Students who walked into Windgate Art & Design on the first day of fall classes passed into the next phase of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.
In 2013, university officials released a 20-year master plan for how the university would grow in the future. That was soon followed by the announcement of a $15.5 million gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation to build a new home for the visual arts program.
“The fact that we were given this gift to make the first step in the master plan says a lot about how the community believes in us,” said Chancellor Paul Beran.
The building rises from the art program’s strong history of preparing artists and graphic designers while it gives the program a space befitting a university, Beran said.
The three-story, 58,000-square-foot building at the corner of Waldron Road and Kinkead Avenue gathers the art programs into one building from five scattered across campus. Yet Windgate houses far more than classrooms. Three galleries and a 150-seat film theater establish the building as an art stop for the university and greater Fort Smith community.
“The Windgate Art & Design building will be a game changer in the large scheme of things, especially in terms of the opportunities available for the many layers of the university and community,” Don Lee, head of the art department. “The building will provide a means to expand, enhance and qualify the art community as well as champion art, artists and the artistic process for the greater good.”
Tia Johnston, a junior graphic design major from Fort Smith, welcomes the collaboration and inspiration that will come within the new space that brings together artists across disciplines.
“To have the studio artist’s opinion and the graphic designer’s opinion opens new possibilities,” she said.
But Windgate also serves another function beyond enhancing a UAFS education. Its opening gallery show of internationally known street artists, in partnership with the Unexpected Mural Festival, brought crowds to the main gallery. That impacts the very nature of the Fort Smith region.
“Arts help make up the core of what is needed to create quality of place,” Beran said.
University officials know the building will do more than help prepare students to succeed or to advance economic development and quality of place.
“It’s symbolic of the new master plan as it moves the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith toward the prominence it will attain in the region and the state,” Beran said.
The UAFS Foundation is working to meet a challenge by the Windgate Foundation to raise $2.5 million to create an endowment for the art program and building. The endowment would allow the program to support gallery shows, guest artists and more.
Outright gifts may be made and room naming opportunities still exist.
“The need is still there though the building is finished,” said Mary Lackie, vice chancellor of advancement and executive director of the UAFS Foundation. “This will enrich the experience for students.”
For more information or to make a gift, contact the UAFS Foundation at 479-788-7020 or by visiting foundation.uafs.edu/giving/windgate-art-design.
Art by Laura Wattles