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Golden Memories

by on March 27, 2013 12:02 PM

In a university with hundreds of majors, those found in Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture perhaps comprise the most diverse grouping to be housed in one area.

The academic college that hosts everything from landscape architecture to musical theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary this month — five decades as an entity that has unified programs from liberal arts, engineering, and agricultural sciences, and now serves about 1,700 students in its majors, and countless community members through performances and exhibition venues. The College of Arts and Architecture is home to the School of Music, School of Theatre, Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, School of Visual Arts, Department of Art History, and Integrative Arts Program.

While the college has seen tremendous growth over the past five decades, there have been a few growing pains along the way. Leading up to the 50th-anniversary celebration, faculty, students, and administrators from throughout its history took some time to look back at those accomplishments and look ahead to the challenges it faces moving forward.

•••

Arts instruction at Penn State dates back to the 1870s, when music courses were first offered. Studio art classes began in the 1890s, and theater courses followed in the 1920s. These three areas were united in 1956 as the School of Fine and Applied Arts within the College of the Liberal Arts.

When the College of Arts and Architecture formed in 1963, it united the School of Fine and Applied Arts with the architecture department from the College of Engineering, and the landscape-architecture department from the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Helen Manfull and her husband, Lowell, were among the first faculty hired by the college. They had just completed doctorate degrees at the University of Wisconsin and had no intention of leaving until they visited Penn State in 1965. They immediately fell in love.

“One of the things that drew my husband to it was that it was the relationship of all the arts put together,” Helen says. “Theater is often a part of liberal arts, but here it was an arts college, so that was very impressive.” The Manfulls also were impressed by the commitment to theater in the area, with professional productions happening at the Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall each summer.

The small size of the theater department lent itself to forming close bonds with students, Helen says.

“One night we had a knock at the front door and the whole graduate class was in our front yard with squirt guns,” she says. “We had a lot of fun with the students and were very close to them in the early days.”

Jerry Johnson was a freshman at Penn State in 1963 and was part of the first class to graduate from the college. He recalls a lot of excitement around the college’s opening, but some of the details weren’t quite ready.

“Penn State at the time tried to have this kind of mini-Renaissance to kick that thing off,” he says. “Everyone had these great hopes, and then you get there and the desks haven’t come yet and cameras haven’t come yet ... it sort of hit the ground kind of flat.”

He also recalls some resistance about moving the art department from downtown to the north part of campus in 1966 when the college’s new building opened.

“The new building was state of the art for the era, but lacked the soul of the temporary building,” he says. “I’m certain that new students found the facility exciting, but I longed for coffee at the HUB, a block to Keeler’s, two to the Corner Room ... all the things that have little to do with art, but everything to do with being a student and artist.”

The opening of the arts building in the 1960s paved the way for what has now become known as the “arts district” between Park Avenue and Curtain Road on the north end of campus. That area now houses two music buildings, a theatre-arts building, the Stuckeman Family Building for architecture, Zoller Gallery, and Palmer Museum of Art.

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Another major advancement for the college came in the 1990s when architect and 1937 Penn State graduate H. Campbell “Cal” Stuckeman and his wife, Eleanor, gave more than $30 million that allowed for great strides in the college, particularly in the areas of architecture and landscape architecture.

The Stuckeman family’s gifts allowed for the creation of a namesake building that currently houses architecture, landscape architecture, and graphic design, as well as numerous professorships and research opportunities.

Neil Porterfield was the college’s dean during this time period and had known Cal Stuckeman from his time as landscape- architecture department head prior to becoming dean. The Stuckeman family’s passion for Penn State and desire to expand its architecture offerings were evident from their very first meeting, he says. The two shared a common goal of bringing architecture and landscape architecture together under one school banner.

As Porterfield soon found, however, desire alone was not enough to get the job done. He was met with resistance from faculty in both departments and later worked with Stuckeman to create a building that would allow the departments to work collaboratively.

“Cal was very interested [in a new building] and therefore we needed to move on it,” Porterfield says. “He was wise enough to know that you have to transform the academic program to be more collaborative and interactive and to do that in a fast-paced way that can keep up with what’s going on in the real world.”

When Porterfield became dean, he was faced with leading and making decisions in areas such as art and music, with which he had limited experience but knew he would need to support in meetings with central administrators.

“What I tried to do is participate as much as I could with the arts ... the Center for the Performing Arts, and the Palmer Museum,” he says. “I participated first as a listener and monitored things in a very personal way.”

Kimberly Brandt Henrikson came to Penn State during this time. She had a passion for art history but a major that would lead her toward medical school. She was able to work with the college’s advising staff to eventually change her major to art history.

Now a successful artist and businesswoman, she looks back fondly on her time as an art-history student.

“It was nice to have an environment where you felt like you could ask questions and the faculty would know who you are,” she says. “I found the course material very interesting and met some really wonderful students from other majors in the college who were interested in the same things I was.”

Johnson also, in a way, got to experience the college at this different point in time when his son, Casey, enrolled at Penn State for his master’s degree in new media, a field that would later become the integrative-arts program in the college.

“By the time he got there ... it was a totally different kind of school than what I had experienced ... everything was very relative to what’s happening today,” he says. “He had two wonderful years there, and I got to relive my life a little.”

• • •

Looking to the future, Barbara Korner, the college’s dean since 2007, says its challenges will be to fuse cutting-edge research and technology with hands-on instruction in disciplines that go back thousands of years, and to determine how more of its course can be delivered to Penn State students online.

The school is taking part in Penn State’s initial offering through Coursera, which is “a massive open online course platform that makes it possible for the university to provide courses on a vast scale and open higher

education to thousands more students than was previously possible.”

The university is currently offering five courses through Coursera, with one being Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques.

“We will continue our studio approach to education. There’s no substitute for learning in a small environment with a professor,” she says. “People often forget that the arts are often dependent on technology ... things like the piano were new technology at one time.”

One of the college’s greatest achievements, in Korner’s mind, has been its growing part in Penn State’s research activities. According to the college’s strategic plan, research funds grew from $1.4 million in 2007 to around $3 million in 2012.

Korner expects that number will continue to grow, thanks in part to a Mellon grant received by the Center for the Performing Arts to expand its classical-music offerings to the public, and to the college’s part in a $2.5-million project examining Marcellus Shale education.

The Marcellus grant is one example of the college’s researchers focusing their efforts outside of their direct disciplines.

“There’s been a very significant push in the values of art and design in research that’s aimed at solving complex global problems,” Korner says. “Our curriculums will continue to adapt to that and we will continue to think more innovatively about what we do.”

In addition to increased research efforts at home, Korner also expects the college’s investment abroad to grow. Over the past few years, it has launched new programs and partnerships with institutions in China and Tanzania to provide students with study- abroad opportunities and faculty with the chance to engage in research with colleagues around the world.

The college also will continue efforts to bring its work to areas outside State College to engage alumni and companies who would hire its graduates. Korner cited the President’s Concert series, a partnership with the Penn State Alumni Association that has brought student performances to cities such as New York and Washington, DC, as one example of that collaboration.

“Students from many of our programs end up working in places like New York, so maintaining those connections with alumni and friends in those areas is very important,” Korner says.

Looking back at where the college began, Korner says there’s a greater sense of community now among departments than in the early days, and support from the university is stronger than ever.

“One of the things people have talked about is the sense of us being a college now rather than a collection of disparate units,” she says. “The arts may not always be widely supported because they’re not seen as integral for research enterprise, but the arts have enjoyed very strong support ... there’s understanding how important they are to research and to the university as a whole.” 

 



Jenna Spinelle is a freelance writer in State College. She works in Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and is an adjunct lecturer in the College of Communications.
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