Just in time for the spring semester, a significant renovation project in Sampson Hall resulted in two new teaching spaces for studio art courses within the Department of Creative Arts at Stetson. And, while the Art Program combines the strengths of an art conservatory-type curriculum along with the benefits of a liberal arts education, this project blended a bit of ingenuity with philanthropic flair.
The entire funding for the project came by virtue of an unexpected gift to Creative Arts without any restrictions from the Estate of Lindsay B. Witthus. (Lindsay B. Witthus was not a Stetson graduate and had no apparent ties to Stetson.)
“We went ’round and ’round for a while, trying to figure out what the best use was [for the surprise donation],” said Nathan Wolek, professor of Digital Arts and Music Technology and the former chair of Creative Arts. “And we also had this need for these two art classes. So, that seemed like it was going to be the best investment of those funds to have a long-range payoff for our students.”
The original space was gutted to provide two separate classroom areas, with the changes recapturing unused space and essentially doubling the previous footprint.
The east half of the first floor (approximately 2,600 square feet) was stripped down to the studs and subfloor. It then was rebuilt into two discrete classrooms for painting and drawing, with those courses representing the heart of the studio art major. Such courses also are popular options for general education.
The new classrooms allow the department to schedule multiple classes at the same time, as opposed to one class taking the entire space due to its lofted, open-air ceiling. Now, painting and drawing each has its own room, with plenty of walls for the display of student art. The two classrooms are divided by a hallway, enabling students to pass through the area accessibly without disturbance. The hallway also makes room for more wall displays. Additionally, the main entrance of Sampson Hall features large glass doors, opening up the space for prospective student viewing and adding a “modern feel,” according to Wolek. Meanwhile, Duncan Studio, across the hall, continues to serve as advanced-studio space.
“On a practical level, the new spaces provide us with more scheduling flexibility, since we no longer have to worry about acoustic bleed and traffic flow between classrooms,” Wolek described. “On an emotional level, the new spaces have become a point of pride for our students and faculty.”
With hundreds of students using these spaces each semester, and with new faculty on board, the donation truly can be described as a present for the future.
“This is a good use of resources and a good use of a gift we weren’t expecting,” said Wolek. “It came in targeted for us, and then we had to figure out what to do with it.”