A-State Department of Art + Design: Weaving Arts into the Community
By Emily Merrell, Photography by Melissa Donner
Arkansas State University’s Art + Design department is stepping onto a bigger stage, engaging with the community and helping to foster a love of the arts among local residents. Department chair Dr. Temma Balducci is leading the charge to expand the department’s reach into the community, organizing events and programs in the newly built Windgate Center for Three-Dimensional Arts and throughout the greater Jonesboro area.
A-State’s Art + Design received a major facility upgrade in September 2021 when the Windgate Center opened. The $7.9 million building includes 16,818 square feet of indoor space, as well as 5,000 square feet of outdoor work space – more than three times as much space as the previous Art Annex. The Windgate Center has a foundry for castings, a woodworking lab, state-of-the-art kilns, a space for ceramic work and plenty of indoor and outdoor areas to display art.
The Art + Design department is involved in the community in a multitude of ways, including long-standing programs such as the pottery sale, visiting artist shows and gallery talks; recruitment events such as Art Immersion; many new events and program like Halloween Arts Bash, Holiday Art Sale, community pottery and painting courses, summer art camps, workshops and SelfMade, a pop-up shop organized by students in the Design Entrepreneurship course; and Friends of Art + Design, a support group made up of community leaders.
Art + Design also has a wide variety of events being planned for the future, such as the Game Design Expo, planned for Fall 2024; VR Mona Lisa, planned for Spring 2025; Game Jam, planned for April 2024; Zine Fest, planned for Spring 2025; Red Wolves Go, a study abroad trip for community members planned for May 2025; and the inaugural pARTy gala and auction scheduled for May 31, 2024.
Originally from Clarksdale, Miss., Balducci has been a faculty member at Arkansas State since 2004. She earned her doctorate in the History of Art from the University of Kansas in 2005, and became chair of the Arkansas State Art + Design department in 2017. Balducci works to be involved in the community, currently sitting on the boards of Habitat for Humanity for Greater Jonesboro and the Jonesboro-University Rotary Club. She is on the planning committee for the OASIS Arts & Eats Festival in Downtown Jonesboro and is a member of the recently formed JPAC (Jonesboro Public Art Commission) that is working to get more outdoor sculpture and art downtown and throughout Jonesboro.
Occasions recently had the opportunity to visit with Balducci about the Department of Art + Design and how its role can benefit not only students, but the entire community.
Why do you think expanding programming into the community is important?
I think it benefits everyone if we have a vibrant local community with varied opportunities for entertainment and community engagement. The arts broadly defined are a huge economic driver. In 2021, the arts were 4.4% of the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) and added $1 trillion to the U.S. economy. In Arkansas during the same year, the arts generated $3 billion in the economy and supported more than 30,000 jobs. So, the kind of offerings you see from Art + Design and other groups (Delta Writers poetry readings at Story, book clubs at Verb Bookstore, programming at the FOA (The Foundation of Arts) and Fowler Center, festivals at Huntington Square) are what draw tourists and new residents to the region. We’re all working together to build a more vital community that offers something for everyone.
How do you believe more interaction with the community will benefit the department?
Art + Design faculty want to be part of a thriving local community. Arkansas State is not in a vacuum; it benefits everyone if we are able to attract and retain both students and faculty to Arkansas State. The best way to do that is not only to contribute in meaningful ways to help build that community, but also to create connections between the university and the surrounding area.
What did Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Calvin White say that encouraged you to do this?
At the beginning of the semester, Dr. White challenged me and my department to get on a bigger stage. We’ve been working on community engagement for years, so I had to figure out a way to bring more attention to what we’re doing and to go bigger when possible. This was the impetus behind forming the Friends of Art + Design (a fantastic support group made up of community leaders), as well as the re-branding we currently have in process.
What changes in enrollment have you seen in the department since becoming chair in 2017?
The department has doubled in enrollment since I became chair. Part of this is due to our successful online degree program, but part of it is also because we do a fantastic job of recruiting and because we are offering some interesting new degrees. Students now can study such things as game design, fiber arts and animation, and in Fall 2024, we’re launching our Bachelor of Science degree in fashion merchandising and marketing in collaboration with the College of Business, which we are very excited about.
What role has the new Windgate Center played in the expansion of A-State’s Department of Art + Design?
It is such a gorgeous building. Because it is much larger than our previous 3D space, we have been able to expand our welding and woodworking areas, and we hope to use the foundry for the first time in the spring semester. We always show off the building to our recruits and plan as many events there as possible. It is where our community pottery courses are held and where we will host some fabulous 3D artists Feb. 21-23. Stay tuned for more information about that.
The Windgate Center has been home to recent community pottery courses, which provide an opportunity for community members who are not art students to try their hand at the pottery wheel. Participants in the course meet weekly for six sessions, and a fee covers all materials and the use of needed equipment.
Jammye Burt, an administrative analyst for the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Communication, signed up for the course with her husband, Richard, who is a student at Arkansas State and a FedEx employee.
“We wanted to find something different to do than watching Netflix at home every night,” said Jammye. “This has been a great adventurous date night once a week for us. I wish the course was longer so I could become an expert.”
Chandler Holmes, stylist and owner of Protea Salon, signed up for the community pottery class after a friend tagged her in an online ad for the course.
“Since having my daughter, I really haven’t done anything for myself and I’ve been wanting a new therapeutic hobby,” said Holmes. “I thought I would enjoy pottery, and a six-week course for two hours a week sounded super manageable to start with.
“It took a second to get used to the feel of throwing the clay on the wheel, but once it clicks, it clicks, and you can experiment with how the clay moves and how your hands and fingers can manipulate and mold the clay.”
Holmes said she has always been interested in various forms of art throughout her life and has enjoyed exploring yet another art form.
“I’ve always been interested in art,” said said. “Starting when I was younger taking summer art classes at The Foundation of Arts, to taking AP Art in high school, then … I took my career into cosmetology where hairstyling and working with color is now my form of artistry. I’ve always loved to sketch and paint but haven’t picked up that hobby much in my adult years. I’m hoping pottery can be my adult hobby.”
Most recently, Art + Design hosted SelfMade, a pop-up shop at Story Coffee House, as well as a Holiday Art Sale at Native Brew Works. Upcoming events include a community pottery course Jan. 25 through March 7 on Thursdays from 2-4 p.m.; pottery and painting couples classes on Valentine’s Day; and a public reception at The Glass Factory for visiting 3D artists on Feb. 23.
For more information or to register for upcoming classes, find A-State Department of Art + Design on Facebook, follow it on Instagram @astateartdesign, or visit astate.edu/college/liberal-arts/departments/art-and-design.