Open Letter to Dr. Robert Kehrberg, Fine and Performing Arts College Dean, and Professor Richard Tichich, Art Department Head

Dear Dr. Kehrberg and Professor Tichich,

The Fine Arts program of our university is indeed one of the most privileged in the state. We have amazing new facilities, a brand new beautifully constructed building and a group of professors who would truly go to the edge of the earth to impart knowledge and understanding upon their students. Every semester, we are graced by the presence of artists from around the country and the acquisitions of our museum compose an impressive collection.

Since my time here at Western Carolina University, about four years to be exact, there has been one consistent and harrowing problem that has only become worse over the years. Serious studio art students are allowed very limited access to the studios and facilities in their spare time.

Saturday is the only day of the week most students can have completely free to dedicate to their studio hours. For five days out of the week, we attend class and many of us work at jobs after our classes are over, especially because of the struggling economy. On top of the work we must complete in our academic classes, we are expected to spend a large amount of our time in our studios. Last semester, on at least five separate counts, I tried to go work in my studio on a Saturday evening, a day when the building is supposed to be unlocked and monitored from 3:00pm until 11:00 pm, and found it to be empty and locked. As a serious student dedicated to my work, and a member of the honors college, I found this recurring incident to be insulting and degrading to myself and the work I am trying to accomplish. I mentioned this problem twice to Professor Tichich, but the problem persisted over the course of the semester.

Serious art students, even in their last two years of their concentrations, are not allowed ample after-hours access to the studios. We have the same access privileges as non-majors who simply wish to buy a coke from the machine in the student lounge in passing. There are signs posted throughout the building that we are to leave by 11:00pm or face criminal charges. On the weekends, the building is only open at unpredictable times. Students cannot depend on a reliable schedule, even though there is one posted, but must waste our time, gas and energy driving to the building, checking to see if the door is unlocked.

The building is almost never open before 3:30 pm on weekend days, which is a huge problem for those who work on weekend nights, and for those who prefer to wake up early in the morning and work in their studios until evening on the only free days of the week that they have. The building is also usually locked on holidays, a time that we art students cherish because of the fact that we will not have classes to break up our days into short choppy time slots of free time to work in our studios. On these holidays, instead of having day-long access to our studios, we must pack up our portable materials ahead of time and work within the small, ill-equipped spaces of our dormitories or apartments.

Unfortunately, not even this is possible for everyone, especially those working on large paintings or sculptures, or who need to use the equipment inside the building. Because of this fact, many professors are forced to lower their standards due to the limited time we are given in our studios, thus lowering the overall standards and ratings of the department.

Not only do I find the current system absurd and stifling, I find it to be an insult and a declaration of the fact that our department has not met the true needs of its students. The current system does not nurture the creative impulse of the artist, but instead forces us to conform to its limited options. It seems that the focus is on cutting corners wherever possible and packaging up students with their degrees in the quickest time possible with the least amount of funding, all to improve statistics and ratings. Yes, we have a beautiful building, but should less money have been spent on aesthetic merit and more money on functionality, such as a keycard system, a loading dock, and a large freight elevator equipped for heavy sculptures? Also because of the small elevator and small entrance doors, large canvases going in or out of the painting studio, which is upstairs, must be unstretched.

When the issue of studio access has been brought up in the past, the excuse that “students would be in danger if left alone in the building” was used. Not only is the police department less than 100 yards away from the building, but Cullowhee has an impressively low crime rate, not to mention the fact that any student in the building after hours would be an adult, aware of the possible danger of being alone in their studio. This excuse does not even address why the building is not open early on weekends.

Many solutions to the “after-hours” problem have been suggested, including the use of keycards, which almost every other North Carolina art department employs. At Chapel Hill, “Students can access the facility 24 hours/day, 7 days/week using their UNC ID card and additional security measures ensure students’ safety if they choose to work in the evenings or on weekends.” UNC Greensboro, NC State University and Appalachian State University all have 24-hour access for art students as well. The keycard solution would be inexpensive, and could be limited to Junior and Senior studio art majors and graphic design majors: those whose very education relies on ample access to their studio space. When we graduate, how are we expected to compete with other graduates from North Carolina schools, and other art schools around the country, almost all of which have unlimited studio access for art majors?

Why have the needs of art students been so blatantly neglected, even in the face of numerous complaints? Please consider putting into motion a solution to this problem, whether it be keycards, 24-hour monitors or simply leaving the building unlocked and notifying the campus police to take extra security measures.

Though I am very grateful for the opportunities I have been given through WCU and its art department, I also feel that something important has been missing for the duration of my studies here. I am aware of the fact that by the time these measures are put into place I will have probably graduated, but I feel that it is my responsibility as a current studio art major to bring light to this issue on behalf of all other current students who have been outspoken about this problem to no avail, and future majors.


Jennifer C. Toledo