Art and Design Celebrates New Addition

According to Michael Cinelli (Art and Design), it's no accident that the great Impressionist painters of the late 19th century lived and worked in close proximity to each other in Paris.


"Artists tend to congregate in communities and feed off the collective creative energy," he said. "Here at Northern, our department hasn't really had an ability to do that until now. Things have been rather disjointed, but now all programs are under one roof for the first time since the late '60s. Faculty can interact with each other. It is a closed circle with all of the different studio concentrations coexisting in one active beehive."


The unifying force Cinelli described is the recently completed addition to the Art and Design North Building. It houses the painting, drawing, printmaking and photography components previously located in Lee Hall. It also accommodates the computer labs and concentrations of digital cinema, environmental design and illustration that occupied portions of Thomas Fine Arts.


The addition opened Jan. 17 for the start of the winter semester. Cinelli said students are usually more concerned about the quality of the equipment they have to work with than the studio facilities. He is pleasantly surprised by the favorable buzz and "thumbs-up" gestures this project has generated from art and design majors.


The 60,000 square-foot facility is anchored by the DeVos Art Museum. It features two galleries one for the university's permanent collection and another for temporary or traveling exhibitions, a climate-controlled storage room for permanent collection works, and a "prep space" with a loading dock to receive pieces for upcoming exhibits.


Nearby is a lecture room with an intimate setting that belies its generous seating capacity of 100. Cinelli said it is now possible for students to listen to a lecture about 20th century illustration, for example, and walk across the hall to see related pieces in the permanent collection; or for a visiting artist to address a class and then accompany students to the museum where her or his works are on display to illustrate the points.


"The lecture room is two-way interactive, so we will be able to do more with our Virtual Visiting Artist Series," he explained. "New York artists can't always give up days of their schedule, but they can spend an hour with one of our classes via ITV. With the focus on internationalizing the curriculum, we could even expand on that perhaps connecting students with the British Design Academy or similar institutions in other countries. It's nice to have this option in-house because we'll use it more often."


As a digital cinema professor, Cinelli appreciates the "green screen room." It has a curved wall covered with a special green paint that allows one to manipulate the background with computer-generated special effects. The process is called digital compositing. Cinelli likens it to the blue weather wall that morphs into different maps, graphics and satellite images as a meteorologist stands in front of it to deliver the forecast.


There are also six new studios. One is for general design projects and mimics an art agency with 25 cubicles accessible to students from various specialties. A portfolio studio allows students to effectively photograph their pieces of art whether they are large or small, flat or three-dimensional. There are also studios for matting and mounting, printmaking, painting, and drawing/illustration. The latter two feature controlled lighting.


Other highlights of the addition include:

• a computer suite with four labs (from general-purpose to high-end) and a sound studio;


• a critique room with vertical bulletin boards spanning the side walls to display works as they are being discussed;


• a photography suite with light studio, commercial-scale darkroom, film-loading rooms and 25 work stations, most of which are for black-and-white photography;


• sophisticated high-tech security systems to protect valuable art and equipment;

• a student lounge area furnished with compact sofas designed by the late Charles Eames and offered through the Herman Miller classics collection;


• a department office suite with adjoining conference room located in the walkway between Art and Design North and the addition; and


Rhine zinc panels on the exterior of the DeVos Art Museum, which Cinelli said are impervious to the elements and give the facility the distinction of being the only metal-clad building on campus.


When Northern started planning the art and design addition five years ago, Cinelli said the department had 300 majors. That number has since climbed to nearly 500.


"We're now the largest department in the College of Arts and Sciences, which isn't typical of most liberal arts colleges," Cinelli added. "The challenge for us is to accommodate the growth without reaching the point of warehousing. We want to maintain our reputation for quality programs in a high-tech, high-touch environment. It's a nice problem to have and it's made easier by the fact we have this new addition. We're very pleased with how it turned out."



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Updated: October 26, 2005

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