SHERIDAN — Officials of the Northern Wyoming Community College District officially launched a capital construction campaign Thursday morning seeking to fund the remaining $4 million needed to complete the $20 million Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College.
The center will feature recital and performance space, including a 422-seat concert hall and new teaching spaces for ceramics, woodworking, sculpture, 2-D and 3-D art; formal and student gallery space; office studios for art faculty; band, orchestra and choral recital space; a digital music classroom; a recording studio and 6,000 square feet of expansion space for program growth.
A $16 million gift has already been secured from Whitney Benefits, which will cover the construction costs of the entire center.
The remaining campaign will fund academic equipment, technology and furnishings for the new center.
The space is needed to support a rapidly growing student body — SC President Dr. Paul Young said the district will grow by 500 full-time equivalency students by the end of the decade and 150 of them will be in the arts — but presenters at the launch breakfast Thursday also wanted to drive home the idea that the project is about more than just college growth.
“On top of all the great philosophical reasons to support the arts, it truly makes sense economically,” Young said. “And now we are going to have a facility which is going to be truly magnetic and help to attract not just students from other places but retain the talented people who grow up in this community.”
Young shared a statistic that for every 100 students the college adds, the community sees $1 million a year added to the local economy.
Attracting and retaining young people in the community is an added benefit of expanding the arts, he said.
“We know that people look for arts and to entertainment when they consider where they want to live,” Young said. “If you look at the places where Sheridan shows up as a top community, time and time again one of the places where they show up on top is the contribution that art makes to having a vital community.”
In 2012, the Wyoming Art Council commissioned a study to figure out which areas of the state had the best infrastructure in place to support artistic and creative economies, and Sheridan was the second highest scoring county in the state.
SC art faculty Jason Lanka said he is most looking forward to being able to involve more K-12 students and community members in the college arts after the expansion.
“Our high school programs are always under the gun budget-wise and we want to reach out to those programs and offer them this space and the facilities to be on campus with us, and our old space didn’t allow for that,” Lanka said. “Our previous space didn’t allow for community members to come in and work and store their materials; that is a key component to offering community ed so that they can return and feel welcome in the space.”
Young added that the community use of the space goes beyond classes as the state of the art auditorium can be used for a variety of performances and events. He hopes to be able to host a gubernatorial debate in the hall in 2018.
A few current art students stood with Lanka and said that though they will have graduated before the center opens, they are excited for the opportunities being created for future students.
“The fact that we can have a good gallery to show this work is huge; new artists being able to show their work is incredible,” SC art student Carl Largent said. “I can’t imagine a better place to start your art career here with this faculty and the new facility. If this is just the beginning, I can’t imagine where I can go and where these future art students can go, and I think that’s pretty special.”
There are a variety of opportunities for donors to become involved with naming opportunities ranging from $50,000 to $2 million based on the visibility and prestige of the area in the center being sponsored.
Local artist and regular supporter of the college Neltje also spoke at the event, encouraging donations to what she said is a crucial part of our community.
“There is such a sense of community and such a sense of energy here and the arts are the foundation of that energy,” she said. “What would it be if we didn’t have drama? What would it be if we didn’t have color? What would it be if we didn’t have song? …Those are things to think about.
“And for the banker,” she continued, “I have utmost fear of you, but please say yes.”