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After decades of talk about a fine arts building at St. Thomas, President-elect Julie Sullivan said during her campus visit last Thursday that she is interested in the project.
Terry Langan, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, announced at the closing of the Opening Doors capital campaign last fall that $10 million in estate gifts could be used for a new fine arts building.
“Obviously (Sullivan) hasn’t fully arrived here on campus and started her work as president,” Langan said. “I know that others have been talking with her from our board about this possibility, so I’m very hopeful that she’ll be supportive and see the good things that we could accomplish with this center.”
Although the money makes a new building possible, Langan said commitment is what’s generating excitement.
“We’re very excited that there’s this commitment … to a performing and visual arts building out of the last campaign that we’ve never seen before,” Langan said. “We don’t know when we would have access to that money, (but) you don’t need all the cash in hand to build a building.”
For Langan, a center for the arts is “what’s missing on this campus.”
“We do a good job, I think, with the arts,” Langan said. “We could do a lot better with some facilities.”
The next step for the building is a planning project that would determine what will be included in the building, how much it will cost and possibly what it will look like, as well as getting people excited about the idea of the center, according to Langan.
“We have donors who are already excited and have made pledges to this building,” Langan said. “We need to raise awareness, spread the word that we’re moving in this direction, get people excited about it, including some more donors.”
Senior music major Nick Kiekenapp is excited about the new center.
“It’s really long overdue for a new music building and just a whole arts building in general,” Kiekenapp said. “I’d like to see the program grow.”
Music department needs
Music Department Chair Matthew George said the facilities being used in his department now were not made for music practice and instruction.
“We don’t have any dedicated space, and what we’ve done over all these years is retrofit classrooms and to try to make them into music rooms,” George said. “But, really that’s like creating a chemistry lab out of a classroom. It doesn’t work.”
George said the biggest need for the department is a performance hall.
“We try to make the chapel work, which sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t,” George said. “Lately, we’ve been using the Woulfe Alumni Hall. It’s a nice space, but it’s not appropriate.”
George also noted the need for rehearsal spaces, teaching studios, practice rooms, musically equipped classrooms and a recording arts studio, which would serve the recording arts minor and music business major.
“We’re in classrooms. We rehearse on a stage in a lecture hall,” George said. “The Brady Educational Center auditorium is a lecture hall. It’s a very good lecture hall, but that’s not our purpose.”
Art history department needs
Art History Department Chair Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell said he hopes his department, now located in a house on the corner of Cleveland and Portland avenues, will also benefit from a new building.
“We have a very different vision of what art history is and how it should be taught and ways of involving students with art in our teaching,” Stansbury-O’Donnell said. “If we just had adequate facilities, we could really make things happen.”
Stansbury-O’Donnell said he would like three or four rooms of dedicated gallery space in a new building that could serve different purposes, such as special exhibitions, permanent exhibitions for teaching art history courses and space for graduate and undergraduate students to develop their own exhibitions.
“We’d like to have a museum studies track in our program,” Stansbury-O’Donnell said. “That would give us an opportunity to be able to do both the theoretical and the hands on which is what we like to think of the program, kind of bridging the gap between academics and the museum world.”
Another priority for the department is art storage space.
“We can’t put everything on display and one way you teach students … (you) take them into storage and let them work with the objects directly, cleaning up, doing the reports and all that kind of backstage work,” Stansbury-O’Donnell.
Langan said most people on campus don’t understand the condition of the art history department.
“I’m excited that people look to St. Thomas more for the visual arts … our Asmat art collection, for the Fiterman collection that’s been donated recently and I look around and we have a lot of great art in storage that no one’s ever going to see because we don’t have places to show it,” Langan said.
Theatre and film production needs
Langan said he would also like to see a theater presence on campus, though he is unsure what form it would take.
“We don’t have a theater program on this campus, and I think that there’s a big hole there,” Langan said. “A facility like this could lead to the return of a theater presence on this campus, and I think there’s a lot of student interest for that.”
Langan said film production facilities might have a place in the building as well.
“We have just begun a new minor in film studies,” Langan said. “I could imagine in this new building some modest space for that program.”
Sophomore art history major Magdalena Koebele probably won’t be a student when the building goes up, but said it’s exciting regardless.
“It’s still kind of a nice legacy that I can feel I contributed to just because I am involved in art history and choir,” Koebele said. “I can be a student that can prove there is a need and desire for this space.”
Koebele said the building would give students a more complete liberal arts education.
“(Students) will be able to be introduced to things … walk away with a better experience overall because they’ve been able to explore all forms of liberal arts education,” Koebele said.
Langan said he is optimistic about the building’s future.
“We finished this last capital campaign in October and someday in the not too distant there will be another capital campaign and I really hope that this will be a priority in that campaign,” Langan said. “There are buildings built in the early stages of a capital campaign, and I hope this building will be built in the early stages of our next capital campaign.”
Rita Kovtun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.