The first art gallery located on Marshall University’s Huntington campus opened September 26, 1977. It was called The Marshall University Art Gallery. In 1979, it was renamed the Birke Art Gallery after Helen Birke of Huntington, an ardent supporter of the arts in West Virginia. Though Mrs. Birke passed away in 1994, her contributions continue to enrich the cultural life of Marshall University today.
The Marshall University Art Gallery was a labor of love ten years in the making. The MU Art Department wanted a professional space for students to exhibit their work as well as a space to exhibit the works of outside artists. The gallery was built into the first floor of Smith Hall, which housed the art department, by enclosing part of its outdoor plaza area.
The inaugural event was a public reception for an exhibition of prints and sculptures by Italian artist Harry Bertoia. Bertoia was a choice that reflected the values of the architects of the gallery. He was the artist who designed the Memorial Fountain that is the centerpiece of the Memorial Student Center Plaza. Founding Director of the gallery and Professor in the MU Art Department, Beverly Twitchell said, “We wanted to open the gallery with an exhibit by an artist who not only was well-known throughout the art world, but one who also had a special identity to our community.” The remainder of that year was busy with exhibitions by graduate and senior students in the MU Art Department.
On November 16, 2022, the Birke Art Gallery moved from its historic home in Smith Hall to its new home on the first floor of the Visual Arts Center. The idea was proposed in the Spring of 2022 by a small committee including Frederick Bartolovic (Interim Director at the time), Jamie Platt (Gallery Director at the time), Danny Kaufmann (SOAD Faculty member) and Mark Zanter (Interim Director as of Summer, 2o22). The move centralized the SOAD galleries under one roof. Due to the Birke Art Gallery’s location in the front of the Visual Arts Center, in full view of the windows facing 3rd Avenue, the public would for the first time be able to pass by and peer into the exhibitions on view and see at a glance creative atmosphere inside the School of Art & Design.
Today the School of Art & Design is housed in the Visual Arts Center in downtown Huntington and the Birke Art Gallery is one of Marshall University’s three art galleries. The Birke Art Gallery is host to a series of rotating exhibitions throughout the year including an annual juried student exhibition that has provided decades of art students the opportunity to showcase their best works of art.