Tony Marsh has done a lot of traveling in his lifetime. He has also resided in New York City, Big Sur, and Japan -- all considered very artistic communities. Those experiences, he says, have helped shape him.
Those experiences, in part, are also the reason the California State University, Long Beach art professor wants his students to see the world, thus allowing them to accumulate the confidence and experience he believes can be procured only through traveling.
"I want them to feel like they are citizens of the world," explained Marsh, a Cal State Long Beach faculty member since 1989. "I want them to open up their minds and to compare their ideas and artistic work to others."
The thought of a travel scholarship came up about four years ago when the department received a $1,200 gift.
"I had to decide what to do with it," Marsh explained. "We could have just given the money to a student, but I thought there was a better way to make a more indelible mark."
Marsh then asked students working on their BFA degrees to submit proposals for travel anywhere in the world that related to their course of study in ceramics.
"It wasn't as easy to choose as you might think," he said. "There were a lot of interesting proposals. They had to do some research and have something really concrete."
The first student went to Taiwan to study with the world-renowned ceramist Aleon; the next went to Portugal because of her work in tile; another went to London and Paris to view art in museums; and yet another went to Russia to observe ceramics programs in Moscow.
For the past three years Marsh has taken the lead in raising funds for the program through various means, highlighted by the extremely popular Holiday Art Sale every December. The fundraising has been so successful that the traveling scholarship fund is in a healthy position. Still, trips are not free for the students and budgeting is important.
On one trip, Marsh took a group of students to New York City to take in the art, go to museums, galleries and theater. They rubbed elbows with museum curators and got to go behind the scenes into back rooms and storage areas. The one play they took in was titled, appropriately enough, "Art."
"We raised money and they added some of their own," Marsh said of the students. "We got good deals on airfares and hotels, put four in a room and held down costs however possible."
And while it sounds like a lot of fun, which Marsh admits it is, there is also an important learning component.
"We know what the trips are doing for the students," he pointed out. "It's not a vacation. We're very careful about the students we send. We try to understand the connection between what they have been doing here for the past couple years and the trip. It's my thought that this is something that is going to benefit them, even though it may not really sink in for a couple of years."
His most recent outing was sparked by a teaching stint in Italy two summers ago. While there, he went to the Venice Biennale, an event at which artists worldwide are invited to install art in their country's pavilion. It is considered the most prestigious international art exhibits in the world, according to Marsh.
"Some of the most interesting people from contemporary art in the world attend," he said. "You go there and it's remarkable. They have grounds where they hold it, and these are permanent pavilions for each country. The galleries are built in the vernacular of the architectural style of the participating country. Then, each country sends artists every other year to display their work. You can really take the pulse of contemporary art."
It was such a grand experience that he became determined to get his students there for the next one. So, last summer he took eight students, most of whom had never been outside the United States, on the eight-day art excursion.
"I've been to Italy a number of times so I'm fairly familiar with things there," said Marsh. "I did a lot of research and created packages for both Venice and Florence and told them what was available. I didn't really want to direct their experience, so they were able to follow their own interests."
Though not an official part of the department's curriculum, Marsh believes it is an extra-curricular activity that enriches the program.
"Students can go anywhere in the world," Marsh stated. "It really shrinks the world. That is a large component of this. I want students to be able to dream about this and then actualize the dream."
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