A love of telling a story through art and artifacts in an exhibition has been the driving force behind Patrick Rodgers’ passion for being an exhibition developer for the past 20 years. Six of those have centered on his work as Montgomery County Community College’s Galleries Director.
“I worked in curatorial positions in various museums before coming to Montco,” Rodgers said. “I was working mostly with historical collections.”
Part of his interest in MCCC stemmed from his attraction to the openness of the College’s two gallery spaces.
“They can host so many types of art, so many different ways to tell stories, and connect with people,” he said.
A native of Montgomery County, Rodgers said he also liked the idea of working in his home county to provide more creative avenues directly to the community.
“I grew up in Rockledge and went to Abington High School,” he said. “I got my first museum job in Horsham.”
Now a resident of East Norriton Township, Rodgers’ aim is to inspire those who walk through the doors of MCCC’s gallery spaces, located at their Blue Bell and Pottstown campuses.
“Whether it’s a student walking through the gallery on their way to class, or a professor, or a summer camp kid, or someone from the community coming through, I want them to be inspired by what they see and hopefully motivated,” he said. “A good experience, especially an inspirational one, will stay in your memory, so I try to offer as many memorable and inspirational experiences as I can.”
Exhibitions, which last anywhere from one to three months, are diverse, including "Out of the Whirlwind: Reflections & Forecasts on Climate Change,” which opened August 26 at MCCC’s Blue Bell Campus gallery.
“It’s an exhibit that reflects both alarm and ingenuity in artists’ thinking about climate change,” Rodgers said. “It comes to us through the Temple Judea Museum’s Artists’ Collaborative, which is based out of Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.”
Co-curated by Rita Rosen Poley, Curator and Director at the Temple Judea Museum, and Marlene D’Orazio Adler, Chair of the Temple Judea Museum Artists’ Collaborative.
Rodgers said this exhibit is the Artists’ Collaborative’s first exhibition beyond their own museum.
“We’re fortunate to have such an adventurous, thought-provoking exhibit," he said.
Another exhibit Rodgers looks forward to taking place this fall is a solo show by illustrator Armando Veve, which is funded in part thanks to the Edna Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.
“Veve’s work includes absolutely stunning graphite illustrations for publications like The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The New York Times,” Rodgers said. “They are pictures that you can lose yourself in.”
Both exhibitions have been in the works since before the pandemic.
“We’re very fortunate that these artists have held onto the exhibit concepts and stayed with us throughout the pandemic and its disruptions,” Rodgers said.
When it comes to selecting artists to be included in exhibitions, Rodgers is open to any artist exhibiting in MCCC’s galleries.
“For practical reasons it skews predominantly towards artists from the Philadelphia or Tri-State region,” he said. “I also look for a diversity of artists in terms of background and style, type of work and community connections.”
Artists featured in MCCC’s solo and group shows represent a range of talent and include the artwork of students and youth to professional artists.
“Our gallery, like many other academic galleries, began as a place to showcase student artwork,” he said. “Montco has a long-established reputation for an excellent Fine Art program and the gallery started as a faculty-led exhibit of student work in the library 55 years ago and has now grown into two galleries on each major campus to support fine arts programs and students.”
Rodgers discussed the beauty and flexibility of each exhibition space.
“The Blue Bell gallery is great for large and complex exhibitions,” he said. “The Pottstown’s gallery’s brick walls are ideal for showing paintings.”
“There are many others out there doing amazing things in the art world and we’ve been able to show snippets of that in our galleries,” Rodgers said. “Other graduates of Montco’s AFA have gone on to found arts-based organizations that I’ve showcased in exhibitions.”
Each April an exhibition takes place that features student artwork which is juried by professional artists and includes over $500 in prize money for student winners in various categories.
“We have also showcased artwork from local high schools for more than 40 years each winter and our annual high school shows are among the most vibrant and well-attended exhibits every February and March on both campuses,” he said.
For current Associate of Fine Art degree students at MCCC, Rodgers, who holds a
Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History from Ithaca College and a Master of Museum Studies degree from University of Toronto, shows them how the spaces can be used to explore their own creativity or to experiment with something new.
“Most of our students have never entered artwork into an exhibit before and seen it professionally installed, lighted, and interpreted,” he said. “The galleries are special places that can activate their practice in ways beyond their classwork.”
One of Rodgers’ focuses during the summer months is a two-week art camp, called The Amazing Arts Race, offered in July to children aged seven to ten years old. The camp is centered on a cross-cultural art-based curriculum that “travels” throughout various global cultures to experience visual arts, dance, theater, and other traditions while building teamwork with group challenges and physical activities. The theme of this year’s camp was pirates.
“I used to work in a rare book museum and once developed an exhibit that featured a lot of pirate literature and imagery, so I knew there was actually a lot of visual culture we could draw from to make an art camp centered on pirates viable,” he said.
Among various art projects related to pirates, the last day culminated in a race and a gallery exhibition of the artwork the campers made including a ceramic goblet, the shaping and decorating of a tricorn hat and treasure maps made using historical maps as inspiration.
“They made boat decorations for two-person cardboard boats that we built and eventually raced in a relay on the last day of camp,” Rodgers said.
Whether a young child participating in camp or an adult from the community visiting an exhibition, Rodgers offers experiences for those of all ages to converge with the arts.
“For people who have never been to Montco and don’t even know there is a gallery on both campuses, I tell them to check out what’s coming up and remind them that all of our events and programs are free and open to the public, with the exception of summer camps,” he said. “They’re usually surprised by how much is going on that would interest people of a variety of ages.”