Windgate Center of Art & Design calls UA Little Rock home

February 19-25, 2018

By Becca Bona


“It’s an amazing space,” says Carey Roberson, UA Little Rock’s Interim Chair of the Art Department, as he makes his way through the 3D wing of the newly unveiled Windgate Center of Art & Design.


“The older buildings didn’t have those shared, open areas,” he continues, “The Center really invites the student to come in and hang out.”


The announcements were first made that the Windgate Charitable Foundation was partnering with UA Little Rock for a new art and design center in 2015. On Friday, Feb. 16, UA Little Rock celebrated the grand opening at CRE8, an event which showcased live demonstrations and offered guided tours of the new facility.


Funding the arts is an important aim of the Windgate Foundation, as board chair Robyn Horn says, “The Windgate board is from Arkansas and we are all artists. We believe that the arts and arts education are important components that any university should offer. We have been very impressed with the faculty at UA Little Rock, and feel that this new facility will enable them to better share their artistic knowledge with the students.”


Roberson, a photography professor with 15 years at UA Little Rock under his belt, has recently stepped in as Interim Chair. He’s watched the campus transform over the years, and says that the new facility more clearly unifies the department.


“Prior to having this facility we were actually distributed between three buildings on campus, from the north end to a building in the middle of the campus, as well as a building on the south end,” he explains. The Windgate Center has moved the three areas under one roof, making it easier for students and faculty alike to make connections.


Whereas art students in different areas of study might not have had a chance to interact before, the Center opens up interdisciplinary flow while cutting down on the duplication of materials like kilns and other necessary tools. For instance, if a student in printmaking needs to cut a copper plate for etching, they might find themselves talking to the metalsmithing faculty.


“They’re being introduced to a bunch of different techniques which is leading us to become a lot more of an interdisciplinary type program,” Roberson explains. Windgate’s Horn agrees, as she continues, “The new building is the result of many hours of effort by the faculty, the administration and the project manager, Mia Hall. It will enable the entire art department to be together to share ideas and will give the students enough space to realize whatever creative endeavor they choose to pursue.”


Designed with the student in mind


Designed by local architect firm Witsell Evans Rasco, the Windgate Center is up for a LEED Silver Certification, a green building designation. Features such as automatic LED lights, among others, help keep the carbon footprint low.


Common areas feature funky, modern furniture with open spaces where students can work on homework, hang out, or wait for their next class.


There’s also a mini-library, or shared reading room, that Roberson says was available to students before, but is now easier to access.


“It’s quiet, they can go in there and study and look at resources [...] It’s a beautiful spot, and so far, it is the most used room in our building,” he says.


Also on display in various areas of the building are pieces commissioned by graduates of the program. In the conference room on the second floor, for instance, resides a table commissioned by a recent UA Little Rock graduate, Andy Blackwell.


“It was actually specifically designed for this space,” explains Roberson. “It’s wonderful to have students that you can have faith in.”


A guided tour


The 3D Wing of the building is located on the second (or ground) floor, and is slightly different from the rest of the building, intentionally. There is an outdoor shared yard equipped with gas and electric kilns, a furnace with a sand pit for pouring metals into molds, sand blasters, storage space, and a large spray booth for painting furniture and other items.


There’s a shared tool room connected to a dust collector, along with a bench room for woodworking and a much needed expanded sculpture studio and space.


Advanced work spaces are prominent in this wing, as Roberson says, “The upper level students […] have their own space and storage to work with so they can spread out.”


The rooms all have a roll up door that opens into the outdoor shared yard for easy access, so students can roll their carts out to complete the next step in their project.


The main gallery is also located on this floor, in plain sight through the front doors, making it easier for visitors to find their way.


From the 3D wing, students can access the first floor via a central set of larger theater-style stairs, that serves as an alternative lecture area. The first floor houses faculty offices, a smaller open gallery, a lecture hall, printmaking, screen printing, and photography.


There are two digital photo labs available to students, as well as a fully fledged dark room complete with an exposure room and extensive work space.


Roberson says, “There’s a growing popularity for film. Both Joli Livaudais, assistant photography professor, and I, work with alternative processes.” The new lab expands lab offerings, which Roberson is particularly excited about.


There is also a small, peaceful photo gallery on the first floor housing Professor Emeritus Gary Cawood’s work. Roberson says of the gallery, “It’s really about work that uses some photographic process in some form or fashion, which touches a lot of things.”


The third floor is home to drawing, painting, art education, as well as graphic design. “We now have two rooms for drawing where we used to only have one – which made it hard to schedule classes,” Roberson says. These rooms are equipped with special manipulable light fixtures, opening up the possibility for the professor to direct how light should hit an object in still drawing or painting.


There’s also a maker’s space, as Robeson says, “We’ve got faculty coming on board that are going to help us develop the future of the space, but […] we’re focusing on incorporating it to all of our disciplines.”


Exploring the galleries


The Center is equipped with two new areas that will feature works from the University’s permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibits. Since 1972, the permanent collection has grown to include over 1600 pieces ranging from ceramics to sculpture and illustrations to print, as well as everything in between.


Brad Cushman, UA Little Rock’s Gallery Director and Curator, has chosen a little more than 30 more recent pieces from the permanent collection which are on display in the Main Gallery through March 11. The exhibit – “Building A Collection: Recent Acquisitions made possible by the Windgate Charitable Foundation” –  focuses on pieces acquired after 2011, as well as by those done by UA Little Rock’s artists in residence.


“The Windgate Foundation has facilitated and supported a lot of our programs,” says Roberson. “They fund our artists in residence, including one in metals [as well as] painting.” The programs began in 2010 and 2003, respectively.


In the lower gallery “Discovering Kate Freeman Clark” will be open to the public through March 11. A native of Mississippi, Clark studied under Impressionist William Merritt Chase in 1896. Her works include still lifes, landscapes, portrait drawings and paintings, and more than 40 of these are currently on display.


Both exhibits are worth a visit, as Roberson says, “Personally I would like to see this space on people’s art tours. […] That’s where I think all of us want to see this become – not just a UA Little Rock campus thing – but a community, a state thing.”  




Upon entering the front door, visitors are met with an inviting, modern space in which students can be found studying and getting ready for classes. (Photo by Becca Bona)