WRITTEN BY BONNIE PFISTER
At a university once devoted solely to business studies, in a leafy little ravine named for a bygone era, stands an ultra-modern space for the newest of the arts.
Completed in June, the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation House for Media Arts gives Robert Morris University a singular space for design — the visual arts that inform our everyday lives. Part of Colonial Village, which includes the Melvin D. Teetz Alumni House and Rooney Visiting Scholar House, the new building features a gallery and workspace for students, faculty, and visiting artists, as well as a sophisticated video screening room.
Jon Radermacher, M.F.A., head of the media arts department in the School of Communications and Information Systems, says he hopes the house will help to build an arts culture on campus that will touch more than just the 175 undergraduates in his department. “Media arts is split in half, with TV/video and photography in Moon, and graphic design and Web design downtown,” Radermacher says. “The media arts house will not only be a space for artists to give master classes, but a place for design students to display their work. Right now design is ‘that program downtown.’ This will help to make media arts more visible and accessible to other students on the main campus.”
The new building is a strong vote of confidence for the design program, which has been housed in the downtown building that is now for sale. The 1,800- square-foot, three-story house will begin hosting visiting artists this month. Its workspace includes seating for 16 students, enough for most classes, which typically have fewer than 20 students. French doors let in plenty of natural light, an important feature for student artists typically confined to fluorescent-lit classrooms or studios. The main floor has a conference room, and wall space and video screens to display student work. The top floor is an apartment where a visiting artist can stay for a night or a semester.
The 20-seat ground floor screening room offers a high definition 65-inch screen and is available for any media arts class that needs it. Radermacher says he plans to schedule video game nights on the big screen to attract students from the nearby dorms to the house. “Lots of people are into gaming, but this will give us a chance to talk about the concepts behind the games,” Radermacher says. “Seeing beyond the surface and trying to understand what’s going on behind the scenes — that is what art is all about.”
Construction was made possible by a $200,000 grant from the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation. Foundation board member Christina Heasley-Treadwell ’91 is an independent communications professional who works in video production, Web design, marketing, and advertising. About eight years ago she began to reconnect with her alma mater. “RMU was applying for a grant at the foundation when I was asked to come out to the campus and take a look at how things have changed and were going to change over a 10-year period,” Heasley-Treadwell says. “In listening to the professors speak about their work and the students’ needs, and knowing about the Colonial Village, I thought it would be nice if the communications school could have its own building.” Heasley-Treadwell stresses that she abstained from voting when her board weighed RMU’s proposal against others. “We as a foundation would like to see the entire student body have more opportunities to experience the arts,” she adds.
“This enhances the campus’s ability to provide a place for focused advance studies in the media arts. It heightens the visibility and the accessibility of the arts on campus,” says Provost David Jamison, J.D., the former dean of the School of Communications and Information Systems.
And not just the physical accessibility, notes Radermacher. “I think for some people the arts are seen as something extra, not essential,” he says. “But the truth is, almost everything around us is touched by art: our clothes, our appliances. Because of this house, we now have opportunities to present that reality in ways that we didn’t before.”
RMU Media Arts House - A tour of the new Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation House for Media Arts at Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh. Prof. Jon Radermacher, M.F.A., is your guide.