A dance studio-turned-art-classroom in the Jordan College Annex is fit with ballet barres, mirrors and foldable tables. Photo by Claire Runkel.
MEGAN FULLER | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Jordan College Annex sits tucked away behind Apartment Village at the corner of Boulevard and 52nd Street. The building houses the majority of classes in the art department within Butler’s Jordan College of the Arts. For a building that is full of some of the most creative minds on campus, why is it so unremarkable?
Until 2017, Annex housed the Jordan Academy of Dance, a youth community dance school that was owned by the university. Remnants of the school are still present years after their departure as some classrooms still have mirrors, dance flooring and barres. At first glance, the Annex looks like a warehouse, and half of the building is used by the campus facilities management service center. The outer walls show its years, and only a few small signs indicate that the Annex is an art building.
The Annex is far from the center of campus, and many students take issue with how long it takes to get to and from classes there. Its location causes problems for students and professors alike who have short periods between classes, are coming from central campus and may not have cars. The building is also not accessible for students in wheelchairs because it has no automatic doors. Extension cords are strewn across floors in some classrooms, which creates a tripping hazard and is also not accessible.
Megan Gorsky, a junior environmental studies and art and design double major, does not appreciate the location of the Annex.
“I don’t think it’s an ideal location,” Gorsky said. “It’s so far removed from campus. It takes 20 minutes minimum for people all the way in Irvington or [elsewhere] to walk over, which I had a problem with when I was living in a sorority house.”
Inside, the Annex has high ceilings, which does make the mostly windowless building feel more open. While the ceilings are tall, there are exposed pipes with bits of caution tape wrapped around them hanging above the artwork. The majority of the space in the building is taken up by the four classrooms it houses, but there is a short hallway that students can hang out in between their classes. There are some bean bag chairs in the hallway, and recently lockers were added to provide more storage space for students. The four classrooms are usually in use, leaving students with little studio space during the day outside of class.
The rooms are all fairly dimly lit, though new lighting is predicted to be put in this summer according to Steve Nyktas, art department chair and associate professor. Gallery space is also limited in the Annex, which creates issues during art shows where all students need to display their artwork.
Dacey Divane, a junior art and design major, has some issues with the condition of the Annex and how it impacts her artwork.
“The lighting is different throughout the entire building,” Divane said. “If you start a project in one room, you have to finish it in that room to get the same result. For example, I started in one room and tried doing it in another room, but my coloring was off, so it looked different [when I hung it] on the wall.”
Gorsky finds the Annex to be cramped because of the lack of gallery space for students.
“There’s very little gallery space for the number of students that are going through the art program,” Gorsky said. “That makes it really hard to display artwork because sometimes we just have to hang it up in [a] classroom, and when you have a really amazing piece of work [that] you worked hours on, you don’t really want to [hang it up] in a classroom.”
Divane was equally disappointed by the lack of art supplies available to art students at Butler.
“Coming in freshman year, I had to buy all of my own supplies, and that was at least $300 or $400 worth of equipment that [should be] offered through the [department],” Divane said. “Sometimes, they do have [supplies] but they’re not the quality that [professors] want us to have.”
The classrooms are also all very similar, with little distinction between a classroom for painting and a classroom for photography.
Nyktas says that will change in the fall.
“We have a consultant coming in the fall from NASAD, the arts accreditation organization,” Nyktas said. “Some of what we’re planning to do over the coming year is figure out how we can set up the spaces so that they orient more around what our different studio areas are. [That way we can provide more] specialized [rooms] for our students.”
An issue both students and professors have with the Annex is the lack of access to fresh food. While Trip’s Corner Market is located inside of Apartment Village, it is only open from 1 to 10 p.m.. This means that students do not have easy access to fresh food from their meal plans during the times that Trip’s is not open, and going to central campus is not always an option because of timing and distance from the Annex. The Annex currently has two vending machines, one for snacks and one for soda. Neither option is a sufficient solution for the hungry art students and teachers.
Dr. Peter Wang, lecturer of art history, is advocating for a fresh food vending machine that could provide healthier options for students at any time of day.
“We need to care more about our students’ well-being by having a fresh food vending machine or opening Trip’s earlier,” Wang said. “Many of my students will DoorDash food to the Annex, or even ask to leave my class to go get food once Trip’s is open. The vending machines we have right now are not healthy, and they just give students a sugar crash. If you’re hungry or you’re tired, you can’t create.”
While there is potential for improvement in the Annex, the art department budget dictates what changes can be made. If the budget cannot account for the changes students and professors so desperately want, then nothing can be done. The Annex has had a lot of improvements, like new photo printers, and the addition of lockers and bean bag chairs. It just takes time to find the funding. The art department has designated fundraisers who are working to find more donors for the Annex.
Nyktas was looking forward to big changes in 2020 that were halted because of the pandemic.
“In 2020, we were supposed to have all of these renovations happen, and that spring of 2020, the university was projecting a surplus of money to spend,” Nyktas said. “Then all of that money evaporated after the pandemic, and it quickly became a deficit. Those were all put on hold. We’re just now getting back to a point where we’re [making improvements] again, and those things are coming out of Dean Brooks’ budget for JCA. I feel worried that we’re playing catch up.”
Now the school can hold larger gatherings again, making fundraising events a possibility.
Nyktas said improvements are coming for the Annex this summer.
“Over the summer we have plans for adding more color throughout the Annex and doing some painting, as well as vinyl murals and artwork put on doors,” Nyktas said. “We’re also putting in new lighting for us in classrooms that should make the students feel like it’s more natural and, at the same time, really functional. In addition, we have new sinks going in, and the dean is buying us new furniture for soft spaces. We [also] have plans to start putting in fresh plants [in the Annex].”
Dr. Lisa Brooks, dean of the Jordan College of the Arts, plans to do everything she can to improve the Annex, and is looking into a potential option for a new art building on campus within Butler’s Gateway Project.
“The abstract plan is to add a new black box theater behind [Lilly Hall], and then another smaller theater hall behind Schrott,” Brooks said. “We are working on what buildings will go where because of traffic flow, but it’s just a black box theater, so I’m pushing to put the art program on top of it. Unfortunately, the bigger hall is more of a priority than the theater [right now]. From my vantage point, it’s clear our students in the art program feel very disconnected from the rest of campus and certainly from our college.”
Professors and students wonder how much Butler could be doing to help the art department. The Annex is making changes, but so many of them are purely aesthetic. There still is the underlying issue that the program has outgrown the space and needs fundamental updates. The school may be able to acquire a larger donor that the art department has not found yet.
Dr. Wang is hopeful that the art department and Butler will work together to improve the Annex and the program.
“We’re the minority in numbers, but you can’t forget about your small number –– that’s the thing about equity,” Dr. Wang said. “We might not be the biggest department, but we’re no longer the smallest. I think there are some obstacles [for us], but then I think there are also great opportunities.”
Dean Brooks will continue to fight for the art department and is looking for donors to make her dreams a reality.
“I think there’s support [from the institution], but there’s also a lot of need,” Brooks said. “It’s a precarious financial time, so any institution needs to be very thoughtful about the decisions it makes. We’re hopeful, and we keep pushing and looking for a donor. I do have a meeting … with a potential donor for a new theater, which to me means potentially a new art space. I’m looping those things together in every conversation I have because, again, a building is a building. Make it a bigger building, and you’ve got the art program [on campus]. Then the university also gets the Annex space back.”
The art department is doing its best under the circumstances, and hopefully, the future will bring even more changes to the Annex.
To stay up to date on what’s happening in Butler’s art department, find them on Instagram @artatbutleru.