By Kevin Zimmerman

A lot of college officials like to talk about how they provide students with a real-world education which usually entails multiple internships.

At St. John’s University in Jamaica Estates, plenty of seniors spend time punching the clock as interns, but within the school’s Department of Art and Design, a small group of students spend their last semesters creating paintings, sculptures, videos and photographs and then preparing these works for an exhibition, “In Defense Of,” at the Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs in Long Island City.

“This is predicated less on individual pieces and more on the overall time commitment of each artist,” Paul Fabozzi, professor of fine arts, said. “They present their works weekly and receive critiques and feedback, which then helps them develop editing skills and makes them really think about how the art is going to be in this space.”

This year’s show includes works by 15 student artists — Dallas Adams, Lucia Burrafato, Evane Corder, Georgina Diaz, Sharlotte Fondeur-Casas, Kristin Hauser, Sabrina Issagholian, Lauren Muggeo, Lourdes Rivera, Kalen Na’il Roach, Caroline Roecker, Elena Suarez, Diamond Watts-Walker, Rebekah Yeh and Kaixi Zhou — working in a variety of mediums.

Each artist begins with a written statement of intent, which explains what they hope to accomplish with their art and how they plan to go about doing it. Then they get to work. Throughout the project they meet with faculty advisers who question many of the artists’ decisions before sending them back to the studio.

“We want to force them to justify the work not just aesthetically but also conceptually,” Fabozzi said. “We challenge them so they have a clearer sense of how to move forward.”

For Rivera, moving ahead required looking back.

As the only member of her family born in the United States, Rivera wanted to start a dialogue about that through her artwork using items she gathered during a trip to the Dominican Republic, where she traces her roots, Fabozzi said.

One of her sculptures includes a metal pole that was used to pull down the grate at a family-owned business. This store provided the economic backbone of her extended family, Fabozzi said.

“She put these things through her hands,” Fabozzi said. “And now she wants to look at what does it mean to have a cultural connection with other places?”

Roach created a collage of images of his family he has collected over time, exploring his connection with other people.

The photographs of his mother, father and aunt have been visually altered with different hues and added designs. At first the piece looks like a mishmash of old and manipulated photographs, but Roach wants to explore the relationships he has and had with each of these people.

“Each individual in this show may call him — or herself — something different, such as artist, designer, illustrator, photographer, etc.,” Roach said in his artist’s statement. “Yet the power of self-determination lies with each of us. It’s time to take possession over that power — ourselves, our work, our vision and our desires. It’s time for each of us to be able to say, ‘This is mine and I am here to defend it.’”

For her final St. John’s project, Burrafato ditched her usual medium and picked up a video camera for the first time.

In a darkened back room at Dorsky Gallery, three screens display images of Burrafato’s face and hands immersed in water on a continuous loop. It’s hard to tell what Burrafato is trying to say, but as she explores her connection to water, she earns praise from Fabozzi.

“Instead of just moving through your skill set, you have to be willing to challenge yourself,” Fabozzi said. “This is an educational environment. You get points for taking risks.”

And while some people may think it’s risky to study art in Queens, as the only non-art school in New York City to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Arts and Design, St. John’s is in a unique position to offer students a deeper understanding of form and function, Fabozzi said.

Not only do the student artists receive a fine arts-based education, but they also benefit from the university’s offerings in math, science and literature, Fabozzi said.

“It all helps to make them a better artist,” he said. “Art connects the self to the broader human experience.”

One experience Fabozzi hoped to provide was a professional exhibit in an art gallery off campus.

Four years ago, Fabozzi walked into the Dorsky Gallery and left with a commitment from co-owner Karen Dorsky to host the BFA thesis projects.

“They have been amazing,” Fabozzi said. “They are a nonprofit with a strong educational mission and a strong sense of contemporary art. It’s been exciting to work with them.”

The students are required to spend time at Dorsky helping to design the exhibit and how best to use their works to engage the audience, Fabozzi said.

“It forces them to develop a whole approach to their thesis more fully,” Fabozzi said.

And for Dorsky co-owner Noah Dorsky, the collaboration benefits his gallery as well.

“We are committed to presenting contemporary art to a broader audience,” Dorsky said. “And this allows us to bring art to as many people as possible.”

If you go

“In Defense Of”

When: Through Sunday, April 27; closing reception, Saturday, April 26, at 3 p.m.

Where: Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Program, 11-03 45th Ave., Long Island City

Contact: (718) 937-6317

Website: dorsky.org

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