TU purchases Hardesty Arts Center

TU boasts support for the arts, yet neglects its arts and humanities students, faculty and programs.

In an effort to expand The University of Tulsa’s reach into the Tulsa art community, President Carson officially announced that the university had bought the Hardesty Arts Center on Feb. 2. The facility was a Tulsa favorite that unexpectedly had to close its doors in November. This center isn’t the first building TU has purchased in regard to art, as they are also a partner owner of the Gilcrease Museum.

During the announcement of the acquisition, President Carson’s boastfulness for TU shone through saying, “TU demonstrates, once again, our commitment to the arts and humanities.”

While buying the building is great for downtown’s art scene and for local artists to show their work, TU has been focusing too much on the artists from the city of Tulsa and neglecting the ones they have on their own campus.

In 2019, under former President Gerard Clancy, there were drastic cuts made to the arts and humanities departments. Although there is now a new president, the art department is still not in a period of growth — it is simply not in a period of cuts anymore.

The money used to buy the Hardesty Arts Building could have been used in numerous other ways on campus to improve TU’s art department. The two most prominent ways are hiring permanent professors and replenishing the art department’s endowment fund.

There are currently only two tenured art professors and a majority of the rest are visiting professors or adjuncts. While visiting professors and adjuncts are cheaper and assume less risk since they can easily be let go at any year’s end, they’re not traditionally used to fill an entire department. And although TU has the largest kiln in Oklahoma, big enough to fit a whole person, there is currently no permanent ceramics teacher. Despite TU having a gradual decrease in admissions over the years, the art department has had a steady uptick in students. Therefore, the professors have to teach an overflow of students as they don’t have enough faculty to hold multiple classes.

Prior to the 2019 cuts, the art department had an endowment that paid for the daily upkeep of machines. If a printer broke, money was taken out of the endowment to pay for it. In a drastic and short-sighted act during the cuts, the upper administration spent the endowment to pay the professor’s salaries, leaving the fund for fixing or replacing machines empty. This fund has not been replenished since.

The fund was also used to pay the expenses of holding shows in the Alexander Hogue Gallery, the exhibition space on campus in Phillips Hall. TU would pay the fees for artists to travel to Tulsa with their work so students would have on-campus access to different types of professional art. Since the fund has been depleted, TU has had to limit the number of shows they can host. If TU cannot afford to exhibit artists in the space they have on its own campus, there is no reason to buy another exhibition space downtown.

TU has always been advertised as a STEM school with an emphasis on engineering, but if the president now wants to publicly use his school’s “commitment to the arts and humanities” as a form of advertisement, then he needs to prioritize his own artists before expanding to the rest of the city. It seems as though TU likes the idea of arts and humanities without actually backing the practice on its own campus.

Since TU has already bought the Hardesty Arts Building, instead of making the improvements to its own art department, TU needs to work to integrate the building into their future education. If they spent the money to buy the building instead of replenishing the art endowment, then the space could act as an extension of TU’s campus. Hardesty Arts has “STUDIO” which gives the public access to a light studio, dark room, metalworking studio, printmaking and a wood shop. The building is a multi-million dollar facility, so these studios are newer, better maintained and far more advanced than anything in Phillips. Hopefully, TU utilizes these facilities and connections to artists that Hardesty Arts has to improve the education of student artists.

The University of Tulsa can buy as many exhibits and galleries around Tulsa as it likes, but it must realize that without artists, its buildings will remain empty.

Post Author: Callie Hummel