The UC Merced Art Gallery  is in the northeast corner of the Social Science and Management Building, which opened this semester. The room was designed to be an art gallery, complete with ceiling-length windows allowing sunshine to cascade onto white walls. Previously, the only art space was in the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library.
"This space is like a laboratory, where students can apply some of the skills they've learned," explained art history Professor ShiPu Wang, who oversees the gallery.
The gallery's second show, "Our Merced," opened Nov. 15 and runs until Dec. 8. Undergraduate students curated the photography exhibit, which depicts different aspects of the community. They all had taken an art history class with Wang, so the gallery was a way for them to apply what they learned in class.
Thirteen students, under Wang's guidance, pored over 2,000 photos taken by students during the past five years and selected more than 70 to be in the show.
One photo, "Defiant One," depicts a flower sprouting through cracked concrete. "The Times, They Are A-Changing" shows a new suburban home through the skeleton of a barn.
"Bring on the Clones," which shows several identical Barbie dolls, is a favorite of Reem Yassine, one of the student curators. She said the distinctive image is eye-catching.
"People will stop and look at it and wonder why it's there," said Yassine, an anthropology major from Irvine.
Yassine said she's always enjoyed museums and realized trying her hand at curation would be a rewarding experience. Each student in the group had to bring their selections to the table, and together they whittled the photos for the show down from 130 to 71. Then, they had to decide the order and layout in the art gallery.
Curating the exhibit was just one of Yassine's great experiences at UC Merced, she said. Last summer, she traveled to Belize to explore caves alongside archaeologist Holley Moyes. Once she graduates in the spring, she plans to take a year off before going to graduate school.
"UC Merced opened the doors for me to be whatever I want to be," Yassine said. "I don't think going to any other school would have given me these opportunities."