New construction proves schools’ commitment to the arts is more than just a performance
Blessed SacramentHuguenot, St. Michael’s Episcopal and St. Catherine’s schools are investing more into arts programs for their students by constructing new buildings and theaters to enhance the learning experience.
“It’s so important for students to be able to discover and grow in their creativity,” Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Head of School Paula Ledbetter says. “Art is so important because art applies to so many different elements of life — creative thinking, applying those skills, building and manipulating things. It’s an outlet for students, which I think is so important, especially right now.”
On June 1, the Powhatan County Catholic school broke ground on its 2,664-square-foot visual arts center as part of a schoolwide renovation and expansion. The center is the first building constructed on campus since 1959.
The new arts building will have large windows to let in lots of natural light, a kiln, pottery wheels, space to teach art history, storage and large workspaces for students. Upper school art history teacher Lisa Goodwyn had a hand in designing the visual arts center and is looking forward to having more room for students to create.
Blessed Sacrament also has plans to build STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) classrooms lower school art classrooms, a green-screen studio and a black box theater located in a new assembly hall. Construction will begin in the fall and should be complete by 2023.
Art is so important because art applies to so many different elements of life — creative thinking, applying those skills, building and manipulating things.
“We [have] managed to do a lot of large-scale projects, but it will make it easier to do these projects now in this new student center,” Goodwyn says. “We were climbing over art projects on the floor. We only had one sink in my art room, so it was difficult working with wet media, and cleanup was a little slower. So this will be faster, and it will give us more time to actually be involved in creative problem-solving and making art.”
The $650,000 visual arts center would not have been possible without a donation of $6.25 million from Keith Brower and his wife, Kathleen.
Their granddaughter Arabella, a former student at the school, died in 2015. The Browers received an outpouring of love from the students and staff of BSH, and because of that, the couple were moved to donate, jump-starting the expansion, Ledbetter says.
“I am so excited most of all for the students,” she says. “They’re going to be exposed to [art] that I wasn’t exposed to until I was in college.”
St. Michael’s Episcopal School is finishing up construction on its own state-of-the-art assembly hall at its Singleton campus on Hobby Hill Road. The building will feature art and music classrooms, a gallery space, and an auditorium with a stage and a seating area for 400 people. The seats in the auditorium rotate to face the stage or a stained-glass wall for chapel services.
The new $4.5 million auditorium will be named the Perkinson Arts Center, in honor of Baxter Perkinson, a local dentist, artist and supporter of the arts. His donation of $1 million was the biggest contribution St. Michael’s received for the expansion.
St. Michael’s Head of School Robert Gregg II, who’s been with the school for three years, says he is proud to be a part of this expansion effort 20 years in the making.
“Doing this is sort of honoring the people who’ve come before us who had the vision to be one together, to have the space that we needed to have,” Gregg says.
Down the road at St. Catherine’s School, its Arts and Innovation Center has been a 25-year endeavor. Director of Development Deborah Dunlap says there was particularly a need for a new auditorium, as the original was built in the 1930s.
The existing main auditorium was built without a backstage area — student performers had to wait in the audience for their cues.” Because of this, certain performances had to be held at other venues or outside. Sometimes, dance performances would take place in the dance practice room on campus, but audience members were taking up performance space, and it felt like they were part of the show, says Arts Coordinator Kendall Neely.
The new Arts and Innovation Center, 32,247 square feet in size, is scheduled to be completed in December, and it will have a two-story theater with wings and a backstage area. The center will also have a fly system, a theatrical rigging setup allowing sets to be moved on, around and above the stage, so the performance space can be used for multiple shows and presentations. The new arts center will also have a welding and scene shop that will allow students to create the art featured in their performances.
The arts allow for children to express themselves. The arts are essential, central to the full development of the various dimensions to a child.
—Robert Gregg II, St. Michael’s Episcopal School
“We make sure that every part of the program has the students not only just doing it, but they’re actually involved in the creation of their own work, and to have ownership over production,” Neely says. “You want to be able to showcase your work as well as be part of the creation process.”
Dunlap graduated from St. Catherine’s in 1970 and has been working at the school for 37 years. She’s seen firsthand the need for a proper performance space and the emphasis placed on arts at the school.
“What the arts program is to me is a far greater part of a St. Catherine’s education than it was when I was here,” Dunlap says. “It’s grown tremendously, and I think it is really one of the very important aspects of our educational offerings. And I think this building symbolizes that.”
As schools in the Richmond area invest in the arts, they are increasing students’ problem-solving ability, developing their motor skills and fostering creativity that the students can tap into throughout their lives.
“The arts allow for children to express themselves. The arts are essential, central to the full development of the various dimensions to a child,” Gregg says. “The arts are some areas of life and school that children are exceedingly comfortable with, and by being in a school where the arts are essential to what you do, other children who wouldn’t explore or wouldn’t discover that about themselves realize that they have a voice.”