For decades, the former Davison Center for the Arts located in the Richard Alsop IV House at 301 High Street has been a focal point for visual arts on campus, housing an invaluable and varied collection of prints.
With the collection moving to Olin Library, the old building has a new artistic focus as part of an on-campus Digital Design Commons supporting music, dance, theater and visual arts.
“The idea is for it to be a tech hub for the arts,” said Roger Mathew Grant, dean of arts and humanities. “The arts are always at the intersection of technique and aesthetics. Digital media is where it’s most pronounced for us now because that’s what’s new right now. »
The Alsop House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009 as an important example of Romantic Classicism in American architecture. It was purchased by Wesleyan in 1948 with funds donated by Harriet and George W. Davison ‘1892.
The idea for the enhanced program in the building dates back to 2012 when digital tools, like 3D printers, were installed there. It took a $500,000 grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation to move the project forward in 2018. COVID stalled the work a bit, Grant said, but the facility’s conversion process is moving forward now.
The first phase of the project was completed this fall with the transformation of a former art history classroom into a state-of-the-art multimedia classroom, complete with a rotating projector and a high-end sound system. New professors specializing in multimedia will also support the initiative.
“The idea is that you can use this room for teaching, installation, or performance,” Grant said.
It didn’t take long for students to embrace the new facility, Grant said. “Before this room even opened, students were working on creating these very rich videos of performance and visual arts happening on campus,” he said. “We get works of art that respond to other works of art”
The next phase of the project will include a motion capture studio, print and graphics labs, new sound booths, digital workstations and tutoring facilities. There will also be a rehabilitation carried out on the building itself.
The center can be a place to explore temporal media and performance documentation, Grant said. Capturing the beauty of the living arts on camera can be elusive – the visual vocabulary is different from that of film and requires a new perspective. “For a long time there has been an interest in documenting performances, but the pandemic has really underscored the need for it because of the difficulty in getting audiences into theaters,” Grant said.
It can also be a place where creatives can take their ideas and conjure them up in three dimensions, like a theatrical projection designer, for example, or a visual artist working with video. As students from all artistic disciplines descend on the building, a delicate alchemy of expression begins to occur. Grant is thrilled to see a small scene developing at Alsop. “I had no idea what would happen, but it’s a bit of a ‘if you build it, they’ll come’ phenomenon that’s happening here,” he said.
Sound scholarship and practice around digital performance, a relatively new field of study, provides another opportunity for Wesleyan students to have a well-rounded liberal arts education.
“It’s so central to what we do. At Wesleyan, we honor creative practice as research. We have discourses about art. We have countless ways to mediate aesthetic experiences. Art generates an important conversation. It generates new ways of thinking. It changes things. Growing up like this helps us connect to the rest of the world,” Grant said.