750 receive diplomas as Brenau focuses on the arts in commencement addresses, special programs

May 6, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

In ceremonies this weekend Brenau University will confer 771 degrees on 750 undergraduate and graduate recipients – some of who have completed dual degree programs for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. All told Brenau will award 341 graduate diplomas and 430 undergraduate diplomas.

Celebrating its emphasis on appreciation of the arts as a central component of its liberal arts curriculum, the university also created three special gallery exhibits to enhance commencement addresses by leading figures in the arts world.

The weekend exercises marked the first time Brenau built its commencement programs around a central theme. Arts appreciation is one of the “four portals of learning” in Brenau’s liberal arts curriculum along with global awareness, social and scientific curiosity and communications.

“The arts have always been an important focus for Brenau in its 133-year history,” said Ed Schrader, the university’s president. “Although some higher education institutions have de-emphasized the arts in favor of narrower professional education, at Brenau we believe the best professionals are those with well-rounded educations that include significant exposure to the arts.”

The guest speakers for the two ceremonies both are internationally renowned figures in the arts world – New York-based gallerist Barbara Bertozzi Castelli and Atlantan Michael E. Shapiro, the Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High Museum of Art. Additionally, the Brenau University Galleries created special exhibits, built primarily from pieces in its impress permanent art collection, for graduates and their guests this weekend and planned to keep the exhibit open until May 20, well beyond their normal operating schedule.

Castelli will address graduates of the Women’s College at the university on Friday, May 6, at the 6 p.m. ceremony, and Michael Shapiro, the Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, will speak at the 10 a.m. commencement on Saturday, May 7. Both exercises will occur at the Georgia Mountains Center, at 301 Main Street SW in Gainesville, Ga.

The special art exhibit in all three Brenau galleries features paintings dating to the 18th century in the Brenau permanent art collection, including many pieces from the pop art era of the mid 20th century. The galleries will be open Friday, May 6, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 7, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. They will remain open to the public from through May 20 Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Simmons Visual Arts Center, located at 200 Boulevard, leads to the Sellers Gallery and the Presidents Gallery. The Leo Castelli Gallery is located adjacent to the lobby of the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts at 429 Academy St.

Barbara Castelli, an art historian and art writer, graduated from University of Venice, Italy, with a degree in Japanese language and literature. She completed her dissertation on an avant-garde art movement in Japan in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1988, while she was a visiting scholar at Waseda University in Tokyo, she put together for at the Museum of the University of Rome the first exhibition outside of Japan of works of artists from the movement. In addition to writing extensively about the Gutai and Monaha schools, which after her introduction in 1988 have grown extremely well-known and popular throughout the world, she has also focused her scholarship on American and European post-war art. That led to her acquaintance with Castelli in the early 1990s. They were married in 1994.

Her late husband was credited with introducing the pop art genre to America and with nurturing careers of icons Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and many others. But he also served as a member of the Brenau University Board of Trustees from 1991 until his death in 1999. One of Brenau’s three permanent art galleries in Gainesville, Ga., bears his name.

“Leo helped the Brenau University Galleries access works by the artists that he had championed,” said Barbara Castelli, who now runs the Castelli Gallery, a commercial venture, in New York City. “I distinctly remember his passion for the college and the museum.”

Schrader said that Barbara Castelli has maintained a close relationship with the university since her husband’s death and has helped perpetuate the legacy, which in great measure helped Brenau acquire significant pieces of art for its permanent collection.

That collection, which rivals or exceeds that of even larger colleges and universities, he added, led in part to Brenau’s selection as the first “academic partner” of the High Museum in Atlanta.

Michael Shapiro, who has been the top executive at the High since 2000, joined the museum’s leadership team five years earlier. Previously he was director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He joined The Saint Louis Art Museum in 1984, where he served as chief curator for six years. Shapiro also held the position of assistant professor in the Department of Art at Duke University, Durham, N.C., and he has published numerous exhibition catalogues, books and articles.

Shapiro received his master’s degree in art history in 1978, and his doctorate from Harvard University in 1980. He also earned a Master of Arts degree from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Shapiro specializes in 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture.

In 2005 the government of France awarded Shapiro one of its top cultural honors, the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) for his partnership with France in the advancement of the arts.

In 2010 he spearheaded a move to enlist a university in the Atlanta area in a new academic partnership program and on Aug. 1 Brenau became the High’s first partner. The arrangement has great benefits for both institutions including expanding audiences for gallery exhibitions, shared resources, internships for students and access to High resources that are otherwise off limits or closely held.


In Friday’s ceremony, the university will confer 198 undergraduate diplomas, more than half of which bare in science and nursing, and 26 graduate degrees, most of which are in the dual-degree occupational therapy program. The remaining 315 graduate degrees will be conferred in Saturday ceremonies at the Mountains center for the College of Health & Science and on the Brenau campus at the Burd Center for the College of Education, Pearce Auditorium for the College of Business & Mass Communications and at the Sellars Gallery for the Master of Interior Design program in the College of Fine Arts & Humanities. The 232 undergraduates from coeducational programs on Brenau campuses around Georgia and from online programs will receive their diplomas at the Mountains Center on Saturday.