It is a common belief that when students go on summer break, the university shuts down and stays still until the students return. In reality, the summer is often busier and sometimes the same faces do not return when fall semester begins.
“I haven’t wanted to hold Texas State hostage,” says Stump. “I can’t wait to see what a new person brings.”
Stump started teaching at Texas State University in 1994 and became the full-time gallery director in 1997. In her 20 years at Texas State, Stump has completed two degrees and raised a family while building an exhibition schedule that had to compete for attention with its two larger neighbors, Austin and San Antonio, for attention.
“In many ways we were the tree that fell in the forest and we were dependent on someone to come and tell us if we had made a sound,” describes Stump. “That’s why programming was so critical.”
In her years of curating exhibitions, Stump has brought works by Mel Chin, Glenn Ligon, Felix Gonzales-Torres, and Kara Walker to the gallery. She organized exhibitions that included artists like Colby Bird, Laurie Frick, Beili Liu, Erick Swenson, and Eric Zimmerman.
“I always joked that for those visitors who reside within Austin or San Antonio, the longest part of the drive was from the door to the car—once you were driving, you’d find it wasn’t that long of a trip at all,” says Stump. “So, the draw has to be meaningful.”
And she worked hard to bring high caliber artists to San Marcos. For instance, it took Stump five weeks wading through red tape for approval of a large candy purchase for a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. With some convincing—including a Gonzalez-Torres 101—she was able to purchase the pineapple flavored, silver wrapped candy. The work would serve as the anchor for the 2011 exhibition, SUBstainability, co-curated by Stump and Andy Campbell.
“I can’t guarantee that we can do it, but I can guarantee that I will try,” remarks Stump. “Until this day, there hasn’t been something we couldn’t figure out.”
I met Stump at School House Pub for an interview and sat outside. Over the course of the hour, I began to sweat and whither in the July heat. Stump never once wiped away a drop of perspiration. She embodies a calm tenacity necessary to run a university exhibition space. And while navigating the layers of bureaucracy, Stump raised her two sons.
“Everyone’s scenario is different, so I’m quick to not make blanket statements about ‘what works,’ ” describes Stump. “That said, I had to redefine for myself what my professional priorities were and how the boys’ needs fit into and influenced those priorities. What that meant is that I also had to redefine what it meant to ‘have it all’—which is a myth.”
The two priorities of her life ended up blending and Stump shared those special moments that come from engaging deeply with artists with her two sons.
“My eldest son Wiley, who is a drummer, got to exchange conversation about music with Dario Robleto when he was at the house for dinner after a lecture at the university. That same evening dinner saw Dario sharing stories with my youngest, who is more inclined towards athletics, about football,” Stump remembers. “During his installation at Texas State University galleries, w. tucker used a quote of Wiley’s (You can pretend to be asleep but you can’t pretend to be awake) in several of his works. That’s pretty special.”
I have to confess that I have never been to the galleries at Texas State, but I do promise to make the trip to the upcoming year of exhibitions organized by Stump. I surely won’t wait so long to visit shows at the The Southwest School of Art.
“I’m so grateful to work within a profession where we can move from one place to another and can give our own voice to what we do,” says Stump. “As hard as change can be, new voices and viewpoints are always good. That goes for the new voice that will come to Texas State, as well as (hopefully) the new voice I can give to the Southwest School of Art while building on the established reputation for solid exhibitions.”
Mary MIkel Stump shares what she is currently reading:
I have a stack! It is part of my professional practice to start my day reading, so at work I am reading a few things:
What I am reading in the evenings for pure enjoyment is the new memoir by Sally Mann, Hold Still. It’s a very interesting and entertaining read. I just finished Jan Jarboe Russell’s The Train to Crystal City, which is gut wrenching but so well written.
In the “bull pen” is Between You & Me by Mary Norris.
Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. Votang is director of communications at the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin. She co-founded Tiny Park.