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Disrupting spaces

Disrupting spaces

Fort Lewis College's first Native Artist in Residence

Gregg Deal brings a fresh perspective as FLC's first Native American artist-in-residence.

A whirlwind of spray paint bottles, notebooks, tool chests, and canvases lined the brightly lit walls of the Art Gallery at Fort Lewis College. Standing in the middle of this artistic hurricane was Gregg Deal, a citizen of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and FLC’s inaugural Native American artist-in-residence.

Gregg Deal poses in a painter's smock covered in paint.

“I didn’t come here with any preconceived notions,” Deal chuckled as he stood in the midst of his jumbled art supplies. “But I was excited about spending time with the students and exposing them to something new.”

Deal’s month-and-a-half residency was an important step for FLC, a Native American-Serving Nontribal Institution where almost half of the student body is Indigenous. The Native American Artist-in-Residence program is a biennial program that provides Indigenous artists a space to work and students with resources, instruction, and representation in the arts.

“We're transforming and reimagining art galleries for academia,” said Melissa Sclafani, assistant professor of Art & Design and gallery director. “I dreamed up the program when I interviewed here, and I knew that I wanted the artist to use the Art Gallery as their studio. So, instead of the space existing for finished artwork, it will highlight the process of creation. We’re flipping it on its head.”

In addition to his own work, Deal taught Art as Verb, a one-credit class where six students created and learned alongside him. Korrin Williams, a senior studying Studio Art and one of Deal’s students, was ecstatic about the opportunity to work with a renowned artist.

“I dreamed up the program when I interviewed here, and I knew that I wanted the artist to use the Art Gallery as their studio. So, instead of the space existing for finished artwork, it will highlight the process of creation. We’re flipping it on its head.”
— Melissa Sclafani, assistant professor of Art & Design and Art Gallery director

“It has a different feel from the other classes on campus,” Williams said. “It’s almost like a philosophy class or a discussion-based art circle where we debate things like gender, religion, political views, and identity. Deal’s work is centered around those things, those cracks in the system. It’s fantastic.”

Deal mentored his students as they worked through multiple mediums to depict their heritage, culture, or whatever struck their fancy. A lover of ska punk, street art, comic books, and speculative superhero fiction, Deal hoped that he left his students with the message that there is no “correct” way to create.

“Dabbling in other mediums is interesting and fun, and I consider it all art,” Deal said. “You can color outside the lines, but what matters is that you create something interesting and new.” Deal has had an accomplished career as a multi-disciplinary artist with works of portraiture, sculpture, performance art, and more. His work has been featured in the Denver Art Museum, RedLine Gallery, and the Smithsonian Institution. But the most interesting aspect of his career is his self-crafted identity as a “disrupter.”

Students worked alongside Gregg Deal, FLC's inaugural Native American artist-in-residence, from November 1 through December 16, 2022.

“In my mind, a ‘disrupter’ is somebody that is unapologetically taking something that exists as a preconceived notion and challenging it. Indigenous people find themselves in a position where, if they share anything about their experience, non-Indigenous people automatically think they’re making a grand social statement,” Deal said. “Sometimes, though, I’m just trying to articulate what’s going on in my life or my home. So, I'm disrupting those outside perceptions of myself and what I should be doing. I’m disrupting this space, and that feels comfortable to me. Disruption doesn't have the rules like ‘activism’ has rules.”

Deal paused and smiled mischievously.

“I don't really care for the rules.”

To learn more about Deal, visit greggdeal.com.

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