SU alum gets into the art world

Museum studies graduate Chris Battaglia becomes interim curator at the Community Folk Art Center.

On the verge of completing his master’s degree in museum studies at Syracuse University, Chris Battaglia was in need of both direction and an outlet for his newly acquired knowledge.

To his good fortune, he received a call from the director of the Community Folk Art Center, Dr. Kheli Willetts.

“She needed someone to step in for the summer and help out with some exhibitions they’d planned,” Battaglia said. “Of course I said yes.”

Officially installed as interim curator at CFAC, Battaglia went to work coordinating the organization’s various exhibits and community functions. And while the tasks attached to his new position weren’t by any means foreign, the nature of the art was different from what he had studied before.

CFAC specializes in African diasporan art, or pieces inspired or produced by displaced Africans. Diasporan art developed as a method for maintaining cultural solidarity amongst displaced Africans, and as a way to cultivate a spiritual connection with their homeland and with one another.

Throughout his studies, Battaglia’s main focus had been on medieval European arms and armor. But he felt well prepared to take on the role since the museum studies department at SU was successful in providing him with a wide range of skills and knowledge, he said.

“They teach you how to deal with everything from a painting on the wall to sculpture, to artists coming from a different country,” he said.

CFAC hosted a reception Sept. 24 to kick off its newest exhibit, African Diasporan Treasures: 40 Years of Community Folk Art. Continuing until Dec. 10, the exhibit features pieces from CFAC’s in-house collection, a major step for both the institution and its interim curator.

Battaglia is excited and ready for this next step.

“My first priority is the organization,” he said.

Since 1972, CFAC has been a powerful organ of cultural development in Syracuse, promoting the art of underrepresented groups in the community, Battaglia said. CFAC also works in conjunction with the African-American studies department at Syracuse University.

“We haven’t done a collection show in many years,” he said. “That’s my goal here, to put the collection back on a firmer footing.”

Tanya Johnson-Ruffin, CFAC director of education, said she believes Battaglia has contributed considerably during his short stint as interim curator and cited the community’s positive response to CFAC’s most recent programs as evidence of his overall impact.

“I think his interactions with the community are very positive,” Johnson-Ruffin said. “He’s really able to relate to the work and it’s great that someone with a different background has the ability to show that art is universal.”

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