Art Department/Mulvane Art Museum Capital Project



The Mulvane Art Museum and the Washburn University Art Department are outstanding cultural resources for the city of Topeka and the State of Kansas. The Mulvane lacks sufficient space to fulfill its mission and potential, and the Garvey Center has serious design limitations which create environmental difficulties during many of the production processes required for art education.

The proposed solution is a $4 million project to construct a new Art Building, and to renovate most of the space now used by the Art Department to expand and enhance museum facilities. The Departments of Music and Theater also will benefit from the changes to the Garvey Center. This document explains the need for the project and details the solution, but it does not attempt to design the structure. This is left for the architect, of course, subject to successful donor test and approval of the Board of Regents to seek architectural assistance.

During the past 18 months, this project has been discussed by a number of individuals and groups. Early discussions envisioned moving into a new building only the portions of the Art Department facilities directly above and directly below the Mulvane. While such a move would be an improvement over current facilities, our study discovered that it would not solve all of the environmental problems of the Art Department, nor all of the space problems of the Mulvane.

I. The Visual Arts and The Academic Mission of Washburn University

The roles of the Art Department and the Mulvane Art Museum are rooted in the core of the University's mission. Washburn University has recognized this clearly in its program review process, by determining that both the Art Department and the Mulvane have missions consistent with that of the University, and by giving both of these units an outstanding rating.

The Mulvane Art Museum is the Topeka area's only public institutional resource for art exhibitions, travel, tours, lectures, preservation and conservation, as well as art education to children and to adults not pursuing a degree. Over 25,000 people attend exhibits each year, and over 40,000 people annually participate in education programs. The Mountain-Plains Art Fair, the "Roadshow" Appraisal Event and the Auction of Art and Antiques bring thousands of people to the campus annually. The quality of the Mulvane is evident in many ways, not the least of which is its accreditation by the American Association of Museums.

The Art Department provides four degree programs for its majors and serves the general student population through its various general education courses. The uniqueness of Washburn's Art Department lies in the quality and accessibility of a faculty committed to rigorous art scholarship in a stimulating environment which encourages creativity and self-expression. The Program Review Committee noted: "The well-designed program is administered by quality faculty who maintain a student-centered atmosphere that is conducive to learning." The quality of the Art Department is also evident in many ways, including its accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

One way to evaluate the centrality of these programs to Washburn's mission is to imagine the University and the City of Topeka without them. It is not a very pleasurable exercise of the imagination. Without the Art Department, students in this area would have to turn to other institutions for their degree programs, or, more realistically, would simply not be able to pursue art degrees. Washburn's general education program would hardly be "general" without the visual arts. Without the Mulvane, there would be no opportunity for area residents to view important and stimulating works by regional artists, nor would there be a local collection of the art of this region. Thousands of children and adults would not benefit from exposure to and participation in art. Indeed, imagining Topeka without the Art Department and the Mulvane Art Museum is much like imagining our city without Washburn University itself.

Fortunately, our city and state have seen the benefits of supporting Washburn University, and the University is a key resource to our region. Similarly, Washburn recognizes the importance of the arts in general, and the Art Department and the Mulvane in particular.

II. Outstanding Programs Can Still Have Critical Needs

While both the Art Department and the Mulvane Art Museum have been recognized within the University and by many in the community for their outstanding programs, there are nonetheless serious shortcomings which threaten the well-being of these programs in the long run. These are summarized below.

A. Art Department Facilities Issues

The Art Department has made the best use possible of the facilities assigned to it in Garvey, though many of the spaces occupied by the Art Department were not designed for such use. Ventilation and fume containment have plagued the Department for many years. Some, but by no means all, of these air handling problems have been solved by moving some workshops and studios to other points in the building. The result is that the department is spread out over all four floors of Garvey.

The design studio, the darkroom and the ceramics studio continue to suffer serious ventilation problems, this despite a considerable amount of attention which has been given to these problems. In addition, the patio outside the ceramics and sculpture studios is located near the air handlers for Garvey. The result is that fumes created by raku firings and other activities in this space permeate the building.

If ventilation alone were the only issue, that might be sufficient to justify a substantial capital project. But there are three other critical issues as well. First, the department has inadequate space for many of its studios. The current general design studio is an awkward L-shaped room which has no natural light, poor temperature control, no active ventilation and an insufficient amount of space for students. This illustrates the trade-offs that have been necessary to deal with the ventilation problems. The design studio was once in a third floor room that had natural west lighting, but traded space with the printmaking shop because the fume problems in that shop were horrendous in the basement. In addition, in order to provide a better space for the computer graphics laboratory, substantial space was lost for the photography studio. Storing lights, drops and other equipment in the studio leaves insufficient space for shooting photos. Also, there is no natural lighting in the drawing and painting studios, so the department makes do with a variety of artificial lighting gimmicks.

Second, the outdoor workspace is very poor. Projects worked on outdoors tend to be large and messy, and the processes involved are often smoky or dusty. An outdoor, below ground "patio" is being used. Besides the aforementioned ventilation problem, this space is in a highly visible location, right along a sidewalk that leads from major parking lots to Garvey, Morgan and the Union. Hundreds of students and patrons walk pass this area daily, and it is not very pleasing aesthetically. In addition, the outdoor space has no cover, so weather limits its use.

Finally, demand for studio space for art faculty cannot be adequately met in Garvey. Washburn rightly prides itself in emphasizing teaching, and a significant component to maintaining quality art instruction is that the faculty be involved in creative activities. Students need to see faculty involved in art, yet only one of the art faculty has an office studio appropriate for his creative work.

Ventilation, studio space, outdoor space and faculty office space are the most critical issues facing the Art Department, and they represent the central problems which will be addressed by the proposed capital project. Two key aspects should be noted:

(1) The problems described have existed for years, and the Physical Plant and the Art Department have made numerous changes to solve has many problems as possible. Discussion regarding a possible capital project took place several times during the nineties. We point this out to illustrate that this proposal is not a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term problem, but is a carefully considered response to persistent problems after many other alternatives to solving them have been tried or discussed.

(2) In making space, even inadequate space, for itself, the Art Department has had to take space that once belonged to and is very much needed by the Mulvane, which is the principle subject of the next section.

B. Mulvane Facilities Issues

The spaces directly upstairs and downstairs from the current Mulvane galleries were once part of the Museum. As mentioned above, these spaces have been converted to studios for drawing, painting, sculpture and ceramics for the Art Department. This creates serious problems for the Mulvane.

First, the gallery space on the first floor is sufficient to support touring art shows, and the Mulvane holds 6-7 exhibits each year, including student and faculty art shows. However, this leaves no place to display items in the Mulvane's permanent collection. Thus, this collection sits in storage, unable to be viewed and appreciated.

The current gallery space suffers from a couple of other shortcomings as well. The most used entrance to the galleries is from the Garvey side, which creates climate control and security problems. The gift shop and the kitchen are crammed in this first floor area as well.

Storage is a substantial problem for the Mulvane. As already mentioned, virtually all of the permanent collection must be stored, and appropriate climate controlled storage for the collection is already full. Space for preparation and conservation is very minimal. The loading dock is too small, and there is inadequate access and maneuvering space for delivery trucks. This long-time problem has been exacerbated by the Living Learning Center construction.

The space available for the Mulvane's education program is very poor. A basement storage space has been converted into an office for the education director and her assistant. There is no climate control or ventilation in this office, and items are stored behind curtains to maintain some semblance of neatness and organization.

Indeed, the office space for every member of the Mulvane staff is insufficient. The office suite housing the director, assistant director and secretary is crowded and somewhat complicated to navigate. The Registrar lacks sufficient space for her activities, and must move constantly back and forth between her office and other locations.

The Mulvane community (director, board members and patrons) have been aware of these problems for many years. During the fall of 1999, their concerns were justified in two conservation assessments performed by outside consultants. Brent Bowman of Bowman and Associates Architects, P.A., wrote: "Today, the original museum is compromised by limited gallery space and inconvenient collection storage/management space. Serious consideration should be given to returning all of the original museum building to museum functions. The main floor could be an entry lobby with expanded gift shop, flanked by north and south galleries. The second floor could be returned to gallery use and the basement used for collection storage and conservation. The use of kilns and foundry equipment in the basement presently is incompatible with museum use. Thomas Edmondson of Heugh-Edmondson Conservation Services, noted: "Perhaps the most important step that needs to be taken, though, is the reclamation of the entire museum building for the use of the Mulvane only. Because of a lack of gallery space the permanent collections are barely used or seen, and the current storage space, while appearing adequate, allows little room for expansion of the collections, and even less for processing and preparation activities."

Edmondson concludes: "After spending two days with the staff, the collections, and the building itself, this assessor was left with a very positive feeling about the basic state of things here. But, it was impossible to ignore the fact that without a drastic change in the near future, this lovely facility will not be able to fulfill its potential. The staff is well educated, versed in the arts and art history, and committed to the institution and its objectives. With a cooperative effort from the University, careful planning, and creative and aggressive fundraising, there is no doubt that a smooth transition back to the full use of the museum building solely for the Mulvane will be successful...With continued support from the University, a revitalized and empowered friends organization, and the dedication of the staff, there is every expectation for this museum to move into the new millennium with vigor and renewed purpose, to stand as a repository of fine art from the region, the world, and as a cultural center for the Capital region."

C. Summary: The Art Department's and the Mulvane's Problems are Intertwined, and So Are the Solutions.

It is clear from the above descriptions that the Art Department suffers from critical space problems, and that attempts to resolve some of its problems have created critical space problems for the Mulvane. It is no accident that these problems are intertwined, as the relationship between the Art Department and the Mulvane runs deep. As noted above, the primary purpose of this proposed capital project is to remedy serious deficiencies in the space for the Art Department. At the same time, however, this project proposes to resolve the Mulvane's space problems as a consequence. These two units and their problems are so thoroughly connected that it is natural that a reasonable solution for the problems of one should address the problems of the other as well.

III. Solution: Construction of New Building for Art and Renovation of Mulvane Space

The most natural solution to the problems described above is the construction of new space for the Art Department, because such an approach simultaneously addresses the problems of the Art Department and the Mulvane. By moving the Art Department out of its current space, areas that would be extremely useful to the Mulvane would be made available. In particular, the floor directly above the current Mulvane galleries, once a part of the Mulvane, would be returned to the Museum for use as additional gallery space for the permanent collection. Directly below the current galleries is space that would be used by the museum for collection preparation and storage. Both of these areas are marginally useful to the Art Department at present, but would be extremely useful to the Mulvane in the future.

At the same time, the problems with space and ventilation described above would be readily addressed in a new facility. Thus, the construction of a new building for Art creates space that would be appropriately designed for its intended use, and frees up space that is being used in less than ideal ways to be used more efficiently.

In the next two sections, we describe in general terms what the new building would contain and what the renovation of the Mulvane would entail. In each, we have grouped the items into two categories: "necessary" refers to those characteristics which are fundamental to the project and without which the results would not solve the current problems; "desirable" refers to characteristics which would significantly enhance our facilities.

A. What the new art building would contain

It would be necessary to move all of the media areas to the new facility; that is, ceramics, sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, the computer lab, design and crafts would all be included in the new structure. To maintain departmental cohesiveness, the new building would contain space for Art History as well. These Art Department facilities currently occupy about 12,200 sq. ft. in Garvey. Adding 800 sq. ft. for a classroom space, 700 sq. ft. for additional office space plus loading area, and 1200 sq. ft. to enhance the sizes of the photography, sculpture, ceramics and printmaking studios brings the total to about 14,900 sq. ft. Adjusting upward by the standard factor of 30% for bathrooms, hallways, etc., brings the area needed to about 19,400 sq. ft.

The general characteristics necessary and desirable for the new facility would be:



The following equipment is present in the existing Art facilities that would be moved to the new location (note: this is not meant to be a complete inventory list, but a list of the largest, most important items that would be moved):

3 electric kilns

gas kiln

clay mixer

4 electric wheels

10 kick wheels

5 printmaking presses

litho stones

light table

other misc. print equip.

slide cabinets/storage units


design desks

computers/video monitors, printers, scanners in the Mac Lab

enlargers, cameras, lighting


casting furnace

grinder, drill press, metal tables

faculty office furniture/computers

some student lockers could perhaps

be moved

The following additional items would be needed in the new facility: