Rebecca Foley has a lot of reasons to be excited about this year’s ArtsGala.
As the new art gallery and events coordinator in Wright State University’s College of Liberal Arts, Foley is looking forward to watching for the first time fine and performing arts students show off their talents in front of hundreds of supporters and fans.
But what is truly motivating Foley is knowing the direct impact ArtsGala will have on those students’ personal and professional goals.
“That was the hook that made me interested and excited about working on it,” Foley said. “It’s not just a celebration of what we do, there’s an impact aspect to it, the scholarship aspect.”
Since its inception, ArtsGala has raised more than $3 million in scholarships for Wright State’s fine and performing arts students.
The 24th annual ArtsGala will take place on Saturday, April 1, beginning at 7 p.m. in Wright State’s Creative Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased at wright.edu/artsgala.
One of the premier arts events in the Dayton region, ArtsGala features 12 unique performances by more than 400 Wright State students in art, dance, motion pictures, music and theatre. The event also features delicious food and drinks and a silent auction.
Foley, who joined Wright State in January, oversees ArtsGala and is the gallery coordinator of the Robert and Elaine Stein Art Galleries.
It did not take her long to understand why the students, faculty and staff in the School of Fine and Performing Arts are eager to perform at ArtsGala.
“Everybody talks so positively about ArtsGala, everyone is so proud of the students showcasing their talents that night, and the students seem to really enjoy it too,” she said.
Before joining Wright State, Foley was an associate professor of art and the gallery director of the Potter Art Gallery at Missouri Western State University in Saint Joseph, Missouri.
She oversaw the photography area, taught all levels of photography, and led seniors in their capstone projects and final exhibition in the Potter Art Gallery. She took pride in helping her students learn how to present themselves and their art professionally and “make it ready to exhibit in another gallery or museum, make it look like something you’d like to have on your wall or buy.”
As the gallery director, Foley was responsible for curating the gallery’s rotating exhibitions.
“I loved planning the exhibits and curating them,” she said. “I loved researching artists that we wanted to bring in and showcase. I enjoyed meeting people when they’d come in with their art.”
After teaching photography at Columbia College in Chicago, she spent a year as a visiting artist at The Ohio State University. She also taught photography and was featured in a solo exhibition in Ohio State’s Hopkins Hall Gallery.
Foley was inspired to explore photography as a child in Kentucky by her father, an agricultural economist who took photos as a hobby. She would take photos for her local 4-H program and of her friends when hanging out. She also wanted to learn how to use a dark room.
Once she took her first photography course as a student at Rice University, her love of photography bloomed.
“I felt like I was good at it and just kept wanting to learn more,” said Foley, who received bachelor’s degrees in art and art history and English from Rice. “I tried to take every photography class I could.”
During her senior year, Foley was invited to exhibit her photographs in her first solo show at a gallery in Houston. The exhibition features large prints she created of botanical flowers that she produced for a class project.
It was the first time she exhibited her art publicly, and it proved to be a valuable learning experience, from producing a portfolio to framing her prints to participating in an opening gallery reception.
“It validated that other people wanted to look at and enjoy what I like to make,” Foley said.
As a student, Foley sought out an internship at the Houston Center for Photography because she wanted to learn how to curate an exhibition. She relished the opportunity to see how an exhibition comes together.
“It was exciting to see the exhibits come and go and see what happened behind the scenes in preparing them,” she said. “I just absorbed what was happening.”
As a graduate photography student in the M.F.A. program at Indiana University, Foley also assisted with student exhibitions in the School of Fine Arts gallery.
After moving several times as they advanced their careers, Foley and her husband, Simon Fink, decided to relocate their family to the Dayton area last year because it was closer to their extended families, and they thought it would be a great place to raise their two elementary-school-aged children.
“We were looking for the lifestyle we wanted — a nice, easy place to live that still had some interesting things to do,” she said. “We felt like Dayton had that right balance we were looking for.”
The timing ended up being perfect. Fink was hired as an orchestra teacher at the Miami Valley School, and Foley was able to resume her love of managing an art gallery.
“I was excited for the opportunity to be back in the gallery,” she said.
When Foley visited the Creative Arts Center and the Stein Galleries, she was instantly impressed.
“When I came to campus to see the gallery, I was blown away by how beautiful it is, how extensive the Permanent Collection is,” she said.
Located in the Creative Arts Center, the Stein Galleries features six gallery spaces where visitors can enjoy rotating exhibitions, the Stein Collection and the gallery’s Permanent Collection.
Foley assists faculty members in the School of Fine and Performing Arts curate exhibitions, helps install exhibitions, manages the Permanent Collection and coordinates gallery events. Next academic year, she plans to curate one of the rotating exhibitions.
Because her previous gallery did not have its own collection, Foley is eager to explore and highlight the Stein Galleries’ Permanent Collection.
“With the space we have, we can offer a combination of bringing in artists who loan us their work plus pulling from the collection,” Foley said. “It’s an honor to work with the collection because there’s so much history in it.”