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Lafayette’s new Williams Visual Arts Building in downtown Easton is a $3.5 million, high-tech art studio and gallery complex that will benefit both Lafayette and Easton.

Located at the base of College Hill, where the Lafayette campus meets downtown Easton, the 23,500-square-foot facility includes studio, gallery, and office space. Programming will include classes for area high school students conducted by Lafayette faculty and honors students.

“The Williams Visual Arts Building will be one of the nation’s leading high-tech facilities for art education and gallery exhibitions,” says Lafayette President Arthur J. Rothkopf ’55. “It will enable our academic programs to advance to a new level, benefiting art majors and the many other Lafayette students who enrich their educational experience by taking studio art and art history courses.

“The building also provides a new bridge between the campus and Easton,” Rothkopf says. “It underscores Lafayette’s commitment to the revitalization of Easton’s downtown business core, and will include art education programs for high school students and a spacious gallery that will host exhibits by artists from Easton and the surrounding area, as well as shows by Lafayette artists.”

Major support for the project is being provided by the family of the late Morris R. Williams, a 1922 Lafayette graduate, and his wife, Josephine. During their lifetimes, Morris and Josephine Williams, Easton natives and long-time supporters of Easton’s civic and cultural life, provided the funding for Lafayette’s award-winning Williams Center for the Arts, which opened in 1983.

The Williams Visual Arts Building will house studios for Lafayette’s academic programs in painting and sculpture and a studio for advanced student artists working on senior honors projects and independent study projects. These activities have been housed in three locations on campus, painting classes in the Williams Center for the Arts, sculpture classes in a studio at 421 Hamilton Street, and honors and independent work in Hogg Hall.

Spearheading the development of the visual arts building is Ed Kerns, Lafayette’s Eugene H. Clapp Professor of Art, who is an internationally known abstract painter. Perhaps the most exciting dimension of the project is the opportunity for innovative applications of digital technologies, he says.

“We’re putting a ‘cyber-umbrella’ over the traditional arts,” Kerns says. “Technology will play a new, very central role in art education at Lafayette.”

For example, he said, students and faculty in the new building and other campus art studios and classrooms will use wireless technology for instant access to Lafayette’s expanding computer database of digital images and Internet-based images from museum collections throughout the world.

Another example is the enhanced Media Lab, Kerns says, which will remain in its current location in the Williams Center for the Arts. Students can manipulate images digitally and print them on a variety of materials — such as film negatives, archival paper, and canvases — using output devices in remote locations, including the downtown facility.

A large studio in the new building is designated for use in Lafayette’s Community Arts program, which will provide area high school students an opportunity to take art classes with Lafayette faculty and honors students. The program is being launched with the support of a $100,000 grant from Binney & Smith, the Easton-based manufacturer of Crayola art materials.

Directing the community program will be Jim Toia, an accomplished sculptor and painter who has taught courses at Lafayette since 1997.

A 2,400-square-foot gallery in the new building is named the Grossman Gallery in honor of a substantial gift to the Lafayette Leadership Campaign from former trustee Richard A. Grossman, a 1964 Lafayette graduate, and his wife, Rissa. The gallery will complement Lafayette’s existing gallery in the Williams Center for the Arts, opening up significant new exhibition possibilities. Plans call for extensive use of the gallery for exhibitions by local and regional artists, Kerns says.

“We envision that exhibitions by local and regional artists will occupy the gallery about 40 percent of the time, with about the same proportion for Lafayette artists, and the remaining 20 percent for visiting artists,” Kerns says.

The Williams Visual Arts Building also includes studio and office space for Lafayette studio art faculty, both full-time faculty members and community-based artists who teach at the College.

The new building’s innovative design is a joint venture of Werner A. Buckl and Associates of Easton and Joseph N. Biondo Architects of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Buckl and Associates, a preeminent regional design firm that has focused on technically challenging projects for institutions of higher education, medicine, and research since its founding in 1971, has achieved noted recognition in the healthcare field. Biondo’s firm received a Progressive Architecture Award in 1996. Biondo, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., was cited as one of 10 outstanding emerging architects in the United States by the editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine.

The facility’s physical hallmarks will be translucency and flexibility, says Kerns. Ambient natural light, let in by glass walls, windows, and skylights, will permeate the entire building. All studio, gallery, and office spaces will have flexible floor plans with movable walls and partitions allowing easy reconfiguration.

Faculty and student artists will work and learn together in an atmosphere of exciting synergy, Kerns said.

“This will be a genuine ‘art factory’ where people can see each other working and really feel the buzz of activity,” Kerns says. “The building’s translucency and openness reflect the art department’s philosophy that students and faculty are all learning together.

“With faculty artists maintaining their own studios in the building, students will be exposed to the professional world of art as dealers, museum officials, collectors, historians, and other artists flow through it,” Kerns continues. “This will give students new opportunities for networking with art professionals.”

Richard and Rissa Grossman are longtime supporters of Lafayette. In 1992 they established Lafayette’s Grossman Visiting Artist and Exhibition Series, which supports presentation of significant exhibitions and gives students opportunities to interact with major artists serving multi-day residencies at the College. In recent years these artists have included Ann Hamilton, Gregory Gillespie, Leon Golub, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Faith Ringgold, and Dorothea Rockburne.

Additional funding for the project includes a $250,000 grant from the federal government. The construction manager is Miller, Miller & McLachlan Construction, Inc., of North Whitehall Township, Pa. The mechanical designer is Rodgers Associates, P.C.

The art department’s Media Lab and studio for the introductory art course will stay in their current location, the Williams Center for the Arts. The Williams Center will also house a drawing studio, relocated from another facility on campus, and will continue to be headquarters for art history courses. The College’s printmaking studio will remain at 421 Hamilton St. A papermaking studio will also be established in the former sculpture studio at that location.

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