12/20/2012 - The arts are central to the mission of Southern New Hampshire University: Try the new and dare to be different. That’s why the university’s most rapid growth over the past few years has been in the arts, said Karen Erickson, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
The changes you see throughout the university — the increase in visual art, the new creative art series, the author, musician and artist visits — are deliberate steps to increase the breadth and depth of what SNHU is offering, Erickson said.
The future may have even more in store for SNHU arts; the school recently purchased the CB Sullivan Manchester office and warehouse complex at 15 West Alice Ave., which is nearly 80,000 square feet, previously developed for retail, warehouse and office use.
What exactly this space will be used for is still up in the air; SNHU President Paul LeBlanc says that the next few months will be spent studying the potential use for the building and enlisting professionals to look at what can be done.
He hopes that this space might be used as a creative arts center.
“In my fondest dreams, it would include a performance space, perhaps a black box theater, rehearsal spaces for both music and drama, visual art studios and a gallery,” he wrote in an email. “The vision is to create a critical mass of arts activities to support that blossoming of those arts on campus, and to support the local arts community.”
Erickson echoed LeBlanc’s comments.
“It’s all about access and the public domain. We want what we do at the university to be in the public domain, and we want it to be accessible so that we can enrich and enliven our surroundings. That’s an important function,” Erickson said.
One example of the school’s serving the public domain is a new creative art series. The university is host to 50 theatrical, musical, lyrical and art-related events throughout the season, from Gothic poetry student readings to a regular film series — all free and open to the public.
The kinds of events offered through this series (available for viewing at snhu.edu in the events calendar) demonstrate some of the areas in which there’s been growth. Clustered throughout the year, for instance, are visiting author events. These author visits are extremely valuable for creative writing undergraduates and graduate students in the SNHU MFA program, said Benjamin Mugent, director of creative writing at SNHU.
“Our undergraduate program went from 10 students to about 50 to 60 students over the past 10 years. We didn’t used to be known for creative writing, but it’s become a pretty popular major,” Mugent said.
The theater program is also seeing some changes; while there are no theater facilities on campus just yet, they’re utilizing what they have to expand theater opportunities in the school, collaborating with New Thalian Players for the spring’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, Erickson said.
Faculty hirings, like Steven Bogart, who directed a very successful run of Cabaret at the American Repertory Theater, and Vanessa Rocco, co-editor of The New Women International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s, only help move these art programs forward, Erickson said.
New art exhibitions have also popped up around the school, and not just in the McIninch Art Gallery, which opened 10 years ago when the school transformed from New Hampshire College into Southern New Hampshire University. Public art is very important to what they do, Erickson said, so additions include art galleries in the new student center, in the SNHU library and scattered throughout campus in the outdoor sculpture gallery. While there is no studio art major at SNHU, visual art majors, like graphic design, have expanded into new majors, like game art.
Part of these transformations have to do with the transition from a “liberal arts” school to the “school of arts and sciences” two years ago.
“By becoming the school of arts and sciences, we’re placing emphasis across the board, in natural sciences, mathematics, humanities and fine arts,” Erickson said.