Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Fouts Center for Visual Arts opens amidst excitement, controversy

Charles Timm-Ballard, chair of the art department, stood in the second floor painting studio and pointed toward the skylight overhead.

“They made models of what the sun will be doing at different times of day throughout the year.   Each of [the skylights] is placed so that the way the light from the skylights combines with the light that comes in from the other windows and those artificial lights, there will be the absolute minimum amount of glare,” said Timm-Ballard.

At the dedication ceremony on Saturday Sep. 3, trustees, donors, students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members roamed the cement floors of the Fouts Center for Visual Arts, taking in the details of the state of the new art facility.

“I love the light.   It’s really breathtaking,” said sophomore Dana Bialeck of the $15 million art facility.
Bialeck’s sentiment was echoed by a most everyone who had toured the new building.   While a few people remained hesitant about the industrial aesthetics of the building, everyone appreciated the use of natural light and agreed the new building will be an improvement over the Olin art wing.

“I just can’t get unexcited about this building,” said studio art technical assistant, Susa Roberts.

The process of making a new art building a reality began six years ago when Timm-Ballard gave a presentation to the board of trustees and the president’s council on the need for a new art building.

Since then, there have been over three years of planning, two years of construction, a change in plans to accommodate a 30-year-old incense cedar and hundreds of hours of fund-raising all in an effort to make the building the best it could be.

Timm-Ballard and the main architect visited seven different art facilities at liberal arts colleges across the country to get ideas and feedback on what works and what doesn’t in an art building.

“[The architects] took a lot of time to understand what we did and how materials came in and flow through the building and there are a lot of things that are really right about the building; things that I would have never even thought of,” said Timm-Ballard.

While the attention to detail is apparent in everything from the gender neutral bathroom to the personal studios for each faculty member, perhaps most noteworthy is the building’s attention to safety.

Whitman brought in the top industrial hygienist in the arts from New York.   Subsequently, every part of the ventilation and waste management systems is top of the line.

“Olin was just full of dust and who knows what else.   There wasn’t really a way to suck all the stuff out that really shouldn’t have been in there,” said Roberts.   “The new building is as nice as it gets.   It’s completely state of the art.”

Yet not everything about the building has been met with unanimous praise from students.   Most notably the art display on exterior wall next to the Park Street entrance has been the topic of much discussion.

“The weird orange necklace and the David, yeah that’s really weird,” said senior Celi Schoenike of Michelle Acuff’s piece “Juxtapose.”

Not yet finished, the art on the wall was created by Whitman faculty and staff who were highly involved in the process of making the building a reality.

The pieces revolve around the theme of what goes on in the art building and the ideas of teaching and learning.   The artist statements for these pieces can be found at the main desk in the art building.   While nothing has been decided yet, the pieces may rotate in and out as faculty come and go.

“I think [the wall] is a success in that it expresses that what we do is wildly divergent in many ways and I think it’s a really exciting piece.   I think that it’s successful in expressing who we are in this building,” said Timm-Ballard. “Art should be challenging and it should create controversies.   And we aren’t just decorating things or decorating walls; we’re asking questions, and hard questions some times.”

Aside from the functional benefits of the 38,000 square foot center, the building has taken on symbolic significance of the state of the arts on campus and in Walla Walla.

“I think the community will see the scale and size of this building and they will see the lights on and the green space and they will want to check it out, to get involved,” said Mark Anderson, who majored in art at Whitman in 1978 and lives in Walla Walla.

“[The new building] puts us visually right in the middle of campus…it’s made us visually more accessible,” said Timm-Ballard.   “I think that it’s a strong statement about how important art is on campus.”

“We always have long waiting lists and I think they’re just going to get longer and I think that we’re going to have more adjuncts   and more people teaching. ”

“This building is about learning to think creatively.   Whether you’re a poet or a physicist or a math major or a doctor or a lawyer you have to be a creative person and that’s what we teach here: how to think creatively, where new ideas come from, how to bring them to the surface,” said Timm-Ballard.

“It could be a different building,” said Timm-Ballard, “but it couldn’t be a better building.”

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