Displayed prominently on the wall of Tuttleman Counseling Center hangs a disturbing image of a restless adult being pulled from a child-like and pristine landscape. The interpretive exhibit belongs to Tyler student Donn Williams and addresses the relocation beginning fall 2006 of Tyler’s Elkins Park Campus to Main Campus.
We keep hearing all this buzz about the creation of a “mini-arts campus.” The grand introduction of a rural art school meets cosmopolitan opportunity, but this image does not seem to capture the pleasant experience. So what exactly does the move mean for everyone involved?
The new Tyler School of Art will be situated at 12th and Norris streets next door to the Esther Boyer College of Music, close to the architecture building and adjacent to the School of Communications and Theater. Just the set-up of these separate colleges foretells promising interdisciplinary projects, integrated studies, and comprehensive research of the arts.
Tyler students will have the best of the university’s networking and marketing capabilities at their immediate disposal in addition to an urban springboard that offers multiple professional outlets for their work.
Students currently enrolled at Main Campus will clearly benefit by the move as well. Those who take architecture, art, art education and art history may now have the opportunity to participate in any of the major areas of study Tyler offers, including ceramics and glass, photography and printmaking. Art students and other interested people within the university will be able to access lectures and exhibits by renowned professors, visiting artists and students in addition to partaking in other intercollegiate activities.
Despite these obvious advantages, an article in The Temple News last February reported on the hesitancy of Tyler students on the prospect of confronting the relocation and its implications for urbanization. According to them, Tyler’s campus embodies a familiar, small-art-school feel that Main Campus could not possibly replicate.
“There really is no point,” said junior transfer student Richard Wren. “Art students want to come here, not to Main Campus. If I wanted to be in the city, I’d go to University of the Arts.”
When Stella Elkins Tyler donated her 14-acre estate in 1935, the freshman class consisted of 12 students under the single direction of her sculptor instructor, Boris Blai. She envisioned a secluded environment where artistic creativity thrived in naturalism. The school’s origin relies on this small school familiarity and the progressive educational philosophies of John Dewey, an American educator.
Tyler students fear the anonymity they may encounter on a large university campus. They are also concerned about the loss of naturalistic landscape, stifled creativity and the intrusion of other urban elements. Donn Williams’ exhibit attempts to portray the discomfort of leaving home.
Main Campus students, on the other hand, are worried about the prospective move of accommodating 1,000 more students and their faculty for practical reasons.
“I’d like to know how they’re going to materialize more residence halls and parking lots for these people in a year’s time,” said one student. “Crowding on campus is going to be a nightmare.”
Without debate, a consolidation of Main Campus will be an advantageous move for the university as an expansive educational institution and for the entire area of North Philadelphia.
Tyler Elkins Park, though, has a unique history and identity that remains independent from the university at large. The school’s distinct location and educational philosophies are what draw students there in the first place. Ultimately, only the test of time will prove whether or not Tyler School of Art is just a location or an “amalgamation of people, programs and spirit” that will distinguish itself wherever it goes.
Erin Cusack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.