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Kennedy Center Completes Arts Hub

Photos by Bob Handelman Unless Otherwise Noted

With its shining glass façade, the new Kevin and Karen Kennedy Center for Theatre and the Studio Arts curves into alignment with the venerable Molly Root House, home to the Art History Department next door, and reaches toward the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art across College Hill Road. The building, fittingly situated on land that once adjoined the Kirkland College campus, completes  Hamilton’s dynamic arts neighborhood.

Hamilton broke ground for the center in July 2012, and, after watching it take shape for two years, students were eager to christen the building with their creativity even before its official dedication in October. Sara Wortman ’15 was in her senior studio coaxing wooden reeds into moon-like shapes for a sculpture that explores chaos theory. She majors in math and art. In the other wing of the building, Ryan Cassidy ’17 sat at a sewing machine in the costume shop finishing up an assignment for his lab design class. Cassidy discovered philosophy at Hamilton, and may take it on as a second major, but theatre is his primary passion. “There were so many reasons [why I picked Hamilton], but I wanted to go someplace that made a commitment to theatre. Knowing they were building this new space really satisfied that for me,” he says.

Art and theatre majors may claim the center for their own, but it is shared space, conceived as a locus of study and creativity for students of all disciplines. Professor of Music Sam Pellman describes the Kennedy Center’s two curved wings as “arms reaching out to embrace all of campus.” After a recent class he found himself chatting with a chemistry major and her friend, who had taken his music theory courses, about a musical installation he was about to finish. It involves mapping the information in the nucleobase sequence of human DNA to musical tones. The chemistry major, who’d taken biology, was intrigued, and both students grasped the concept. It was a liberal arts moment. “That’s the kind of discussion you can have here,” says Pellman, who, as faculty coordinator of the planning committee for the new center, has pushed since 2001 to bring it to life.

“[The Kennedy Center] represents a vibrant and really promising future for the arts at Hamilton,” says theatre major Wynn Van Dusen ’15. “Now when you drive up the Hill you see the Wellin Museum and right across from it you see this beautiful building, and I think it sends a really clear message that the arts at Hamilton are alive and well, and they are not going anywhere.”

Kennedy Center Features at a Glance

Theatre
  • Flexible theatre (175 seats) with trap floor and moveable catwalks
  • Lab theatre (100 seats)
  • Box office and coat room
  • Costume and scene shops
  • Dressing and green rooms with audio or video monitors for both theatres
  • Performance studio/classroom
  • Prop storage
  • Outdoor amphitheatre

Studio Arts
  • Ceramics and sculpture studio
  • Exhibition gallery
  • Critique room (also used as a small exhibition space)
  • Foundations studio arts classroom
  • Photography, printmaking, drawing and painting studios
  • Senior Project studio
  • Woodworking and metals shops

Digital Arts
  • Audio and video production rooms
  • Computer classrooms
  • Individual soundproof audio and video-editing rooms
  • Screening room

“It is particularly apt to have such a beautiful building, on such a beautiful site, dedicated to the making and study of the studio arts, theatre and the digital arts. I sometimes tell people, though, that I worry that if it in fact turns out to be the case that suffering is necessary for the making of great art, then perhaps we might have inadvertently constrained ourselves by building such breathtaking facilities.”

Sam Pellman Professor of Music and Faculty Coordinator of the Planning Committee for the Kennedy Center Sam Pellman

I’m proud of what the building says about Hamilton and its support for the arts, and more grateful than I can say to the many people who made this building possible. Driving up the Hill, and seeing the beautiful, curving façade, with its myriad reflections, it’s as if we have a new front porch where members of both the Hamilton community and the larger communities of Utica and surrounding areas are welcome to come and engage in dialogue about the large and small issues of life through the art our students and faculty create.

Craig Latrell Professor of Theatre Craig Latrell
Knight and students discuss photography techniques

Associate Professor of Art Ella Gant and her students in the digital suite classroom, which is equipped with 16 computer workstations configured with professional software for editing photo, video and audio projects.

students hang works in the critique space

Students hang works in the critique space in the studio arts section of the Kennedy Center. The space, with its floor-to-ceiling windows on two facing sides, doubles as a small gallery.

Kennedy Center

Looking down through a dramatic ovoid cutout, there’s a glimpse of the first-floor common space in the theatre wing. Light pours in through the building’s massive wall of 145 windows as students gather on colorful, modern-style furniture.

students in the first floor of the Kennedy Center

Students are doing just what center planners had in mind — studying, relaxing, congregating and collaborating in the common space.

students in the Barrett lab theatre

Students engage in acting exercises in the Barrett Lab Theatre with some onlookers from above. The enclosed, grid-like catwalk provides complete access, as well as extra security, for students honing skills in lighting design.

theatre fall '21 "10 out of 12"

The Romano and the Barrett theatres share a box office and coat room, a spacious backstage area, costume and prop storage, a full scene shop and three basement-level dressing rooms.

students in a sculpture class

In the sculpture classroom, students are well into their projects under the guidance of Associate Professor of Art Rebecca Murtaugh. The sculpture room is flanked by the wood workshop and the hot workshop for metals and ceramics.

students and Ella Gant in the digital suite classroom

Associate Professor of Art Ella Gant and her students in the digital suite classroom, which is equipped with 16 computer workstations configured with professional software for editing photo, video and audio projects.

Having the other majors so close to me has increased a class bond. It’s incredible to know that I can walk over to another space and share an idea or ask for an opinion from someone else whose aesthetic discernment I trust. As a photographer, I could not be more impressed with the range of tools available at my finger­tips. I’m already wary of how much I’ve been spoiled — finding facilities this amazing will be near impossible. Hopefully, Hamilton creates an artist-in-residence program that I could come back to.

Sean Henry-Smith ’15 art major Sean Henry-Smith ’15

“The building is a magnet, it is a conduit for energy and enthusiasm. There is a curiosity that is palpable — a sense of wonder present that we hope and strive to tap into with our students. In the past, our seniors used to be separated in two buildings and divided by a road. This fracture was not only a physical one but also a divide in community and peer engagement. Our new studio has sparked an enthusiastic, unified community, also filled with peer learning across media in all of our areas in studio art such as drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, video, ceramics and sculpture.”

Rebecca Murtaugh Associate Professor of Art Rebecca Murtaugh

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