Visual Art: Safe Haven for Artists


Noah Walcutt, a 2008 engineering school graduate, won this year’s $25,000 Margaret Wooldridge Hamblett Award with this interactive sculpture that combines art, music and engineering for therapeutic purposes.

Photo by Steve Green.

When the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Center was completed in 2005, it provided a dedicated home for the newly independent studio art department. Not long afterward a major in studio art was added to complement the minor that already existed. After three academic years in the building, Michael Aurbach, professor of art and director of undergraduate studies for the studio art program, still sings the new building’s praises.

“It gives us a safe place to work,” he explains, speaking literally. The new studios have proper ventilation and sinks, floors sealed to allow for clean-up, and appropriate quantity and placement of electrical outlets. Student and faculty studio space previously was housed in Cohen Memorial on the Peabody College campus. “Cohen was designed as a museum,” says Aurbach. His studio, in which he worked on large-scale sculpture, was on Cohen’s third floor. The building has no elevator. His back is happy to have a new building with 8-foot-tall double doors and elevators.

Since the studio art department relocated to a more central spot beside the Student Life Center, the major has grown to include about 30 students. Aurbach expects more growth, but he says the program’s size is nice and the major is attracting students with diverse artistic interests.

Blain Within

Within, by Sandra Blain, is part of the “Tactile Clay: Structure and Texture” exhibit through July 15 at Space 204 in the Ingram Studio Art Center. The exhibit focuses on texture as more than surface decoration.

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The department’s classes are also attracting more non-majors. “As Vanderbilt evolves–which it is–we’re getting students who are more open to taking studio art classes,” notes Aurbach. “I think art is one of the best vehicles for the general education of humanity.”

Because the credits required for the studio art major are fairly unrestrictive, the major’s students are able to study other subjects, which, Aurbach says, informs their creative work. In addition to training students as visual artists, the studio art major can also prepare students for a “regular” profession: One recent graduate from the pre-architecture track is now studying on scholarship at Harvard University.

Other perks include the center’s permanent gallery space and a studio for each senior in the major, which is rare for an art program.

From the pleasing fountain splashing into a rockscape at its entrance to the natural light gracing its hallways to its well-equipped studios, the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Center is a welcome and well-used space for Vanderbilt’s artists. Says Aurbach, “This is a place where, if students want to pursue their artistic interests, they can–and in a grand way.”

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