Southeast Expanding River Campus with New Art Complex


Southeast’s ceramics program at 835 Broadway will relocate to the new art complex.

Southeast Missouri State University announces plans to expand its River Campus with a new art complex to house its ceramics, sculpture and painting programs, creating a “gateway to the arts” in downtown Cape Girardeau.

Via a public-private partnership, Southeast will expand its River Campus footprint through renovation and expansion of a facility at 340 S. Frederick. The University is working with the property owners, Scott and Lisa Blank of Cape Girardeau, through a lease-purchase agreement. The new art complex will be located in the former Cape Restaurant Supply, just blocks from Southeast’s River Campus, home to the University’s Holland College of Arts and Media.

“The River Campus is an amazing place for our visual and performing art students,” said Rhonda Weller-Stilson, dean of the Holland College of Arts and Media. “However, there are several areas of the visual arts still on or near the main campus. By moving ceramics, sculpture, and painting together near the River Campus, freshmen and sophomores will interact with upperclassmen.  Faculty collaborations will expand, because of proximity and shared working spaces.  This project also will address accreditation recommendations from our last site visit.”

Southeast’s sculpture program has resulted in this student-created sculpture, “Pangolin Curl” next to Broadway Pharmacy at 710 Broadway.

The River Campus expansion project is part of the University Master Plan approved by the Southeast Board of Regents in December 2018. It is also one of the Holland College of Arts and Media’s strategic initiatives and will help meet guidance from the accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which has recommended the University consolidate its physical spaces housing its Department of Art and Design programs.

When the River Campus opened in 2007, Southeast’s ceramics and sculpture programs, and its upper-level painting classes and studio spaces, remained on the main campus and were not relocated to the new facilities due to space limitations. The new arts complex on South Frederick will bring many of Southeast’s art and design students together in one location, including sculpture and upper level painting currently housed in Serena on the main campus, lower level painting now at the River Campus and the ceramics studio at 835 Broadway.

Weller-Stilson said, “the University is grateful for the partnership with Scott and Lisa Blank, and look forward to developing this art complex.”

Scott Blank said he and his wife Lisa are honored to work with Southeast faculty and staff and others at the University on this exciting and transformative project.

“We are focused on delivery in three areas for the River Campus — retention, recruitment and exposure,” he said. “These new facilities will serve as the ‘gateway’ to the River Campus from the west entrance, and, when completed, they will look fantastic, and will be very attractive to prospective students. To say we are excited about this project would be an understatement. This ‘gem’ will shine brighter together, once completed.”

Associate Professor of Painting and Exhibitions Coordinator Justin Miller, right, provides guidance to a student with his painting.

The building will provide spaces for ceramics; a variety of sculpture – woodworking, metals, 3D materials and mixed media – and painting; a shared plaster room; a “clean” classroom where 3D printers and a variety of technology will be available for students to view mock-ups and model work; and a student gallery. Also included will be an outdoor patio space where students can work on large ceramics and outdoor sculpture pieces.

Chris Wubbena, professor of art and sculpture area head, said, “the new building will help grow the sculpture program at Southeast, building on the successes already achieved over the last 10 years, while offering more opportunities for students to explore various sculpture-making processes within a larger space designed with art-making specifically in mind.

“The new building will also bring sculpture, ceramics, and painting closer with the other art and design disciplines already located on the River Campus, providing greater faculty collaboration and growth,” Wubbena said.

Southeast’s painting program is currently co-located on both the main campus and the River Campus.

“The new art facility will provide an introductory painting studio and an advanced painting studio in the same building, helping to unify this program,” said Justin Miller, associate professor of painting and exhibitions coordinator. “I am excited for beginning level students to be able to walk a few steps and see what upper-level students are working on. I believe this will help encourage student mentorship and collaboration. The hope is that we will also be able to use this facility as a hub for new initiatives such as public art and mural painting.”

Benjie Heu, professor of art and area head of ceramics, said the building also offers great potential for ceramics students

A student sculpture titled “Caduceus” was dedicated last summer at 1304 Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

“It will allow students to do many things not currently offered, such as mixing their own clay and building their own kilns,” he said. “It will also be incredible to be neighbors with painting and sculpture and the entire River Campus community.”

Southeast officials and the property owners are currently working with the Lawrence Group, which is providing architectural services. Renovation work on the South Frederick structure could begin this spring, with the first phase potentially opening in fall 2021.

In order to enhance and expand the vision of this facility, private funding will be necessary to help support this project, Weller-Stilson said. She expressed appreciation to an arts task force formed three years ago that has been instrumental in the early planning for this facility. The task force – comprising community members and Southeast faculty, staff and alumni — has spearheaded two Artrageous fundraisers to help support this project.

The new art complex also is expected to significantly enhance recruitment and retention of visual arts students, Weller-Stilson said.

The consolidation of Southeast’s painting, ceramics and sculpture programs at the new Frederick Street location also offers opportunities on the main campus by freeing up space to serve the needs of other academic programs.