The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

The Northerner

Impacts of SOTA Renovations

Senior Evey Cooper in the print lab’s temporary space in the library (Hailey Roden)

Over the course of the past five months, as the construction in NKU’s School of the Arts (SOTA) continued into the fall 2023 semester, students conjectured about what the resulting effects may be in the pursuit of their diploma. With 30 degree programs residing in the building, a large population consisting of theatre, dance and music students anticipated subsequent difficulties for the coming year of construction.

In a carved-out corner on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Center, a space for those studying photography had been established. Senior B.F.A photography student Evey Cooper explained that this space, being a studio and print lab, was useful for photography projects in the studio and for other functions for any departments wishing to get their work printed in the print lab.

“Now that the renovations are going on we don’t have access to any of that. And we’ve been completely unearthed,” said Cooper. “We can’t go shoot in a studio setting at all because we don’t have access to it and there’s not anything that they gave us as consolation.”

As one of the smaller departments on campus, there are only a total of three Bachelor of Fine Arts photography students who have gone through the necessary review process to get on the studio arts track. A slightly larger Bachelor of Science population of seven and photography minor of twenty-one utilize the same locations.

In previous years, there was a community with shared space, which made it easy to connect to, get opinions from and talk about art with peers, said Hannah Wentzel, a junior B.F.A photography major. 

Cooper shared that the prevailing theme of the students affected has been isolation. “It was ironic that as a photo community, we felt like we had no community.” Late last semester, a show was exhibited on the fourth floor of SOTA that allowed the students to artfully express the frustrations that had been building. “A lot of us did self portraiture about rage… and being so suffocated and crushed… I think a lot of it was about money and just being unrepresented and not being heard,” said Cooper.

It was during the final weeks of last semester that photography students on the fourth floor would discover that their space would be next in the pursuit of creating a safer School of the Arts. 

“It came as a shock for me,” said Wentzel, referencing the sudden uprooting of the entire floor. “It was kind of like, okay, we have one email now telling us that all of our classes are being relocated, no drawing, no painting and no photo up here, like we all have to go.”

After the move, the photography department was entirely shifted over to Steely Library, where all the classes are contained to a single conference room with the print lab residing in the back corner of the room, said Cooper. Even as classes are going on, she is working with students coming up to use the Apple iMac computers provided for printing.  

“It’s a lot more inconvenient to not be able to walk across the hall and have everything right there. Everything is off away in storage, or we would have to pull it out and then make another studio space somewhere else,” Wentzel said about some of the difficulties that have been brought up since the start of the semester.

Some consistencies have been a source of dependability for the students that have expressed their feelings of isolation and uprootedness. The SOTA faculty have been praised for their handling of the situation and accommodating students with the change. The main lecturer, Chris Smith, has continued assisting in the relocation of classes in SOTA to Steely Library, while also guiding students through their specific issues, said Cooper. 

“Chris has been my mentor these past few semesters. As all of this has been happening, he’s helped a lot with the main transition and through all the changes helping keep the print lab running,” said Cooper. “Talking to Chris has been really helpful, because he tries in any way he can to advocate for us very strongly.” 

Alongside Lecturer Chris Smith, SOTA Director Matthew Albritton and visual communication design lecturer Michael Tittel have taken up the reins of instructing the Photography I and II courses while Smith teaches the advanced classes. This change occurred due to the sabbatical associate professor Rachael Banks took for the 2023-24 academic year.

Director Albritton spoke about the difficult changes that students and faculty around campus have had to endure during the $13 million SOTA renovation project. 

“Because they knew the arts are important here in Kentucky, it was worth investing. So money was secured [for] a long period of planning the first floor. We knew we were going to be out this whole year,” Director Albritton said about the initial planning for reconstruction. 

It wasn’t until the latter half of last semester that the contractors realized they wouldn’t be able to finish the building over the summer unless they started to work on the fourth floor this spring semester, said Director Albritton.

“It’s not ideal, you know. Relocated out of your teaching and learning space.. I have to say our campus partners have been phenomenal finding spaces and helping us out… doing everything they can to keep instruction going,” said Albritton. 

“When things get difficult, that is when you see the grit and creative problem solving in your colleagues and students and in our partners… It kind of stinks right now, but coming back in the fall it’s going to be great because of the changes.”