A Place of Light
by Grace Mullaney Humbles ’13
In just one year, Covenant College art students left behind the beloved, but dilapidated Art Barn and embraced a brand-new, 7,500-square-foot visual art facility.
“The art barn is where I found peace.” “The Art Barn is where there is oil paint everywhere.” “The Art Barn is where I messed up but learned that it was OK.” “The Art Barn is where I found passion and started to learn and think.”
There is no question that Covenant’s Art Barn, as the building became known, held an important place in the hearts of students throughout the years. So completely other from the stucco exterior of the rest of campus, it stood apart as a place where students could throw clay on the floor, stick tacks in walls, spill paint, and create things without fear. At the same time, the building had lived past its prime.
Following investigations by facilities management and a structural engineer in the spring of 2014, the Art Barn was closed, and the College began to pursue the construction of a new visual art facility. Although past and present students had embraced the old equestrian-stable-turned-art-building, there was agreement that it was time to invest in a usable, safe, and inspiring space for the growing art program.
Before a demolition team began work on the Art Barn, faculty from the art program, students, and alumni gathered in the barn to discuss what made the building a special making-place, and to imagine a new place to create things.
“You don’t need great spaces to make art—you just need the space and the freedom to create,” says Jeff Morton, professor of art. “While we were planning the new building, we gathered students together in the barn and asked them: What inspired you here? What inspired you to make art?”
Students pointed to the barn as the place where they found their callings, found confidence in their abilities, found friendships, failure, success, and peace. The Art Barn facilitated these discoveries as a place where there was no fear of making a mess, no fear of destroying anything, and where there was a rich history that allowed for experimentation and freedom.
“Character can make you see past a lot of flaws, and it was a building with a lot of stories in its walls,” says recent art alumnus Grant Thomas ’14. “That character set it apart from other buildings on campus.”
The Covenant College art faculty—Profs. Kayb Joseph, Jeff Morton, and Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt—began working with campus architect David Northcutt and dean of academic programs Paul Morton to think through the design of a new visual art facility for Covenant’s lower campus.
“We wanted to create a place that encourages the art and non-art student alike to imagine a place where they can use the world God created to actively create and make art,” says Jeff.
Pulling ideas from their discussions with students and alumni, they wanted to create a place that stood out among the rest of the Covenant campus—a place that looked different and incorporated many of the elements students had enjoyed about the Art Barn, including large open spaces and lots of light.
“The new building itself says, ‘I am other,’” says Elissa Weichbrodt, assistant professor of art. “We wanted to communicate that this is where we make things and this is where things happen.”
The building was designed to reflect this otherness. In contrast to the red roof and mountain stone that are characteristic of the architecture throughout the campus, the new facility features a more modern design that incorporates elements of the Art Barn. Old windows from the barn were built into interior walls, providing a way for light and history to flood through the building.
“We were given the privilege of being part of the design process which allowed the department to design a space specifically for its current and future needs,” says Kayb Joseph, professor of art. “The space says, ‘Your gifts and callings matter.’ Its spaciousness and design create a space for imagining and enjoying, and the students are responding with the work they make.”
The result is a building that is entirely new, while also full of history and old stories. The old Art Barn windows are constant reminders of the worn-out building where students felt free to make messes and create. North light pours in from walls of windows, illuminating the in-process and completed works of students. At night, these same windows spread light from inside the building throughout the lower campus.
“As an art major at Covenant, I loved how we were encouraged to explore the way God created us to be drawn to the beauty in His creation,” says art alumna Meredith Allison Rector ’08. “The new space facilitates this exploration beautifully through its design, use of light, and glimpses of nature.”
The new building includes major studio spaces for 2D and 3D art, helping students continue to make the art that they are passionate about. While Jeff is clear that you don’t necessarily need great spaces to make art, this great space provides the tools and freedom for creativity and imagination to flourish.
“I’m curious to see what our art students can make in this new space,” says Elissa. “What is possible with all of this space? What things will this space inspire them to make?”
While the facility provides space for students to invent and create, it also provides a space for all students to be. From the student art gallery to the comfortable and colorful furniture, the building is an accessible place for the whole of campus.
“This is an art building, but this is also Covenant’s building—a building that allows imagination on a variety of levels,” says Jeff.
Already, students from different majors have found themselves heading to Covenant’s lower campus to explore the new facility, to engage with the student art gallery, and to enjoy the otherness of the building.
“I’m excited by the building’s ability to attract students of other disciplines to the space,” says Kayb. “I look forward to the dialogue that will be created by this cross pollination.”
Art faculty offices are all housed in the new facility, allowing space for professors to create with their students—modeling the very things they teach every day. The building also features improved lighting and ventilation and adequate space for the thriving art program.
“Whereas the Art Barn was a place of makeshift function, the new building is designed to come alongside art majors in any way they might need: a ventilated spray room, a garage door for moving unwieldy art pieces, windows upon windows for natural light,” says Grant. “It will doubtless attract more students to the campus—and that’s exciting in itself—but it will also strengthen the student artists who are already there.”
The new visual art facility will be named and dedicated at a ceremony in the spring of 2016. The building will be named in honor of David and Linda Lucas. Mr. and Mrs. Lucas’s extraordinary generosity was integral in making the idea of a new visual art facility into a reality.
“We’re exceedingly thankful in unimaginable ways,” says Jeff.