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Halsey Institute of Contemporary Design
logoMark Sloan
Halsey Art Institute Ringleader Mark Sloan
By Melanie Crowley

Looking around the office of Mark Sloan, director and senior curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (HICA) at the College of Charleston and arts management professor, it is not hard to understand his surprising interest in the circus. Sloan is so used to juggling many projects at once that one might call him the ringleader of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

Sloan received his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Richmond and a master's degree in photography from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Sloan became director of what was then called the Halsey Gallery in 1994. In his time here, Sloan has experienced the 20th Anniversary celebration of the School of Arts, including the finishing of the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts that features new state of the art digs for one of the region's premier art galleries.

"I love the Cato Center,"Sloan raved about the new building. "I was able to be a part of the design process and we basically got everything we asked for," Sloan says. The galleries lost some square footage from the original plans, but gained a new media room and a library space that Sloan is thrilled about.

It is not difficult to see where Sloan gets his inspiration. In his office he enjoys a beautiful view of Charleston that connects to his gallery. With his office linked to the gallery, Sloan walks out of his business world and into the contemporary artistic world he has brought to life through the exhibitions on display in the Halsey Institute.

His latest exhibition is the works of Jonathan Torgovnik, "Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape," and Heather McClintock, "The Innocents: Casualties of the Civil War in Northern Uganda." (These disconcerting photographs have brought many of its viewers, including this writer,to tears.)

"Our hopes with the two bodies of work were to spark dialogue about atrocity as well as show there is hope for the survivors," Sloan says about the powerful images.

Not only is Sloan passionate about displaying contemporary art to the public, but creating awareness about vital subjects. His exhibitions often spur intense thought followed by a reaction from its audience. "After seeing our exhibition, many people have taken us up on donating to various charities," Sloan says.

Sloan is the author or co-author of nine books. His books are not only about the visual arts. Sloan's book, "Wild, Weird and Wonderful," focuses on circus life in the early Twentieth Century, as photographed by F. W. Glasier. This book was used as the inspiration for a New York Times best-seller, "Water for Elephants," by Sara Gruen. Gruen credited Sloan's book and used a variety of the photos from his book to illustrate her novel.

Sloan's most recent books are "Force of Nature: Site Installations by Ten Japanese Artists" and "Aldwyth: Collage and Assemblage 1991-2009." In addition, Sloan says a starving artist cookbook is on the horizon; a project that he and his wife, Michelle Van Parys, a College of Charleston studio art professor, have been working on together.

"It was one of the most amazingly complicated, yet satisfying and gratifying experiences of my career," Sloan says of the "Force of Nature" site installations. "Force of Nature" was a three year project that began in 2003. The project received over $350,000 in grant support from a variety of sources and garnered favorable reviews in dozens of publications including The New York Times.

Sloan explains "Force of Nature" as a rare and beautiful cross-pollination between artists. The project consisted of 10 Japanese artists creating ephemeral installation art using natural materials at colleges all over North Carolina and South Carolina.

The art installation pieces done at the College of Charleston were by Motoi Yamamoto, Junko Ishiro, and Noriko Ambe. Yamamoto's eye catching salt maze installation piece was displayed in the Rotunda of the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library.

"I love that Professor Sloan displayed this artwork in the library," says Jesse Newton, a senior arts management major and former student of Sloan's. "This way it reached more students, not just the School of the Arts."

At the end of the "Force of Nature" project, Sloan was invited to visit Japan with the artists. The artists raised the funds for Sloan, his co-curator Brad Thomas, and their families to make this trip. "They treated us like royalty,"says Sloan of his trip to Japan. Sloan says he could have never imagined how amazing this exhibition was going to turn out.

"Aldwyth: Collage and Assemblage 1991-2009" is another recent publication of Sloan's. This book displays the works of the reclusive American artist, Aldwyth. It was also the first exhibition in the new Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts. "We were very pleased with the public and critical response we received," Sloan raves about the exhibition he turned into a vivid book. The book is packed full of images and descriptions of Aldwyth's intricate work.

"Professor Sloan has been in this business for a long time and knows the elements it takes to have a successful exhibition," says Kelly Ingen, a senior art history major in Sloan's Gallery Fundamentals course. Ingen says she has been looking forward to this course taught by Sloan because it will help with her career plans to work at an auction house.

Sloan's Gallery Fundamentals course provides an introduction to basic exhibition design, installation, handling, identification, and research of art objects. Ingen says the class consists of being the curator of your own exhibition, writing a grant for the exhibition, visiting other galleries, volunteering at the Halsey Institute, and learning the basics about how to display artwork in a museum. Sloan is preparing students for the real world of running a gallery or working within a museum.

During his time at the college, Sloan has received numerous grants from groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Asian Cultural Council. Sloan's work has received positive reviews from the media locally, regionally, and nationally. His projects have twice been featured on National Public Radio, and he recently had a solo exhibition of his photographs in Washington, D.C. at the National Academy of Sciences. Wired Magazine did a feature article on this exhibition.

In 2006, Sloan co-produced and hosted a half hour television program on contemporary art called "State of the Arts" for South Carolina ETV. Sloan has independently achieved and experienced more than most people do in a lifetime.

In addition, he has put HICA and the College of Charleston School of the Arts on the map as a highly distinguished contemporary art program. Sloan is a talented man with a unique perspective on art. His capabilities are limitless and will continue to inspire audiences for many years to come. The College of Charleston is lucky to have such an amazing director for its Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

For more information on HICA visit the gallery on 161 Calhoun St., Charleston, S.C. or visit its website at: http://www.halsey.cofc.edu/