Fine-Tuning the Arts

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Westminster takes shape on two campuses

By Paul Mullin

Restructuring of programs on the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses has led to the creation of a new academic college at Rider.

The new Westminster College of the Arts (WCA) will include Westminster Choir College (WCC) and the School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA), President Mordechai Rozanski announced yesterday.

According to Dr. Patrick Chmel, who is to be the associate dean of the SFPA, this new school signals Rider’s commitment to the arts.

“It is a major restructuring of the visual and performing arts on the Princeton and the Lawrenceville campuses,” said Chmel, the current chair of the Fine Arts Department.

The SFPA, which is technically already in operation, consists of the current Fine Arts Department — the arts, dance, music and theater programs — as well as the music theater program from WCC, a bachelor of arts in music program, and a new major in arts administration, Chmel said.

“I think the best word for the new school is ‘eclectic,’” Chmel said. “There is going to be the opportunity for new students to come onto this campus who are purely thinking of a professional life in the arts. And there is going to be as much room for the student whose interest is to explore other options.”

There will eventually be more than 800 students enrolled in WCA programs, said Dr. Robert Annis, dean of the WCA.

But none of those students, according to Associate Dean of WCC Dr. Marshall Onofrio, will be required to move from one campus to another.

“New students entering the bachelor of arts in music and bachelor of music in music theater majors in fall 2008 will enter at Lawrenceville,” Onofrio said. “Students currently in those two majors are on the Princeton campus, where they will remain.”

According to Chmel, the music theater and bachelor of arts in music programs, both currently located in Princeton, will be phased onto the Lawrenceville campus over four years.

The new college will alleviate some of Westminster’s financial difficulties by more completely integrating it into the University, Annis said.

“Westminster has, since the merger, had some struggles because it has really sat in Princeton and not really been connected to the University, and what we are trying to make sure is that it is fully embedded into the University,” Annis said. “It is clearly viewed as a way to benefit the entire University, to finally bring this together so that students, faculty and administrative offices are efficient.”

One of the main concerns at the outset was whether or not elementary education and fine arts double majors, who are required to graduate from a liberal arts college, would still be able to do so. According to Chmel and Annis, the SFPA will still be liberal arts-oriented and these students will not suffer because of the change.

Along with the phasing in of programs will be the construction of a new building on the Lawrenceville campus, near Memorial Hall.

According to Annis, it will still be considered an academic building, because in addition to a new “state of the art” theater, it will satisfy the University’s need for more classrooms.

“The new theater will allow us to better serve the theater, music theater and the arts because it will be a multi-purpose room,” Annis said.

Jonathan Meer, vice president of University Advancement, said the cost of the new building is estimated to be around $16 million, which the University is fundraising for. Meer also said that the building will not be exclusive to the SFPA, but will include classes for other programs as well.

“Just as [the University has] been able to expand what is currently on the Lawrenceville campus in the past few years, [the University is] going to be working hard to approach this in the same way,” Annis said.

And with this new theater, comes the increased capacity to put on more performances, Chmel said. Whereas there is currently one musical per year, Chmel estimated that there may be as many as three once the new theater is complete, as well as at least two straight plays and an array of other performances in both the new and existing Fine Arts theaters.

Groundbreaking for the building is expected to begin sometime in 2011, and it should be done by 2012, Chmel said. This means that all music theater students will be on the Lawrenceville campus for a year before the new theater is completed.

Also being discussed are plans for Moore Library, which will likely be asked to shoulder the load of additional texts and supplies, such as musical scores and recordings.

“We have assessed what is most likely to be studied and have identified the needed materials,” said Dean of Libraries William Chickering. “We are talking with the academic budget officer about funding for compact shelving.”

Chmel called the whole process a “Renaissance of the arts at Rider.”

“Ultimately it means the arts are going to flourish on this campus,” Chmel said. “I think it’s going to be a sort of candy shop of people enjoying themselves in the arts.”

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