Alumni Spotlight - Francisca Ugalde Zapico

Kent is surrounded by opportunities for community engagement— just ask School of Art alumna Francisca Ugalde Zapico. She graduated from Kent State University with her B.F.A. in Painting in 2005 and earned her M.A. in Arts Administration from The University of Akron. She currently works as a curator at the Institute for Human Science and Culture at the Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at The University of Akron.

Fran Ugalde Z. in her painting apron in front of a mural holding a brush, located at the Big Love events.
Fran was born in Chile and relocated via Colombia and Puerto Rico to Ohio in 1999 and currently lives in Merriman Valley, Akron. Fran has been involved with numerous community organizations, including Big Love Akron and the Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience. We talked with Fran about her community involvement and how her career as a painter has unfolded since she graduated from Kent State. 

Q: You earned your B.F.A. in Painting from Kent State, and you love to let your creativity thrive in a variety of local projects. Can you share a bit about how your painting career has evolved since you completed your B.F.A degree?

A: The evolution of my creative output has been shaped a lot by logistics. When I was working on my B.F.A. at Kent, my work was fairly large with pieces ranging from 4x4 feet to 6x8 feet. Upon exiting college life, I found myself still needing to work in large scale, but without access to a studio that permitted working in large paintings, I found myself drawn to public art. After working on a few public art projects, I found myself needing more direction in my life and that is how I ended up getting my M.A. in Arts Administration. Since then, I’ve adjusted to working in smaller scales, slowly shrinking the sizes of my work, as well as my media. These days, a primary factor in the format and content of my work is the materials I have available. I save everything that I think still has usability. One of my guiding principles is to use what I have and avoid purchasing supplies. 

I have moved away from content-led work, and have developed a process-oriented approach to making work. I find that just showing up and making marks is more effective than trying to figure out what it is that I’m trying to say. I have multiple pieces that I work on at the same time, and often I work on the same pieces over long periods of time. Sometimes just putting something away and coming back to it later is exactly what I need to figure out what to do next with it.

Fran Ugalde Z. helping students create a mural for the Glendale Steps.
Q: Can you share about your experience working on the Glendale Steps, a historical site in Akron? Why are these community projects that help to beautify Akron important to you, and how can others get involved in their own communities?

A: The Glendale Steps murals were a Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience product. L3SAE was a City of Akron initiative that paired a group of talented high school students with a lead artist to complete a project for the city. Its mission was to provide work readiness training and meaningful education in the arts to Akron's youth and established artists, to increase public awareness of the importance of the arts and education, and to foster our cultural awareness and promote the greater Akron community.

As an immigrant, I find that I’m always searching for a sense of belonging. Participating in a project that helped the community, by both sharing my knowledge and skills but also through the product itself which represented a slice of local history, gave me a little bit of that sense of belonging somewhere. It was an awesome experience that taught me about Akron’s history and also allowed me the experience of teaching.

Nowadays there are so many local public art project opportunities! I recommend linking up with ArtsNow for Summit County and L.A.N.D studio for Cuyahoga County opportunities.

Fran Ugalde Z. in the Cummings Center by some Native American artifacts.
Q: You have held a variety of positions that are community-based, such as your role as creative director for Big Love Akron, as well as institutional positions such as your current role as Curator for the Institute for Human Science and Culture at The University of Akron. Can you explain how your background as an artist and arts administrator helps you to be successful in these different roles?

A: The creative development and production of an arts festival and the curatorial work I do now superficially appear like very different jobs, but at the implementation level, both require a lot of the same types of skills. In both cases I am answering logistical project management questions. Both my artistic and administrative education have given me the tools to help answer these questions.

My artistic training has given me the all-encompassing skill of creative problem solving. It trained me to explore beyond what is right in front of me and to imagine what could be. Thinking creatively allows me to be resourceful and to find solutions within limitations. My administrative education instilled in me not only technical and procedural museums and archives knowledge and skills, but also enhanced my love of planning checklists, spreadsheets and timelines— all must-have skills for working on individual and group projects.

Q: The Center for the History of Psychology is a very unique resource on Akron’s campus, which you helped transition into a larger building to house/display the expanding collection. Is there anything special you have learned from working at this institution and helping with its growth? What would you like for people who have never visited the museum to know about it?

Fran Ugalde Z. at her job loading a truck. Two women in front of a loaded truck bed with clenched fists.
A: The Cummings Center is a jewel! It started in a basement in 1965 as the Archives for the History of American Psychology (AHAP) a thematic repository and research center that documents the history of psychology and related human sciences through personal manuscript papers, books, media, and artifacts. Since then, it has grown in size and scope and now includes the Institute for Human Science and Culture (IHSC) a multidisciplinary institute that promotes education and research in the history, preservation, documentation, and interpretation of the human experience. The IHSC promotes document- and object-based experiential education in arts, humanities, and science through a Certificate Program in Archival and Museum Studies; and houses a number of unique special collections related to science and culture, all of which are used as educational resources. Finally, the Center is home to The National Museum of Psychology (NMP), which features permanent and interactive exhibits on the history of psychology as a profession, a science, and an agent of social change.

We want people to know we are a resource, not just for UA students, staff and faculty, but for the community at large. Additionally, psychology relates to everything and we are always looking for ways to use and make our collections accessible and for ways to collaborate and create educational opportunities. 

Q: Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue a career in community art or arts administration?

A: When it comes to community arts, the work is not about you. Yes, you bring your skills and creative perspective, but the work itself is about the space/place and the people that inhabit and occupy that space, so start by doing research, ask questions and listen. For arts administration,   there are many types of jobs within museums and archives for many different types of skills and personalities. If you are not sure, start by volunteering to see what they look like— that is usually a good way to get your foot in the door. Additionally, some things I try to instill in my Museums and Archives students are: be organized, respect other people’s time, and be resourceful, because no matter what project you are working on, it’s always all about the budget.

POSTED: Friday, March 19, 2021 04:34 PM
UPDATED: Saturday, June 15, 2024 12:22 AM
Grace Carter