpieces of that is our James Turrell Skyspace. It's called Twilight Epiphany. And it's just adjacent to McNair Hall. So, it's literally right next door to this collection.

    And we wanted to create a dialogue in a physical space between the James Turrell work and other works in the collection and what's happening inside McNair Hall. So, you'll notice that many of the works we have are features one can describe as having our light, space, and geometric abstraction. So, works on the ground floor, for example, by Spencer Finch and Jose Dávila, which are right next to Audrey's Coffee Shop.

    They both are very intentionally selected for their interest in light. Spencer Finch's work called Goldberg Variations responds to both light and music in the next-door music school. Jose Dávila's work is a homage to the American artist, Dan Flavin, who worked with fluorescent light bulbs.

    So, he photographs these light bulbs and excises them from his own work and then mounts that in a box that's almost sculptural. So, there's a conversation that is going on around some of the formal qualities that we have on campus that complement, I think, the, kind of, ideational qualities that we've talked about.

    [13:05] Maya: And so, tell me about the artists that were selected and how that process is done.

    [13:08] Alison: Well, we went into it wanting to reflect the diversity of voices at both the Jones School and their students and faculty and staff, but also more broadly, in Houston, we're one of the most diverse cities in the country and wanting those artistic conversations to be stemming from around the world.

    So, we have, you know, Jose Dávila is from Mexico. We have around-the-corner artists like Rana Begum, born in Bangladesh, or Gabriela Hasper is from Argentina, or, you know, Carmen Herrera is from Cuba. We try to...

    [13:47] Peter: And she's 100 years old, right?

    [13:48] Alison: She is 100 years old.

    [13:49] Maya: I'm sorry, what?

    [13:50] Alison: She recently passed away.

    [13:50] Maya: Wait, back up. So, she was 100 years old when she passed away?

    [13:56] Alison: I think 101 just this last year. A fantastic artist from Cuba, who worked on her own, really didn't achieve recognition until much later in her life as a professional artist. And I think we hope inspiration for students in many ways.

    If you look at the life of an artist like Carmen Herrera, I think many could take inspiration to pursue your vision. You know, she very single handedly and very in a focused manner pursued her vision for many years. And it ultimately was rewarded. You know, starting a business is hard work and you often have to-

    [14:38] Peter: Right.

    [14:38] Alison: ... pursue your vision.

    [14:41] Maya: Like an executive MBA, right?

    [14:42] Peter: Could be like that in a sense, right?

    [14:43] Maya: Like, the executive MBA is like, "It's never too late."

    [14:45] Peter: There are many second acts and third acts in life. I do want to highlight one thing that comes through when Alison speaks is just how much she and her team and all the artists listened to and thought about a little bit of what we were saying about the school.

    It wasn't just what would, what would look nice or what do we have? It was, what are you here for? What are you trying to achieve? What's this about? So, early on, I remember in the conversations with Pae White, we talked a little bit about how we had started a global field experience for every student in the school for quire.

    [15:17] Maya: You started that.

    [15:18] Peter: We did. Yes, we did.

    [15:20] Maya: Let's give credit.

    [15:20] Peter: I did. And the argument was that, one, it reflected what Houston was as a very global city and you have everything reflected here. You can see world history and the immigrant flows that come through.

    But also, just that we felt like a truly capable leader had to be versed in what was happening in and around the world, and that we always wanted people to, sort of, we say, explore their boundary conditions, test your ideas, and try to understand if they will work in different contexts.

    And of course, they don't always work that way. What you know about how a business, or an organization, operates here may translate in part, but certainly not in full, to different conditions around the world. And thinking about the whole world that way was opening up the lens and the aperture of the school, I should say, to that.

    So, if you think about Triple Virgo and what it does, it's an incredible piece in many ways, but it's perfect manifestation of, kind of, that idea. And I always liked that no matter where you look, it's different. It seems organized. It seems chaotic. It seems like one thing. It seems like many things. Everything seems unique. Everything seems like it's part of one. It's beautiful in that way. And it was, like, good art. It changes for you.

    [16:31] Maya: Like Kandinsky, where you have chaos and-

    [16:33] Peter: That's right.

    [16:34] Maya: ... calm.

    [16:35] Peter: That's right, that's right. Very much like that. And you can feel that throughout as it came together each time Alison and her team spoke to us, or spoke to me, there was incredible understanding of what we were trying to accomplish.

    It's the same with the diversity of the artists, I think, where we spoke about how we really wanted to be a school that spoke to and included everyone. So, if you think about even the way it comes out and in the ways we talk about the school, that you belong here. There is something in the composition of the set of artists that have contributed to the school that helped us deliver that message.

    [17:08] Maya: And also, the symbiotic relationship between business and art, because they're not separate, right? And I think that a lot of times, people think that they are, but they're not.

    [17:18] Alison: And I love hearing you say that because, I, myself, I'm MBA graduate as well, and I think...

    [17:26] Peter: Which helps so much. So, you can't imagine the level of she gets it, that you have-

    [17:32] Alison: Oh, she gets a lot.

    [17:32] Peter: ... and it's so rare.

    [17:33] Alison: Well, I think what we all are living in a world without boundaries. And so, this idea that instead of thinking about things as siloed and maybe individually, let's say, fields of expertise staying in their lane, I think the real question is, what can we learn from each other and what exciting sparks are generated when those fields collide?

    So, when you think about artists and the creative problem solving that they do, and many are research driven in their practice, they are looking in deeply into questions that concern them. And those could be questions of the environment. They could be questions of, in the case of the artist, Beverly Pepper, she's interested in big pharma.

    You know, how is the pharmaceutical industry affecting our culture and our public health? These are, these are questions that aren't just purely aesthetics. And I think that what I hope putting art into spaces can do is really open up those fields of inquiry for unexpected exploration.

    We don't have to predefine that response, or at least, if we're thinking about those in terms that are ultimately practical, of course, you know, if the rubber hits the road in real-world applications, but it can help open up questions that I hope will drive our culture forward. And, you know, I have so much faith in the students that Peter and the team bring to Rice and to Houston and hope that they'll take inspiration out as they go into the world to solve these problems.

    [19:04] Peter: That's so beautifully put. I would just say, you know, that that's so complimentary to the idea we want to convey to students, which is you should question things. You should be open to and think about them. And you ought to have no boundary on that. And any academic institution worth its salt should invite students to do that. They art speaks to that perfectly.

    [19:23] Maya: So, what kind of feedback have you gotten from the students about the pieces?

    [19:26] Peter: You know, it's universally positive, universally positive. I think from the beginning, there was a bit of a question, like, "Oh, what's happening? What is changing?" And you could feel because in some ways, parts of the beginning, so you talked about the Beverly Fishman, the Jose Davila, and the Spencer Finch. They're all on the West End, which was renovated.

    And we had Audrey's Coffee Shop that went in, which was an opening that also invited more people into the building. It was the first concrete floor we had in the building. Exposed ceiling. There was just a change a little bit in the interior architecture. So, people loved that. And they asked questions immediately. As it expanded, I think it became several things.

    It became waiting to see what was next, hoping for more, asking about the artists, and pride. I think there was real pride. And they wanted to show each other things and talk about it. And that comes out in lots of different ways. People stop, look, ask questions, wanted to know more about what was happening. They take pictures.

    There's the Instagram phenomenon with Pae White, which happens all the time. But then, you know, a great example, too, was the Kate Sheppard installation when she was there. You know, putting it in place and it reflects the building and the colors and the scale.

    [20:48] Alison: Can you talk a bit more? Can you describe it?

    [20:50] Peter: I should let Alison-

    [20:50] Maya: Okay.

    [20:51] Peter: ... do that piece. But I love that part of it. But students, seeing that happen, you know, there was a reverence for it and a deep interest and a pride in it. It was, it was beautiful to watch.

    [21:02] Alison: Yeah, and I think process can often be as informative as the final presentation. So, we like to make that process available. So, when an artist is creating a work, we tend to just put stanchion off the area, but leave it open for people to see that happening.

    So, we invited the New York-based artist, Kate Sheppard, to create her first permanent public wall drawing for the Jones School. And she was inspired by the architecture of the building, the original building. She has been trained as an artist and an architect. And she took the language of the atrium and its dimensions, and she translated that into a wall drawing.

    And she took the red tiles of both the tiles on the floor of the Jones School, but also the red bricks throughout the Rice campus. And she chose the color red. And so, the patterned installation that she created is an echo of both the other surroundings and also her own practice. And what I love about it is that it's right outside the door of admissions. So, I really like that-

    [22:07] Peter: I do, too.

    [22:08] Alison: ... every student who comes out of the admissions will be greeted by an original work of art that isn't something you'll see in another setting as you're traveling around maybe interviewing at other business schools or even in your travels to other institutions. So, I like that. You know, I hope students will see it.

    And because it's a wall drawing and it extends the length of the hallway, it has an almost cinematic quality that reveals itself as you proceed. So, you see it differently if you're coming from the interior of the rotunda out or from the outdoors in or from the admissions door. So, you get different angles. And you also see it over time. So, at night, it appears different when the lighting is more, you know, man-made versus during the day when you get more natural light.

    And I think that's the beauty. One of the things about public art is that you do have a chance to have a durational relationship with the work of art. So, you might come as a prospective student and see it near admissions, then you might see it in your first year as you're growing in your own development as a, as a student and ultimately a professional. And you might see it as you come back for alumni events. And all of those experiences.

    I hope you develop a relationship with the work, but also potentially see it differently. And I think that speaks, sort of, analogous to how we see the problems we face in our careers or in our professions, that those problems tend to stay with you for a while. You know, if you're working on an important issue, it doesn't usually resolve quickly. But you might approach it differently as you, as you grow and develop and as your surroundings change.

    And I think the artwork that meets people where they are, where they're studying and living and working, is quite different. We do exhibitions at the Moody, and of course, I love it when people come to see them, but they come and go, and so you have a snapshot in time, but not that durational relationship. And I think that's really special.

    [24:02] Maya: Well, it's the same as, you know, if you go to, like, the MoMA or the Guggenheim or, you know, when we take our children, they see the permanent collection. And then when we come back a few years later, they see things that they hadn't seen before, you know, because, you know, you grow and, and you really have a very different perspective.

    [24:23] Peter: I would add that just, if you can imagine, so McNair Hall, it isn't that old. It was finished in 2002. But we have lots and lots of students who come back for reunions or for other events. And there, they go on a tour. They really experience the building completely differently. And they, I think, get a sense that things have changed and are changing.

    They get invited back into reconsidering what the school is trying to accomplish and with whom and for what purpose. And that's been great help in, sort of, adjusting our identity and expressing our vision to you in just a way that it re-invites you to an older space. So, that's wonderful.

    [25:02] Maya: And such a sense of pride, which we had talked about earlier, that, you know, when you come back and you see the growth and, you know, just the way that Rice is stepping into a different chapter. So, that's something that's very exciting to me as a, as a recent alumni. I've already seen so many wonderful things that have been transformed. And I do want to talk a bit more about the renovations and what phase the business school is in and plans for the future as well for the public initiative.

    [25:37] Peter: Well, so, it's a very exciting time for us. By way of, sort of, history, you could see that the school has doubled, as you mentioned early in the podcast. We also started an undergraduate business major. It's very popular. It's leading to a lot of growth. It's the number one listed major for the incoming class of '27, if I did the math right.

    [25:57] Maya: Really? The number one?

    [25:58] Peter: Yeah, it's very popular-

    [25:59] Maya: That's awesome.

    [26:00] Peter: ... and exciting. It's great.

    [26:01] Maya: That's exciting.

    [26:02] Peter: I think it's a great combination. You know, you still take more than half of your coursework around all the breadth of Rice. And so, you get a great liberal arts education, or STEM-focused education as you might like, but you can also get a great degree in this very strong field.

    Because of all this, we really outstretched what McNair Hall can do for us. It's about 160,000 usable square feet. And if you count all the spaces, like hallways and such, we're looking to add about 100,000-plus square feet with an addition that could begin in early '24. That's been the ambition.

    [26:36] Maya: Which means more art.

    [26:37] Peter: Which means more art and more opportunity. And you can imagine that Alison is doing a great work to help us think about that. Even the building itself, though, I would say, is informed by the art we've gone in.

    So, the architects, who come in to look at your existing space, to change their thought process about what you want for the future, have thought, "Well, how do we incorporate a more modern addition to the building that adjusts the architect or changes it?" It won't look like the classic expression that you see at McNair Hall today, which is a great Robert A. M. Stern building.

    But how do we adjust that with an eye towards the future and that has been influenced by the arts that's there? So, if you can think about the architects, and we had two great architectural firms, ARO, New York and Kirksey, locally, who have been working on it, they tour the building and they see the same artwork that you see.

    They hear and feel the vision that we have when thinking about this very large edition that's coming soon. So, we're excited. And of course, it would be unthinkable to do that without more art.

    [27:39] Maya: Well, I mean, you can't leave.

    [27:42] Peter: Yeah.

    [27:42] Maya: You're here for forever.

    [27:44] Alison: Well, they're keeping us busy.

    [27:45] Peter: Yeah.

    [27:46] Alison: But I do, I do think it is interesting how art can be a part of that changing discourse. And it's important. You know, universities simultaneously have a very long timeline, certainly relative to, let's say, business. We're, sort of, more in the 100-year timeline. But it's important within that to think about evolution and innovation.

    And I think that striking that balance between having the long-term architecture that is needed to support the functionality but having the atmosphere where we're always growing and changing and not settling for the status quo. And I think when I see the students active in McNair Hall, they are the future.

    You know, they really are absolutely taking on the important issues, and I hope will go out and solve them for us, or at least make progress. And so, I hope they'll take with them that idea, that comfort with change and evolution that, I think, artwork brings.

    [28:45] Peter: I want to add one thing about the addition that's really useful, just as a subtext, is one of the things that will take place is that we'll build adjacent on the, sort of, south side of the existing McNair Hall. And it draws us closer into the Tyrell, into Twilight Epiphany. But everything about the addition was shaped by preservation of the viewshed so that nothing is lost.

    But in fact, in some ways, it signals how important that piece is and how important being congruent with the artistic, you know, structure of the existing campus is. I think it's going to be an outstanding addition and that's going to be an outstanding statement when you see the architect's vision for how we do that. So, I'm excited about all this. And I think everyone's going to love to see it.

    [29:33] Maya: Well, I can't wait. So, what timeline? I'm not going to hold you to it-

    [29:37] Peter: Oh, you know-

    [29:38] Maya: ... but just I have to ask.

    [29:38] Peter: ... I'll say, fingers crossed, knock on wood, all the, all the usual, I believe in '24, early '24, I think, we hope to begin. And, you know, if all goes well, it could be an 18-month or so process before completion, which would put a timeline somewhere around late spring '25 or early summer '25.

    [29:58] Maya: That's super exciting-

    [29:59] Peter: It is.

    [29:59] Maya: ... because that's just right around the corner.

    [30:01] Peter: It's close, very close.

    [30:02] Maya: So, one thing I do want to ask is that, you know, a lot of the pieces are modern. It's modern. Well, all of them, right? And so, I think that there are some that... How do you explain, this is a very loaded question, how do you explain modern art to those that just it doesn't resonate with them? You know, how do you do that?

    [30:25] Alison: Well, one way is to certainly put it where people already are. So, I think one barrier to appreciation of art in general from any time period is this idea that you have to go to a museum and be educated in that, in that field in order to fully appreciate it. I don't know where that concept comes from, but it's in our culture with the field.

    [30:44] Peter: Right.

    [30:45] Alison: And it may have to do with the kind of architecture of museums. There's, sort of, these temple fronts, you know, these...

    [30:49] Peter: Right. Good point.

    [30:49] Alison: They can be a barrier to access. And I think one of the interesting things about public art is that there is no barrier if it's in your everyday world. And so, you know, the work behind us is here all the time. Whether people are taking classes or studying in the building, they will pass by it. They might spend time looking at it and might not.

    So, I think the best way to... I wouldn't say explain, but to make accessible any kind of art, but certainly contemporary art, is to make it familiar and accessible, like public art. So, we start there, by just putting it where people already are. And I love seeing the students on the second floor of McNair Hall, where you can see both of Pae White, but also a painting by an artist named Joanna Poussete-Dart.

    And it's at the far end of the hallway, kind of, anchoring the other side. And it's a shaped canvas of bold colors that is very innovative, I think, in its approach to the more traditional medium of abstract painting, but she's innovated against that in these very distinctive ways.

    And it's the kind of thing that could just become part of your peripheral vision as you're studying in that area, but I hope over time that one might be inspired to look it up. We have an app and a website, or you could just Google the artist.

    [32:10] Peter: The app is key.

    [32:10] Maya: Yeah. So-

    [32:11] Alison: Key.

    [32:12] Maya: ... okay, can you tell me about the app?

    [32:13] Alison: Well, the students developed it, of course, so.

    [32:16] Maya: Well, the business students, I mean, they should have.

    [32:19] Alison: Have much more technological capability than I do.

    [32:22] Peter: Is it Art at Rice? What's the name of the app?

    [32:24] Alison: It's Rice Public Art.

    [32:26] Peter: Rice Public Art.

    [32:26] Alison: So, if you, if you go into the App Store, you can download the Rice Public Art app, which has all the works in the collection, including those in McNair Hall, and with information about the artist and the work.

    [32:36] Maya: I'm doing that as soon as, as soon as we can change.

    [32:38] Alison: Everyone should download the app. It's fantastic. It's well-designed, thanks to our brilliant and highly technologically capable students. But I think that rather than, let's say, a project to grandly explain contemporary art, which it's like saying, "Well, how would you start explaining to someone the energy industry and the need for, you know, the need for, you know, transfer to clean energy?" I mean, it would be hard. It's a big topic, right? So, maybe better to just wade in and start experientially. And so, that's what we're hoping to do.

    [33:12] Peter: People love the app. They learn about the artist. They learn a little bit about the choices that they made, the medium. And I think the best advice is, you know, how do you feel about it? Observe it. Think about it. What's happening here? Is there a conversation-

    [33:26] Alison: Conversation. Let's have a conversation.

    [33:28] Peter: ... that's going on. And that's an incredible beginning. But I like the fact that a lot of people just feel, sort of, captivated or arrested by the art a little bit. And we should mention that that happens a lot. I see that every day because I work in what was formerly our library, I think, kind of, the best internal real estate in some ways.

    It's now the Barbara and David Gibbs Convocation Hall, or what we colloquially call a Gibbs Gallery in some ways. You walk in and you have these pieces of art that are really large and are resting there. And people love to just come in and pause and think and sit or take their coffee break and walk through. It's remarkable. So, I don't know what their internal dialogue is at the time, but I'm sure it's the kind that we would want them to have.

    [34:16] Maya: Well, maybe we could do a podcast about it, and we can interview those folks, right?

    [34:19] Peter: That would be great. Sure. What are you thinking right now?

    [34:21] Maya: Just an idea, right? We need to put that on a, on a future episode for sure. So, okay, final questions. Obviously, you know, art is such a integral part of both of your lives. What's your favorite piece of art on the planet?

    [34:37] Peter: Oh, on the planet?

    [34:40] Maya: Yes. You don't have to pick just one.

    [34:43] Peter: I'm going to pick in the building.

    [34:44] Maya: All right.

    [34:44] Peter: I'm just going to say-

    [34:46] Maya: Fair enough.

    [34:46] Peter: ... the planet is a little bit high. So, I will say, I think Kandinsky studied economics, by the way.

    [34:52] Alison: Yes.

    [34:52] Peter: I do remember that. So, you can actually see some early depictions of, you know, Marshall's, sort of, curves and the way that he described growth paths and things like that. So, I was always taken by Kandinsky's early, just because of that particular connection.

    There's actually one yellow, red, blue, I think, or yellow, blue, whatever the name is, that I remember very well because of that. So, I would say that is probably my favorite, you know, sort of, abstract expressionist work of art or whatever he was doing at the time. In the building, it's just hard not to love the Pae White piece.

    [35:25] Alison: Yeah.

    [35:26] Peter: So, that's why. But you've given Alison an impossible question-

    [35:30] Alison: I can't say.

    [35:31] Peter: ... as the...

    [35:31] Alison: All of our artists, with the exception of Carmen Herrera, are living, and so I couldn't pick a favorite.

    [35:37] Maya: Well, that's why I said not necessarily in the building, but on the planet. You know, I opened it up, right? And gave you a larger opportunity to answer the question.

    [35:46] Alison: Well, and yeah, I really can't pick a favorite because I do think that art functions in such different contexts. But what I hope is that people will feel comfortable in choosing their own favorites. So, that's a great conversation. It breaks down the barrier of that need to feel that you are, let's say, a scholar of art history or super well-informed. It's fine to just like or not like. You could say, "I love the colors in this one. I love the medium."

    We actually have quite a few different types of materials you'll notice as you go throughout the building. One work, for example, is made out of acrylic. So, Marta Chilindron created a work called Parallel Greens, which is slices of acrylic. And they were individually 3D printed hinges, which were designed in combination between the artist and Metalab Houston.

    So, an example of truly creative problem solving in an applied manner, that piece is there. And I think that you could just say, "Well, I really like how cool the light is when it creates a shadow off that piece," or, "I really think those hinges are awesome because they were so beautifully designed, and 3D printed." So, I think I would invite students. It would be fun. Maybe, at some point, we'll have something where students get to express their favorite art.

    [37:09] Peter: An art runoff. You know, a tournament of art pieces.

    [37:11] Alison: The student's choice.

    [37:13] Maya: Well, there's the art car parade, right, that you have?

    [37:14] Peter: That's right.

    [37:15] Alison: Yeah.

    [37:15] Maya: Something like that.

    [37:16] Peter: Sure. It could be.

    [37:17] Alison: Yeah. Well, and I think the most interesting part about art is that the more you explore the planet, the more you're exposed to different kinds of art.

    [37:29] Peter: You didn't give your answer-

    [37:30] Alison: I'm not...

    [37:30] Peter: ... by the way.

    [37:31] Maya: Well, I'm the one that asked the questions.

    [37:32] Peter: Top three, top one.

    [37:32] Maya: I don't give the answers.

    [37:34] Peter: Okay.

    [37:34] Maya: I ask the questions.

    [37:36] Peter: Okay. That's good. As a professor, I can relate to that exact sentiment. Right.

    [37:41] Maya: I like all of it. I mean, I don't know. I think that, you know, because whenever we go on travels with our kids to expose them to different cultures and countries and everything else, you know, I always feel like, oh, my gosh, I've seen the most phenomenal thing here.

    And it's something that, you know, I'll keep with me for the rest of my life. And then, you know, you travel somewhere else, and you're blown away by something different. And I think it's your own private collection within yourself that you carry around.

    [38:10] Peter: Right. Yeah. Lovely.

    [38:12] Alison: Yeah.

    [38:13] Peter: Well-put.

    [38:14] Maya: Well, we really appreciate your time and thank you so much. And, again, that app, everybody needs to download that app.

    [38:20] Alison: Rice Public Art.

    [38:22] Peter: Public Art at Rice, yep. And thank you, Alison.

    [38:24] Alison: Thank you.

    [38:24] Peter: I just can't thank you enough for the years of work. You've transformed this space for us. Thank you.

    [38:27] Maya: You both have.

    [38:28] Alison: Well, thank you for the invitation. It's been a very fruitful collaboration.

    [38:31] Peter: I agree, I agree. We'll continue...

    [38:32] Maya: We hope it will inspire more.

    [38:34] Peter: Yes, that's absolutely true.

    [38:35] Maya: Well, we'll have to do a follow-up.

    [38:36] Peter: We will.

    [38:37] Alison: Yeah.

    [38:37] Peter: I like it.

    [38:38] Alison: Thank you. Thank you so much.

    [38:39] Peter: Thank you.

    [38:40] Outro: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Maya Pomroy, and Scott Gale.

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