Wright State University fine arts graduate Erika b Hess is the new artistic director of a world-renowned institution, one in which she spent time as a summer student several years ago.
Hess, who is from Columbus and has a studio in New York, was named artistic director of Chautauqua Visual Arts of Chautauqua Institution.
The western New York enclave is a community of artists, educators and faith leaders that offers cultural, educational, artistic, faith and entertainment programs in a nine-week summer season.
Hess, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art with a concentration in painting in 2006 from Wright State, said she is thrilled to join Chautauqua.
“I’m looking forward to shaping the program for Chautauqua Visual Arts six-week residency. We will be working with top early emerging artists from around the world,” she said. “Overall, I am happy to be steering the program as we grow.”
Hess is in the process of selecting faculty and resident artists and working with the exhibitions team to bring in artists to lecture. Hess said the arts program will include painting, sculpture, print making, ceramics and, something relatively new, a digital lab.
“Chautauqua is magical,” Hess said. “I can’t wait to work with students, faculty and the community at Chautauqua to shape the program.”
Hess has experienced the residency arts program first-hand. She spent a summer at Chautauqua in 2006, after she graduated from Wright State. She is still friends with artists she met there.
She also stays in touch with the faculty in Wright State’s fine arts program, giving occasional talks on campus.
“Wright State is such a gem,” Hess said.
She recently was in her studio in Long Island City in the company of other artists. “Everybody there knew about Wright State’s painting program,” she said.
Hess’ path to Wright State as a student was indirect. From New Concord, Ohio, Hess attended a small Columbus-area university for a year, but its arts program was not as robust as she had hoped.
After learning about Wright State’s fine arts program, she met with Glen Cebulash, art program professor of art.
“It had a more diverse student population, which is what I was looking for,” she said. “I loved that what they were doing was extremely serious and dedicated to the arts. I could see myself being a part of that.”
“Erika was among the best and most ambitious students I’ve worked with in my 27 years at Wright State,” Cebulash said. “She was exceptionally hard-working, intense and enthusiastic about painting and art — precisely the type of student that makes a professor’s job a joy.”
Hess received her Master of Fine Arts from Boston University in 2009. This signaled early on the depths of her ambition as both a painter and an independent thinker. Those ambitions have only continued with her successful podcast “I Like Your Work” and her appointment at the Chautauqua Institution.
“I believe her success is a testament to her talent and intelligence and will be an inspiration for art students at Wright State in the years to come,” Cebulash said.
In addition to the six-week program, Hess wants to start a two-week residency for artists who cannot commit to six weeks. The two programs would follow each other, with a one-week break in between.
“I want to make sure more people can experience what Chautauqua is,” Hess said. “I hope this shorter residency opens the doors to other artists.”
Chautauqua also is appealing to children of artists, she said. She speaks as a parent of three: daughter Kaia, 8; son Luke, 6, and son Aiden, 3.
Now, about her full name. After graduate school, she moved to New York, where she learned there was another Erika Hess who had a website.
“I needed a website and didn’t want to be confused with her, so I adopted the lowercase ‘b’ without a period,” Hess said. “I liked how it looked — the visual component.”
She praises Wright State for her success.
“My time at Wright State was incredible,” she said. “I was able to work with incredible faculty and be surrounded by others who were serious about a future in painting and art. It was a golden time for me. The friendships and connections I made taught me a lot and led me to where I am now. I got my footing at Wright State.”