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The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine, Spring 2010

Focus on Benefactors
Breathing Room
Benefactors Open Up Possibilities for Art With New UT Tyler Facility

“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” – John Updike

Art class in new art space at UT Tyler Fine Arts Complex

The study of art may cultivate open minds and unlimited possibilities, but until recently the physical reality for the burgeoning Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Tyler was anything but open and unlimited.

For years cramped facilities restricted collaboration, project specifications and even class size.  The department – which grew from 14 art majors to a program of 100 art majors and two graduate programs in the past decade – was bursting at the seams.

Faculty and students needed more space – space for learning, space for creativity and space to grow.  And this spring, thanks to the perseverance and generosity of benefactors, UT Tyler’s artists were given the breathing room they desperately needed. 

On Feb. 25, UT Tyler officially opened its new $7 million Fine Arts Complex.  The facility added 29,000 square feet to the existing art studio on campus, including a 120-seat lecture hall, 20-seat seminar room, seven studio classrooms and storage and office space.

“Our artists now have outstanding, modern space in which to expand UT Tyler’s fine arts program,” UT Tyler President Dr. Rodney Mabry said.

“Students have been waiting in line to major in art and now we will have room to double, even triple the number of student artists on campus.  This new space could not have come at a better time and could not be more important to the growth of the university. UT Tyler really serves as the leader in arts education in East Texas.”

A Community Effort

The new arts complex began as a vision of faculty members and community supporters.  Friends of the arts saw the potential and the need.

faculty member with student studying art pieceNorma Cotton, who chaired the initial committee to raise funds for the project, said, “I think UT Tyler has a talented staff of teachers and professors. It is a well-kept secret that there is so much talent in the program. They’ve attracted a group of gifted students, but they needed more space to express themselves.’’

Arts supporters and benefactors began a decade-long journey to give UT Tyler’s art program a home of unlimited possibilities.
“This project happened only because so many friends of UT Tyler, who are also friends of the arts, stepped up to make it possible,’’ Dr. Mabry said. “Mrs. Lou Ornelas led the way once more, although a large number of people contributed, including Maurine Muntz, Norma Cotton, the Vaughn Foundation and more.”

Louise Ornelas said, “I’m always happy to be a part of progress for students, especially when they really need the help. I love to help anyone reach their potential, and this new building will certainly provide the right atmosphere. We have so much talent in East Texas. I hope our students in this area will now stay right here and continue to bless us with their art.”    

About a third of the funds needed for construction came from benefactors in Tyler and East Texas, with the remaining from capital funds provided by the Texas Legislature.

Gregg Lassen, executive vice president for business affairs, said the arts complex was truly a community effort. Not only were local benefactors critical, but the complex was also designed by a local architectural firm and built by an area contractor and construction firm.

“We listened to what faculty members really needed and wanted – functional space.  We’ve built a real center for arts on campus and we are grateful to donors, both for financial support and patience. Without both, this wouldn’t have happened,” Lassen said.

Space to Grow

Art department chair Gary Hatcher said, “We’ve done it for the students. We’re all here for the students, to nurture and educate them as informed citizens and to challenge them to a life of learning, of discovery, civility and wonder.  Lives will be changed by this Fine Arts Complex. Doors and minds will be opened.”

Chelsey Cope, a graduate student from Forney said she is grateful for the space. “I don’t feel as crammed. If I want to make something bigger, I can. I have room to keep my pieces. And I can also work outside at the welding dock.”

Abby Hicks, a senior art major from Indianapolis, Ind., said, “You are free to go bigger or try things you might not have been able to because of a lack of space. There are fewer limitations.”

Hatcher said the new facility not only frees up more space to nurture creativity and learning for art majors and faculty, but also brings the department together.

He said, “Before, art was located in three different places on campus.  Now we have one location.  So, it’s not just what happens in the class, it’s the community.  We can share ideas and see others’ ideas.  It makes us more of a cohesive department.”

Cope said, “Now that we have this facility, we are more of a community. Before, we were scattered.  Some of the graduate students even had to work off campus.”

Faculty and students said this new opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge about art will impact the entire campus. 

“This is good for UT Tyler,” Hatcher said. “Now we can open up our classes to more non-majors. When we serve other disciplines, we are educating people at the university to be well-rounded, informed and intelligent human beings in society. Art plays a big role.

“In fact, one-third of our program is art history. Cultures are measured through art and art conveys the historical context we are in,” Hatcher said. 

“The life of the arts is far from an interruption or distraction, in the life of a nation it is close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test of the quality of a nations’ civilization.” – John F. Kennedy

“The University of Texas at Tyler is now established as a major center for the study of art and art history in this region,’’ said Hatcher. “We will see significant growth in undergraduate and graduate programs attracting high achieving students.”

art student working on artHe said the facility also enables UT Tyler to connect people in the community with the arts programs and even mentor high school students through special events and programs.

“This university has demonstrated a commitment to the arts,” Hatcher said.  “We are fortunate that we have a very supportive community.  A lot of people support the arts by attending exhibitions, encouraging students and by valuing art.  Friends of the Arts provides financial and community support of the program.”

Cotton, a longtime art supporter, said, “I saw big support locally for this project.  There is great support for the art program from the community. And there is so much talent! I believe the new facility will attract people from across the state to study with our art professors.”

The building is also a big recruitment tool for top-quality faculty, Lassen said.  “These donors helped build a facility to retain top artistic talent … individuals who are great artists and exceptional at teaching art.  Our faculty members show their work across the country in galleries from California to Pennsylvania.  They could work anywhere.  Now, we’ve built something for them and for the students to follow that will really make a difference.”


“Art is not a matter of giving people a little pleasure in their time off . . . It is in the long run a matter of holding together a civilization.” —David Pye


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