The art department at East Central College no longer looks like an automotive center.

As students milled about the newly renovated space, there were very few reminders that for more than 20 years the art department was housed in space that was originally used by the automotive technology, building construction and welding programs.

The space was never renovated for the specific needs of the art program until now.

Adam Watkins, ECC fine arts and graphic design program coordinator, said each post-renovation space focuses on unique health and safety needs.

“I think it helps show that East Central College can be a cultural beacon in the area,” Watkins said.

Before, two large studios were cordoned off with shelves and supplies. Sheetrock was propped up against shelves to serve as makeshift walls.

Now, the large garage doors and air hoses have been removed and the open space has been converted for students and staff who are part of the department.

Other renovations include a new HVAC system, all new electrical, new audio/visual equipment, some new furniture, ventilation and exhaust systems, as well as insulation.

“The main thing was segmenting the space, each area having a purpose, and the safety and constraints that go with that purpose,” said Sean Barton, instructor.

Total cost of the renovation project was $359,000, although the actual cash outlay was less since ECC facilities staff did much of the work.

The college also received $139,578 in reimbursement from the state in maintenance and repair funds.

“We have a really great lighting system set up now,” said Jennifer Higerd, gallery coordinator and art instructor at ECC. Students can direct light on their subject as they see fit, she noted.

The lights are LED, which means they’re high efficiency and lower cost, Watkins pointed out.

Student storage, including both lockers and shelving, is now available, so work is less likely to get ruined by being moved from place to place as students need the space.

About 15 instructors use the space for more than a dozen classes each semester. This semester, about 190 students are enrolled in an art class.

Prior to the renovation, teachers made a “wish list” and met with engineers with suggestions on the space.

“We helped plan the efficient use of the space,” Higerd said.


In addition to a more useful space, instructors said they were pleased with the safety aspect of the project.

“The biggest thing is we have a healthy, safe place to work,” Higerd said. “We have proper ventilation. We’re able to contain (dust and debris) and students are learning that this is the appropriate safety protocol for the area they want to study.”

“We’ve been modeling best practices in art, and the way that the studio is built now really helps us do that,” Watkins said.

Students are enjoying the new space, Watkins said, especially those who used the space before the renovation.

“Because it is new, because it is clean, because it is organized — there’s more of a sense of respect for the space as far as their work,” Barton said. “Students have this subconscious caring now. They’re respecting the space, which means they’re respecting each other more and respecting their work more in general.”


The art department is working toward NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) accreditation for the fine art and graphic programs, which instructors say shows parody with the curriculum and courses at ECC to other nationally recognized institutions.

Accreditation will help students when they transfer, Watkins said.

The department is currently in the “self-study” phase of the application. A site visit is scheduled for April.

ECC officials will learn in October if accreditation has been awarded.


The art department heads give a special salute to Mark Eaton, who directed the renovation and Kelly Rinne, head carpenter.

They also singled out Jean McCann, vice president of instruction, and Dr. Jon Bauer, college president, for “continuing the arts and pushing the project forward.”

“Jean McCann has been and continues to be an avid supporter of the art department and was key in pushing the forward progress of this project,” Watkins said. “Her actions are always guided by what is in the best interest for the students and faculty at ECC.”