Committed to the arts

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The building in the center of campus is where students, faculty and staff go for food, banking and other services and where the community attends special events. Ten thousand people, in fact, go through the Atwood Memorial Center in a day's time.

Each and every one of those visitors can see that SCSU students are committed to the fine arts.

Since it opened in the 1960s, the Atwood Memorial Center has been home to a permanent art collection funded by student fees. The collection now comprises more than 160 works representative of a range of styles, artists and sources. Student works make up a fourth of the collection, a fourth are by faculty, and the remainder are by artists from across the country.

Masonite PaintingThere are 40 donated pieces in the collection; others were chosen by the committee of students, employees, artists and professionals in the arts who curate the collection. They choose at least one student work for purchase each year, usually from an exhibitor in the SCSU Spring Student Art Show. "We look at the purchase as a scholarship, a way of encouraging art as a career," said an arts committee member.

"They've got quite a collection," says alumnus Randy Hollenhorst, who has framed a number of the pieces on display. "A lot of the works are museum quality, and some are significant pieces of American art history." He gives as an example an etching by John Sloan, a famous member of the Trashcan School of realistic urban art that flourished in New York City in the first half of the last century.

Also in the collection are pieces that would make experts on the "Antiques Roadshow" television series smile, said Hollenhorst. The curators of the Atwood collection do, in fact, smile broadly when they talk about works like a donated woodcut that – upon investigation – was found to be worth thousands of dollars.

The collection is for everyone's enjoyment, but it's also a learning tool. Professor Ted Sherarts is among the art faculty members who frequently require students to write a paper on a work in the collection. "When you see clusters of freshmen sitting on the floor, staring up at the wall, it's usually because they're working on one of those papers," said Margaret Vos, director of the Atwood Memorial Center and chair of the committee that selects pieces for the collection.

"Our students are very connected to the arts," said Vos with admiration as she noted that every year they set aside funds to enhance the collection. "That (financial commitment) is very rare," said the director of the student center, who herself knows of only one other university in the nation where students do the same.

"Our guests are always struck by the amount of art in the building," said Vos, who also pointed out that every work in the collection remains constantly on display. "We don't store art. We share art."

- Marge Proell

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