A conversation with John Aäsp

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A. Sue Weisler

John Aasp, shown here at Gallery r, RIT’s metro showcase and learning laboratory for the arts in downtown Rochester, is the first-ever director of all three CIAS galleries.

John Aäsp is an artist, writer and curator who joined RIT this year as the first-ever gallery director for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS). He oversees two on-campus spaces—William Harris Gallery and The Bevier Gallery—as well as Gallery r, RIT’s metro showcase and learning laboratory for the arts in downtown Rochester. Aäsp spent the last eight years as visual arts director and curator for Rockport Center for the Arts on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where he also served as managing director for the Rockport Film Festival. A native Texan, Aäsp received his Master of Fine Arts degree from RIT’s imaging and photographic arts program (2006), along with degrees in art from the University of Iowa and communication from Angelo State University.

Welcome to RIT, or I should say welcome back to RIT? You earned your master’s degree at RIT before returning to your native Texas. What made you want to come back to Rochester?

Aäsp: The opportunity to work here at RIT in a position dedicated to the CIAS galleries was just too hard to pass up. I also am looking forward to working closely with (School of Photographic Arts and Sciences Administrative Chair) Therese Mulligan, who’s really been a mentor for me.

This is an inaugural position to have someone dedicated specifically to the three CIAS galleries. How are you planning to take on this role?

Aäsp: There are traditional shows that highlight things happening on campus that the galleries should and will still reflect. Gallery r, however, is a member of the downtown arts community, so it needs to align itself with what’s happening there. If I can bring into line both what’s happening here on campus with our gallery downtown, then that’s a win-win for RIT.

How would you like to put your own stamp on the CIAS galleries?

Aäsp: The idea is to bring the galleries into more collegewide use. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to have cross-pollination with every show because each gallery serves a particular purpose. I plan to pay particular attention to Gallery r since it’s RIT’s ambassador to the downtown neighborhood and should be showcasing the best of RIT at all times.

The strategic plan calls for more interdisciplinary work. Can the galleries do that as well?

Aäsp: I believe all of the university’s gallery spaces have the opportunity to be run the way the strategic plan envisions. Naturally I’d like to see things arcing toward that.

What are you looking forward to most in your new position?

Aäsp: The same things that attracted me to RIT as a student: the interdisciplinary spirit and the commitment to technology and art. RIT has made a lot of progress since my time here. It hasn’t rested on its laurels, especially with the expansion internationally. It continues to grow and I’m excited to be part of it.