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​Top: An aerial view of the new art garden, which was completed in the fall. (Photo
by Lena Carroll ’15)
Below: Lynn M. Curtis, assistant professor of drawing, instructs students on
observing natural forms in new art garden classroom. (Photo by Eric Sung,
associate professor of photography)

New Outdoor Classrooms Enhance Teaching, Learning

A new art garden constructed behind Hunt-Cavanagh Hall is an experimental outdoor classroom that will serve as a learning laboratory for Providence College students.

Professors of studio arts such as drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, and photography can take classes to the garden, which was completed this fall and serves as a nature lab for students, said Dr. Joan R. Branham, professor of art history and chair of the Department of Art and Art History.

Campus officials and department members developed the plans over four years and worked with architects the last two years to prepare the site in the northeast corner of Hunt-Cavanagh, a T-shaped building on PC’s East Campus.

The planners researched plants, trees, and shrubs that create interesting natural forms for drawing, painting, and photographing.

“This is really a place for setting up easels, taking classes outside,” Branham said.

One circular area features a harder landscaped surface made of compacted gravel that will support easels and art. The plantings radiate out, Branham said, partially shielding the view of the parking lot behind. The new garden also preserves several existing mature evergreen trees, she said.

The garden also will be “a really beautiful multifunctional space for communal gatherings,” Branham said. The Department of Art and Art History regularly hosts Gallery Night Providence events as well as celebrations when new exhibits open on campus. The garden has night lighting to accommodate those activities, she said. Photos of the construction of the new art garden in progress can be viewed on the department’s Facebook page.

This construction is the first phase of a plan to improve the aesthetics of the area around Hunt-Cavanagh Hall. A sinuous path from the garden will connect to the path in front of the hall, where bricks and paving stones will be installed, as well as a labyrinth, Branham said. 

Learning outdoors

In addition to the new garden, several other outdoor instructional spaces have been constructed or are being planned on the College’s Main Campus, said Mark F. Rapoza ’90SCE, assistant vice president for capital projects and facilities planning.

The College recently built a seating area between Aquinas and Moore halls where classes can be held in good weather. Now, professors can assemble with their students on wooden benches and on a low, circular wall. Memorial bricks purchased by alumni will be installed there as well.

In addition, two informal outdoor classroom spaces will be created in conjunction with the Ruane Center for the Humanities, which is scheduled to open in September 2013. One will be an amphitheater-style seating area between the Phillips Memorial Library and the Ruane Center.

The committee that developed the academic program for the Ruane Center submitted the idea for the outdoor space as one of the features it felt should be included, said Charles J. Haberle, assistant vice president for academic affairs. “We see people sitting outside in public spaces,” he said. “In this case, it was done more purposefully … and set up in a way that is hopefully conducive to classroom discussion.”

The amphitheater could seat as many as 40 to 50 students, Rapoza said. 

A bioswale, which filters water and runoff, also will be constructed on the west side of the Albertus Magnus-Hickey-Sowa science complex through the stormwater management plan mandated by the Narragansett Bay Commission as part of the construction of the Ruane Center. The plantings will be coordinated so it could serve as an outdoor laboratory, Rapoza said.

“This gives us an opportunity to not only make it aesthetically pleasing but also to introduce an educational, programmatic component that just makes sense,” Rapoza said.

— Liz F. Kay


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