Many of us cast our inner artists aside as we leave mandatory drawing and painting classes behind in primary or middle school. However, throughout college — a rollercoaster of ups and downs — many students feel a particular need to be heard or express themselves, and oftentimes art proves to be an effective medium to do so. The Gallery, heeding this need, serves as the College of William and Mary’s student-run literary magazine for student art, prose and poetry.
The Gallery offers a creative outlet for all students at the College, regardless of their academic or professional interests. Each semester, The Gallery accepts student submissions by email in the form of poetry, prose, art and photography. They open their inboxes to submissions of any genre, with the only requirement being that the artist is a student at the College. The Gallery’s Fall 2023 edition can be found in print at the start of the upcoming semester, adding to its rich archival records which date back to its founding in 1979.
Monica Griffin ’88, a contributor and member of the editorial staff for The Gallery’s very first issue, is someone who dearly remembers this valuable experience.
“My roommate Susan Smith Bateman, ’88 and I both enjoyed being a part of The Gallery as an initiative, because it allowed us to explore aspects of creative writing and art production outside of class as English majors,” Griffin wrote in an email to the Flat Hat. “We are still good friends who stay in touch, and sometimes reminisce fondly about The Gallery as one of our most affirming experiences as undergraduates. I believe it was the only ‘applied learning’ or ‘leadership’ in creative writing and art publishing available at the time (1987-1988). It inspired us to continue writing, whether published or not, a cherished goal and craft beyond that time in our lives.”
This sentiment is still cultivated within the organization by the current editors-in-chief, Jenna Massey ’24 and Malvika Shrimali ’24. They recounted that all members — aside from the two of them — sit together in the Socratic seminar style during meetings, in which everyone faces each other in a circle. This model helps them promote a sense of egalitarianism within the conversation and foster a safe space for open conversation amongst their attendees.
“It also invites people to very constructively argue and really discuss with each other,” Shrimali said. “We have had people go back and forth so much about the tiniest detail of a piece of art or a poem or a prose piece, and we all have to jump in and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got more stuff to see.’ But people are really willing to express their own opinions in a space where they know they’re not going to be judged.”
From the moment that submissions start rolling in, most club meetings are dedicated to carefully debating, reviewing and providing constructive criticism on all pieces. All submissions are anonymized during this process, and all members of the organization ultimately participate in a simple show-of-hands majority vote to determine which ones will be featured in the biannual print. Despite this more intensive component, however, Massey and Shrimali have also established new patterns to foster that crucial sense of community within their organization.
“This past semester, we started opening the meetings by inviting our members to submit a famous poem or piece of artwork that they like that we could then discuss as a group to just get to know the members a little bit better and also explore art that isn’t just created by the students at William and Mary,” Massey said.
Elsa Hendrix ’25, who had a piece of personal writing published by The Gallery, shared the benefits of being a member and participating in the submission process. With her involvement in the club, Hendrix credited this experience with increasing her willingness to speak up, share her thoughts and overcome the fear of public reception.
“My writing is very important to me for a variety of personal reasons, and I was afraid of having something I’d written be torn apart rather than published,” Hendrix wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “It can take a few tries for your piece to be accepted, but I feel that that is an experience that can make anyone that much stronger.”
Andre Adams ’25, another student who has submitted several pieces to The Gallery, expanded upon the difficult yet ultimately rewarding nature of the review and critique process that structures The Gallery. Adams expressed the difficulty of being present in a meeting in which they voted on his own submission, especially as that portrait did not get accepted. However, he recognized this experience as not just the most challenging aspect of the club but also his best memory there.
“That part is what makes The Gallery so good. It forces you to have to think about the presentation of your work as you will not always be there to explain it to the audience,” Adams said in an email to The Flat Hat. “However, art is not binary nor specific. It’s an extremely malleable genre that makes it impossible to define in simple terms.”
Considering how to make their meetings a safe space for all their contributors, Shrimali and Massey have drawn clear boundaries on the particular conduct tolerated within discussion rounds. Although constructive criticism is encouraged for each piece submitted, they do not tolerate any harsh or derisive comments as they would not want anyone to feel that their art is being put down.
Instead, Shrimali reflected on a practice established by their past editor-in-chief, which consists of smaller, tailored workshops for certain students to work on their art with the benefit of the other members’ feedback. These collaborative sessions bound by community norms have allowed The Gallery to nurture literary and artistic talents in a sustainable, open format that encourages students to continuously return, Shrimali says.
“I really appreciate that people are able to take what they hear at Gallery meetings or within The Gallery space and turn it into some sort of progress or improvements upon their art,” Shrimali said. “And we’ve had people submit two, three, four times, and sometimes it’s different pieces, sometimes it’s the same piece. But I love when people keep submitting, even when we have to send out the ‘Hey, we’re sorry we couldn’t accept your piece this year.’ Even when we send that out to them, they’re like, ‘Okay, let’s improve on it. Let’s try again next semester.’ I love that spirit, and I love seeing people’s names come up in my inbox multiple times.”
To read the latest issue of The Gallery, find it online on Issuu or pick up a physical copy around campus.