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Growing and Taking Artistic Risks: Gabriella Melchiorri, BFA '20

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Gabriella Melchiorri

Gabriella Melchiorri is experiencing new growth, in more ways than one.

When she enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, she viewed painting as her sole artistic medium. Having been homeschooled through high school, she arrived in Boston feeling somewhat isolated. Her outlook has since changed dramatically on both fronts.

'The Perfect Fit'

SMFA at Tufts was the only art program to which Melchiorri applied. "It was the perfect fit," said the Cape Cod native. "I saw it as a place where I could explore and take risks."

She initially assumed painting would be her medium of choice. Instead, she has become an animation enthusiast under the tutelage of Joel Frenzer, professor of the practice in film and animation.

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Melchiorri has seen that animation gives her great creative freedom. "It takes 24 drawings to create one second of animation, so you draw very quickly," she said. "It doesn't have to be perfect to end up being beautiful."

Stylistically, Melchiorri is also exploring more abstract themes, an unexpected departure from her previous work. She has found that with the right mentorship and a broad, studio-based education, she has become empowered to discover new forms of artistic expression.

A Public Experience

Melchiorri is also benefitting from the school's ongoing museum alliances—not just with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but also with other major Boston-area museums.

She recently spent seven months as the SMFA Polly Thayer Starr intern at the world-renowned Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This internship exposes SMFA students to community engagement work at the Gardner Museum that aims to connect younger, diverse audiences to the museum through creative and engaging programs and experiencesUnder the direction of Brian Hone, manager of studio projects, Melchiorri took full advantage of this prestigious opportunity. In a departure from her student work, she planned and facilitated hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. This in-depth involvement with the Gardner's community programs broadened her perspective on how artists can participate in the vibrant world of art.

One of the responsibilities she liked most was assisting with the Gardner's Saturday Open Studios. This weekly drop-in program offers both children and adults the chance to have a personal, interactive art experience.

"So many people are intimidated by museums, the guards, the fear of bumping into things," Melchiorri said. "We provide the tools and a space where people can relax and have fun with an art project that isn't too complicated or overwhelming."

She is enthusiastic about this program, especially with regard to the participation of adults. "They think they can't create art, but they can! People surprise themselves," she said.

The Public Role of a Museum

Besides interacting with visitors, Melchiorri has been inspired by the museum’s guest artists and artists-in-residence. A case in point: "Animal Mashup," a "self-service" visitor program sparked by a installation created by 2017 artist-in-residence—and SMFA alumna—Joan Jonas.

Jonas' exhibit, I Know Why They Left, features 55 new drawings and photographs highlighting the mythical and archetypal animals that she found in the Gardner Museum's collection. Reflecting this theme, "Animal Mashup" invites visitors to cut up animal drawings, and then "mix and match" the pieces to form their own unique creatures. Melchiorri took an active role in developing and implementing this concept and in drawing animals similar to Jonas' work for visitors to use.

Melchiorri is proud that "Animal Mashup" helps connect visitors directly to Jonas' exhibition while nurturing their artistic instincts in a playful, nonthreatening way. Through this and other projects, she gained a new perspective on the public role of a museum. "I'm always thinking of visitors—how this would look, what visitors would get out of it," she said. "It's opened up my mind."

Outside the Box

Melchiorri has come a long way over the past few years. Thanks to studio courses in ceramics, three-dimensional art, and more, painting is no longer her only form of artistic expression. "I'm thinking outside of my own box," she said.

Evidence to this point includes the selection of one of her animation works for the SMFA Media Arts Annual held in April at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Her concept of what art is has also matured. "It never occurred to me that my artwork could have a meaningful back story that would affect me and the people around me," she said.

In addition, Melchiorri has discovered new ways to grow in the public sphere, even beyond her role at the Gardner. She was recently elected president of the Student Government Association for 2019-2020 year and interacts with SMFA leaders as a member of the Curriculum and Facilities committees.

"I'm committed to making the program continue its excellence and become even stronger," Melchiorri said. Equally important, she no longer feels isolated, having made lifelong friends.

The multifaceted SMFA program is designed to provide an environment where students can develop, innovate, and participate in a larger community of artists. For Melchiorri, it does just that—and she's thriving as a result.

"The faculty, the people, and the experiences are great," she said. "I'm doing things I never expected I would."