UNT broke ground on a $70 million art school last week. Today in State of the Arts, Greg Watts, dean of the school of visual art and design, tells me what he hopes to accomplish with the new space.
Why does UNT need a new art school?
To put it into context, we have 2,000 undergraduates and over 200 graduate students. We’re in seven, eight spaces across campus. So on two levels: the original building, the main building that we’re in now, was built to accommodate about 25 percent of those people. And having an arts school that’s spread across the campus doesn’t create community and we really feel we need community.
Can you try to describe what you’re building?
Sure, we currently have one side of a square. I think that’s the easiest way I can visualize this on the radio. And, we are going to be putting three other sides on that square and by default, creating this wonderful courtyard which will be a very public space. The building as a whole, the architecture that currently exists, it’s a very closed building. There are very few windows. You walk through the building and you can hear activity but you can’t see activity. And as a school of visual arts and design I think we should be seeing what’s going on as well in a lot of spaces. So, the new spaces will proportionally be very different. There will be a lot of transparency, a lot of seeing into space, a lot of opportunity for students to see what their peers are doing and be inspired by that. And that’s something that I think is really important. The overall footprint of the building will move us to over to 230,000 square feet of space.
Watch UNT’s video about the project:
So are there any unusual or special features?
We are trying to build into the space a lot of opportunity for what I’ve described as community space for the students. And the analogy I’ve been drawing is, traditionally studios function almost like reserving a table in a restaurant and it’s a very linear proprietary experience for the students. They go in the space. They do something. They leave. We’re trying to create some community space where the students are encouraged to stay in the building outside of their class times and collaborate with each other. That’s where the energy comes from. That’s where the innovation occurs. And by building those spaces I liken that to a community table, where you go in, you sit down, you’re enjoying a meal and you may just stumble on a great conversation with somebody that you would of never of otherwise talked with.
As a dean, this must be a special opportunity to build a $70 million building.
Absolutely, it’s a transformative moment for the college and to be able to work for so many great people and creating a home for them. We have great students, we have great faculty and now we’re going to have great facilities. So we rounded it. It’s tremendous. It’s a really exciting thing to do.
How common is it in the state university-system to be able to build an art school?
Incredibly rare, as I understand it this was the first art building for a very long time and the chancellor of the system and our former state representative spent a lot of energy making this happen for us. So it’s a huge opportunity for the university to really put the marker down that here is what we think about creativity. This is an art building, it is just full of that creativity and that innovation that our students are going to go out in the world and achieve with.