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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

New Atkinson director strives to bring fresh perspective to gallery

Marlena Hughes
John Connelly sits in his office as the new Director of The Atkinson Gallery on Wednesday, Sept. 11 2019, in the Humanities Building at City College in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Taking the reigns as the new director for the Atkinson Gallery, John Connelly brings a fresh outlook and over 20 years of curating experience to City College.

Superseding director Sarah Cunningham, Connelly said he is looking forward to bringing his vision to the gallery, highlighting the importance of community engagement. 

“I want to raise awareness of the space,” Connelly said. “A lot of students don’t know about the gallery.” 

In particular, he hopes to focus his efforts on exhibitions related to Southern California, his home of five years.

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“I can see John has a great eye and is deeply curious,” said Stephanie Washburn, drawing professor and “art liaison” as described by Connelly. “He has an incredible lineup of exhibitions he’s working on.”

Before moving to Santa Barbara, Connelly lived in New York City where he was welcomed by its vibrant art community.

Connelly got a taste for art as a student at Fordham College in the Bronx before transferring to the State University of New York at Purchase and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art history. 

However, his love for art history truly began to blossom when he landed a job working in the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

“That’s when I knew I wanted to study art,” Connelly said. 

On his lunch breaks Connelly would wander the seemingly endless halls of the museum, completely encapsulated by the classical works of art that lay before him. 

Feeling inspired, Connelly dove headfirst into the art scene.

Working his way up, he initially landed a small yet intimate 300 square-foot gallery. 

Connelly ran his own art gallery John Connelly Presents, co-founded the High Deserts Test Sites in California and helped create the New Art Dealer’s Alliance

Most recently, Connelly served as director of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation for four years. 

“John’s connection with [Gonzales-Torres], and the spirit of his legacy seemed very relevant to me in relation to our mission here at SBCC,” Washburn said. 

Eventually, Connelly felt it was time for a change.

“I had outgrown New York,” Connelly said. 

When his husband was offered a job in Santa Barbara, the curator jumped at the opportunity to begin anew. 

While exploring art institutions, City College caught his eye.

“I knew [City College] had a good reputation,” Connelly said. 

He had attended a few shows at the Atkinson Gallery and was immediately drawn in by the beauty of the space and the campus as a whole. 

As the new school year continues, Connelly said he hopes to continue the success of the gallery. 

Connelly’s first exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery was titled “The Essentials: Art Video and Film #1.” Notable films in the art world were shown on a TV, endlessly looping throughout the gallery’s operating hours via a YouTube playlist. 

“The power of art lies in its ability to bring different voices together to make a statement,” Connelly said. 

The Atkinson Gallery is located in the Humanities Building Room 202 and is open weekly. 

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