In the wake of budget cuts that have left little room for programs in the arts, EKU has recently undergone the revitalization of its ceramics program with the hopes of increasing general interest in the art department overall.
The ceramics program is one of the three-dimensional areas in the department that students can focus on for the Bachelors of Fine Arts degree (BFA). The program aim is to encourage students to express themselves through their art by teaching them to work with clay and emphasizing why this medium is important, according to art.eku.edu.
Benjamin Cirgin, the assistant professor of ceramics, has been placed at the helm of the project. According to eku.edu, Cirgin plans to improve enrollment rates to the arts programs by offering more one-on-one help to students and providing more career advice to students department-wide.
Graphic art and studio art are the two areas of the art department. Cirgin works primarily with studio art students. After the basic core courses, students can choose a concentration of metal working, printmaking, painting, photography or ceramics.
“You can have any of those concentrations if you’re a studio art major,” Cirgin said.
Cirgin said he is excited for what the program will do for the students. “Our students are amazing, everyone is excited to come to school and learn about art and design.”
As he just started teaching here in August, Cirgin said it’s hard to say how much the program has progressed, but he says he has already seen improvement in the short time he has been here.
“This is only my second semester so far and I know that we’ve already doubled the amount of students taking the class this semester, at least with ceramics.”
Cirgin sees himself mainly improving on what he already views as a strong ceramics program. “Mainly what I’m trying to do is open up the studio more… and making it student accessible,” Cirgin said. “We just did a bunch of reorganizing in the studio so that everyone could work more efficiently and a little bit better. And updating the equipment, fixing the things that we have instead of scrapping it all and buying new stuff. We actually have a lot of great stuff here.”
According to art.eku.edu, some of the equipment the department has access to includes electric potter’s wheels, slab rollers, clay extruders, storage for clay and glazes, a kiln and drying rooms. These tools can be used for students to focus on a wide variety of practices like throwing techniques, glaze formulations, surface applications and decoration, experimental techniques and research in glazing and firing.
Cirgin said that in the future, he would like to tweak the course work a bit and focus on artistic practices as a whole. “I think what I would like to do is focus less on trying to make ceramic artists out of everyone who’s a ceramic major, but more give them opportunities to work in as many studio areas as possible.”
Cirgin would like to transform the program into an all-encompassing class that incorporates printmaking, painting and other concentrations with the ceramics program so that the students come away from it with a broader skill set.
“My idea with education and the arts especially in college is to introduce you to as many processes as possible, so when you go out into the real world and you get a job working and doing things, you know how to go get the thing that you want to make done.”
These skills are applicable in other areas, Cirgin argued, even if students choose not to focus on a career specifically centered in the arts.
“One of the big things that I’m trying to teach here is that getting an art degree is kind of like thinking about starting a small business, because you are the person who’s going to generate the money. You have to generate the product, you have to have the ideas,” Cirgin said. “So I guess my thing is how to prepare people to go out and do not just one thing really well, but have the opportunity to do a lot of things.”
Cirgin said that his biggest support in resurrecting this program has been the help of his coworkers. “I’m really grateful to have the support from Ida [Ida Kumoji, the chair of the department of art and design] and the other faculty members to update things and make it a little easier for students to get to.” He said he hopes this program will increase general interest in the department overall.
Elissa Conkwright, a fifth year senior from Paducah, KY and double major with sociology and a BFA, said she really enjoys being a part of the ceramics program. “I’m in art because I did a lot of major travels. I went through social work and then through child development and I ended up in sociology and art. Art is fundamental to every major in some way, shape or fashion.”
This is her first ceramics class, however, Conkwright has taken a previous 3D design course with Cirgin and said that he implemented some of the ceramic techniques and principles in that class as well. “I like the hands-on experience,” she said.
Eventually, Conkwright wants to use her degrees for art therapy. “You’re working with your hands, it’s very expressive and you’re very connected to clay and ceramics, it’s a very personal thing to make something with your hands. We’re in it to make something that matters … something that lasts.”
Conkwright said that she thinks the ceramics program is an integral part of the department as a whole. “I think you need ceramics, I don’t think you can have an art department without it, it’s a fundamental part of art.”
Kumoji said that the new faculty and integrated technology shows how applicable ceramics can be, can build the program to be stronger and help students and parents see that these skills can translate into a real job. “When they graduate, they will have skills that not only apply to that media, but can apply to other areas as well,” Kumoji said.
Kumoji is also optimistic for the future of the program. “All of our 3D areas are doing very well with the revamp of curriculum,” Kumoji said. “I see better prospects for the program. I see the students are very interested in the way the curriculum is designed, it gives them more options to explore the areas they want to go into.”
While she hopes the program increases interest in the department, Kumoji is currently unsure just exactly how many students are enrolled in the arts program here at EKU. “I think we’ll get to see that at the end of the year … students are more interested and the classes are filled.”
Beginning in Fall 2019, the department plans to integrate a Bachelors of Science degree in the arts to make classes more accessible for non-majors or students who switch majors.
“We used to have a BA with options in liberal arts and art education, but when we revised our curriculum, we created a BS in studio art and we have a BFA in art education, studio art and graphic design so we’ve revised both degrees.”
The BS program will allow for more electives than the BA, allowing students to get through the program easier and in less time. “We still have the same program, but with the BS in studio art, we now have more free electives that students can integrate into the program and graduate in three or even four years.”
“We’re trying to open up to be more inclusive to other majors and who we’re trying to participate with.” Cirgin said about the new degree program. “We want to make it accessible to more people if they want to take classes in art and design.”
With the influx of these new programs, the head of the department is hopeful for the future of the arts program at EKU. “I’m excited that the program is doing well … I’m happy that the department is moving forward,” Kumoji said.