ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sherri Burr felt absolutely vindicated a few months ago when her eyes lit on a New York Times headline. “Art Makes You Smart,” it proclaimed.
Burr, who teaches art law (and entertainment law, intellectual property law, wills and trust, and international law) at the University of New Mexico law school, had been involved in exhibiting works of art at the Law School for the past year. One reason is admittedly aesthetic, but another is the intellectual stimulation she knows art provides.
It was back in January 2013 when a group of UNM artists – who also share a strong interest in law – got together and formed an art committee. Burr has chaired the panel from the start.
The Times article focused on more than 5,000 students who took field trips to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. A similar number that did not go served as a control group. The students who visited the museum later “displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy, and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions,” the study found.
“Yes!” says Burr. That was icing on the cake for her and the UNM Law School’s seven-member art committee,
which, at the time, was getting ready for the Alumni & Staff Art Show.
That exhibit is now on display in the Forum on the Law School’s main floor. It features the work of seven artists: Robert Flinkman, Cindy Nee, Dan Noyes, Barbara Shapiro, Melinda Silver, Linda Vanzi and Susan Weeks. Vanzi, a Law School alumna, is now a New Mexico Appeals Court judge. Shapiro, Silver and Weeks all have law degrees from UNM, but are now full-time artists. Flinkman and Nee are staff members, and Noyes is a retired staff member.
Last year, the committee put together a student show and a faculty show. Another student exhibit is in the planning stages, with an opening reception tentatively set for April 25 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
A member of the committee, Jonathan Lee, is a first-year law student who recently earned a master’s degree in art education at UNM. He still enjoys being involved in the world of art, but readily concedes he decided to go to law school “for all the typical and practical reasons.” (If that isn’t enough of an explanation, Lee says he and his wife would like to start a family, and “starving artist is not the way to go.”)
Lee is exuberant about his art form, alternative process photography, and has volunteered for another committee endeavor, the Art in the Classroom Initiative.
Law School Dean David Herring has provided $2,000 for the initiative. Five of the law school’s 19 classrooms already display art on their walls, but that means 14 don’t. The dean’s stipend will provide art for seven classrooms. Some of the works have already been donated, so the result will be a blend of the old and the new.
One of the artless rooms is the largest of all the classrooms, Room No. 2401. That is where Lee will be going to work, choosing which pieces to hang and, just as important, where.
One artist who has several black-and-white prints of etchings on display in the Forum is Flinkman. “This is how I express my inner life to the outside world,” he says. “I choose black and white in these prints as a composer would choose the notes on a keyboard on a piano. As a composer plays an impromptu, so I compose the images with black and white, balancing the positive and the negative, highlighting light and dark.”
Another is Nee, whose pastel, “Jemez in Fall, 2013,” seems to leap off the canvas – in contrast to Flinkman’s more reserved work that holds back and demands a more studied examination.
“My early experiences of hiking, fishing and camping throughout the Jemez Mountains has given me a great respect for this magical place,” Nee says. Right now, the committee is getting ready for its second Student Show next month. Burr is enthused and promises it will be wonderful.
She has been on UNM’s faculty since 1988, after earning a bachelor’s degree in politics from Mount Holyoke College, an M.P.A. in International Relations from Princeton University and her law degree from Yale University. She became a full professor in 1994 and was named Regents Professor of Law in 2012.
During the 2008-2009 academic year, Burr served as acting director of the Africana Studies Program in Arts and Sciences. She produces her own half-hour weekly TV show, “Arts Talk,” which airs at 7 p.m. Monday on Channel 27. Her show on March 31 will focus on the current exhibit.
“People often think of lawyers as left-brain people,” she says, “but some of us use our right brains too.”