Arts campaign update

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Interview with Lark Palma, head of school

by Karen Katz '74, communications director

Catlin Gabel plans to build a new Middle and Upper School arts facility, something the school has needed for a long time. So far architect Brad Cloepfil and his Allied Works team have developed preliminary designs, and we are in the leadership stage of fundraising. Here Lark answers some important questions about the project.

Why we are building an arts center

What are the educational benefits of studying art, especially if you aren’t an artsy person?
Beginning School parent, noted artist, and Rhode Island School of Design alumnus Michael Lazarus explained it beautifully when he said, “We are developing one of the most important tools: a creative, problem-solving mind. The process of art making is great practice for life!”

We know that art education strengthens overall academic achievement and school success. Studies show that young people who participate in the arts are:

  • Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
  • Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
  • Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem

And, compared with their peers who do not take art classes they:

  • Read for pleasure nearly twice as often
  •  Perform community service more than four times as often

In a still challenging economy, can we afford to invest resources in the arts?
One hallmark of a Catlin Gabel education is innovation. Another is our dedication to a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences curriculum. The arts are central to innovation and a well-rounded education. We cannot afford to ignore the arts. Can you imagine Stanford or MIT neglecting the arts? That would be unthinkable! In fact, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Pomona are raising money for arts facilities. We’re in fine company. Don’t think of this as investing in a building; we’re investing in our students.

What are the arts requirements at Catlin Gabel?
The arts are integral to our program schoolwide. Creative study is central to our mission. We require all students to be involved in the arts throughout their time at the school. Beginning and Lower School students take art, music, and woodshop. Middle School students rotate through a full complement of arts classes in drama, music, woodshop, fine art, and media arts. Upper School students are required to take at least two years of art — many take three or four years — and choose from a wide array of classes.

What does the future of the arts look like at Catlin Gabel?
Lower School head Vicki Roscoe is leading a two-year curriculum review of the arts. Arts teachers are working with Vicki to investigate best practice in arts education, examine the role of technology in the arts, and explore the role arts play in cross-disciplinary studies. We are excited that the curriculum review coincides with the arts center project, because it allows our teachers to think big.

Project nuts and bolts

I thought the arts center was going to be built two years ago. Why was the project delayed?
The economy! While a handful of generous families stepped forward, the downturn in the economy delayed the larger fundraising effort.

Where are we in the process?
We have selected an architect, approved a preliminary schematic design, formed a volunteer campaign committee, and secured some important lead gifts. Fundraising is one of my top priorities this year.

When will shovels go in the ground?
The board of trustees determined that we would only break ground when 80 percent of the funds are raised. The facility will cost $6.9 million total. We need about $4.1 million more to proceed. We hope to break ground next year; construction will take about 15 months.

Tell us more about the architect.
Brad Cloepfil and his team at Allied Works Architecture are known nationwide and are becoming internationally known for designing facilities that fuel creativity. An early local project example is the Wieden + Kennedy Agency headquarters in Portland. Current parent Renny Gleeson, global director of digital strategies at Wieden + Kennedy, describes their building as a spa for the soul. Allied Works also designed the Seattle Art Museum expansion, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas.

Brad Cloepfil studied with Thomas Hacker, who created Catlin Gabel’s master plan in 1996, designed most of the Upper School buildings and grounds, and remodeled the Beginning School. It is fitting that Tom and Brad’s teacher-student relationship will be reflected on our campus.

How would you describe the early schematic design?
Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works has sketched out an elegant yet simple, open facility that will attract spectators, art dabblers, and serious artists alike. We’ve joked about naming the building the Magnet! The design includes an outdoor courtyard that mirrors the Upper School quad and an indoor gallery, both of which will serve as community gathering spots.

What will the new arts center house?
Middle and Upper School classrooms, including fine arts and media arts studios, vocal and instrumental classrooms, a computer music lab and music rehearsal rooms, a gallery, and an intimate black box theater with a spring floor for classes, rehearsals, and performances. The facility will be a great venue for interdisciplinary studies, collaborative project work, and independent study.

How will the building accommodate changes in the arts curriculum?
Allied Works is especially thoughtful about how arts education has changed and will change in ways we cannot even predict. Their design emphasizes flexibility so that different disciplines can be accommodated. The plans call for raw studio space that is like an artists’ retreat. The students and teachers who use the spaces will influence how they are used. A studio might house a filmmaking class one year and a painting class the next. The black box will be a haven for drama, dance, and music. For the first time students will be able to collaborate across disciplines on a single project, in the same space.

The Cabell Center is in great shape. Why do we need a black box theater?
The Cabell Center is in high demand for performances, classes, lectures, formal presentations, meetings, assemblies, rehearsals, and community events. It doesn’t accommodate our needs the way it did when it was built in 1973. For example, the Cabell Center is not available for the 19 performances produced by Middle School students each year. They make do in Chipmunk Hollow, a cramped and inadequate “temporary” building that was put up 42 years ago. The Middle School drama program will move to classrooms in the new arts center. Upper School students will also take classes in the new classrooms. Students in grades 6 – 12 will perform in the black box. The intimate size and flexibility of a black box is something we’ve needed for a long time, and will open up possibilities in our theater curriculum.

What is the location for the new arts center?
The building site is west of the Dant House and adjacent to the Middle and Upper School areas of campus. The building will link the Middle and Upper Schools, benefiting older and younger students academically, artistically, and socially. For the first time, Catlin Gabel will have a building that allows the arts faculty to work together in a central location. (Scroll down to see PDF of current arts facilities across campus.)

Will the new building free up space for other programs?
Most immediately, our computer science classes will no longer share space with media arts classes in the lower level of the library. It’s premature to make plans for the other 4,200 square feet of classroom space that will be vacated. We need to carefully consider what the greatest needs are before determining what programs move into current spaces such as Chipmunk Hollow, the Middle School art classroom, and the choir room.

Are we going to increase the size of the school when the arts center is built?
No, we are not planning to increase enrollment.

Funding the arts center

Is the new arts center a real need or a luxury?
Upper School students cannot paint on large canvases or do large three-dimensional works, because the art studio is too small. Film editors and composers collaborating on a project, for one example, must work separately in classrooms that are across campus from each other. Bringing the arts together in one facility will provide proximity, stimulating collaboration and increasing creativity.

During the past 17 years, the school has grown, but the square footage per student that is dedicated to the arts has decreased. The lack of adequate space for teaching the arts has been singled out in our last two accreditation reports as an important area for improvement. This project is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. We owe it to our students.

Have we secured any lead gifts?
Being in the leadership phase of fundraising means we are seeking families who are willing to be the first, and in some cases the largest, donors to the project. I am happy to say that several donors have stepped up with lead gifts. Campaign volunteers, trustees, the development team, and I are working hard to secure the 80 percent of funding we need to break ground.

Will everyone be asked to give?
In due course, we will ask all parents, alumni, faculty-staff, and friends to participate in supporting the arts campaign. I love how campaign co-chair Craig Hartzman talks about the responsibility shared by all community members to invest in our school’s future, just as others have done before us. People who cared about the future funded every building on this campus. That is what community responsibility is all about.

Does this mean the Annual Fund and the Gambol auction will ease up?
Absolutely not. Our first priority is to fund the operating budget, which includes $1.5 million in essential annual gifts. Historically, capital campaigns strengthen overall giving to programs like the Annual Fund and the auction.

Find out more

How can people see for themselves what our arts program is about?
The arts faculty welcomes drop-in visitors. They are very proud of the program and are eager for parents and friends to see why our students deserve better facilities. We want parents, especially of younger students, to see the amazing array of talent and artistic pursuit in our upper grades. Please e-mail or call arts department chair Laurie Carlyon-Ward to arrange for a tour, carlyon-wardl@catlin.edu or 503-297-1894 ext. 402.

A lot of information about the arts program is available on our website, including an overview and the Upper School course catalog, which is a great resource for class descriptions.

Can you share the architect’s schematics?
We are not posting the current schematic design on the website because it is a preliminary plan, and building plans tend to evolve. We don’t want people to become wedded to something that could change significantly. But we are presenting the designs at a Lower School coffee on Monday, March 7, at 8:30 a.m.; at a Beginning School coffee on Friday, March 18, at 9:15 after Friday Sing; and at a yet-to-be-scheduled PFA meeting in the spring. Join us!