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With New Building, Focus Shifts to the Visual Arts

Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11


Sam Colt

Students in Associate Professor of Art Read Baldwin’s Drawing I course enjoy the natural light in the new Horvitz Art Building.

Overlooking the woods surrounding Kenyon’s campus, the newly opened Horvitz Art Building is a powerful statement in brick, glass and steel. Though studio art faculty and students began the school year amidst professors’ bare offices and unpacked boxes, excitement within the department is palpable.

“Honestly, I was trying not to get my hopes up,” said Professor of Studio Art Claudia Esslinger. “In fact, I really kept my emotions in reserve until we started to move in. And now I’m just overwhelmed with how amazing it is.”

The Horvitz Center officially opened its doors last Thursday, Aug. 29, uniting Kenyon’s once scattered visual arts department into one location. The building was primarily funded by a $10 million donation by David Horvitz, former chair of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Francie Bishop Good, a professional photographer, as part of the College’s We Are Kenyon campaign.

Sarah Kahrl, vice president for College relations, led the campaign and worked with donors, trustees and the studio art faculty to envision the building. “This was a singular investment for Kenyon at a time when many colleges were stepping back from their commitment to the arts,” she said. “Our aspiration was not just to build what would be enough, but what would … make Kenyon a place of distinction.”

The studio art faculty worked for the past six years with architect Graham Gund ’63 to fine-tune the building’s final plan. Among their priorities were more natural light and increased floor space.

“Horvitz Hall has a very different feel from the Gund Gallery in that it’s quite utilitarian,” Kahrl said. “It’s all focused on the studio and classroom experience, and each of the rooms is really almost custom-designed by a professor to facilitate the teaching and what we envision the needs of the future would be.”

Safety concerns, however, emerged as the department’s top priority. Bexley Hall, where drawing and painting classes were previously held, was not designed to hold art facilities, and did not have the infrastructure to do so, according to Professor of Studio Art Gregory Spaid. “Before, we always had to make do — we never had buildings that were designed for what we do,” he said. “Probably the biggest step forward is the health issues. Proper ventilation of fumes, the proper disposal of liquids and all of those things has been taken care of.”

In the sculpture department, which was formerly housed in the Meyer Art Center, also known as the Art Barn, the new building addresses an even more important safety concern: separating the combustibles (wood chips and sawdust in woodworking) from sparks in the welding and metal department.

Centrally located, the Horvitz Center is more accessible to prospective students. Associate Professor of Studio Art Marcella Hackbardt said that while studio art facilities were rarely a stop on campus tours in the past because of their north campus location, the Horvitz Art Building will change that. “Prospective students will have a better understanding of what we do by seeing the studios and seeing the artwork that goes up in the building,” she said.

Spaid said he hopes the building’s state-of-the-art facilities will attract more students to studio art. “I hope that more non-majors take our courses. When they see this building they say ‘sometime in my career at Kenyon I’d like to actually make art,’” he said.

With painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking and film in the same building — the Center is even equipped with a green room — the studio art department will be more engaged in college life, Esslinger said. “My guess is that classes will be more accessible, more popular, more integrated with other disciplines,” she said.

“[The building] will bring more focus to the visual arts at Kenyon. … There’s a connection between poetry and visual art and dance, and those connections are going to be much more vibrant now.”

Ultimately, Kahrl said, the new building represents a reaffirmation of Kenyon’s commitment to all facets of the liberal arts.  “Visual literacy and the ability to communicate not just with words, which is certainly a part of Kenyon’s heritage, but with images and through art, is fundamental, especially in this time when so much of our communication is taking place in the digital world,” she said. “[The Horvitz Center] changes the conversation about the role of studio art here.”

Though this conversation is just getting started, optimism amongst the faculty is contagious. “It’s a fantastic space, it’s absolutely glorious,” Professor of Studio Art Barry Gunderson said. “I think the students are going to be absolutely dazzled when they come in here. The returning students are used to Bexley or the Art Barn, and this is going to look palatial. I think it’s going to inspire people enormously.”

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