Belmont University recently closed on the sale of the former Watkins College of Art property to a joint venture of affiliates of Chartwell Residential LLC and EJF Capital LLC for $22.5 million. As planned when the Belmont-Watkins merger was announced last year, net funds from the sale of the Rosa Parks Boulevard campus will create an endowment to provide scholarships for visual arts students in Belmont’s Watkins College of Art. The Watkins College of Art at Belmont Scholarship Endowment will be used exclusively to provide need and merit-based scholarships for students studying the visual arts. The endowed fund is expected to produce more than $800,000 annually for arts scholarships upon maturation.
Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “The scholarships funded by this endowment will enable Watkins College of Art at Belmont to attract exceptionally talented aspiring artists, giving them a well-rounded education in the midst of a vibrant and creative arts community, both on this campus and within Nashville. Already a top tier institution in numerous fields—including music, health care and entrepreneurship—these scholarships will further elevate Belmont’s visual arts programs to an international level.”
“From research done by Belmont’s Development team, we believe the sale of this property will create one of the nation’s largest arts endowments to be used exclusively for student scholarships,” added Watkins College of Art Dean James Pierce. “That’s a game changer for us, as having such scholarships available to aspiring artists will propel our program into being a clear leader in art and graphic design education. Belmont and Watkins arts programs have drawn top talent to Nashville for years. Now the combined legacy of these programs united with the opportunities this endowment will bring represents a true gift that will impact the art world for generations to come.”
In the inaugural year of the new merger, Belmont’s Watkins College of Art consists of 143 majors, 5 MFA students and 17 full-time faculty and staff, along with another 94 students holding a minor within the Watkins College. Though public exhibitions weren’t possible this year due to the pandemic, Watkins students have access to multiple galleries to display their work and be inspired by visiting artists, including the Leu Art Gallery, Gallery 121, Meaders Student Gallery and the Wedgewood-Houston Gallery at The Packing Plant. Moreover, the students and faculty at Watkins continue to demonstrate their talents and creativity virtually through significant award recognitions, media placements and innovative online exhibits.
The Watkins College of Art at Belmont University is a fully accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and recognizes the importance of a comprehensive art education by offering programs relevant to a range of traditional artistic disciplines and encouraging creativity, practice and scholarship. Programs of study in Art History, Art Education, Design Communications, Experiential Design, Illustration, Photography and Studio Art as well as new graduate programs (Master of Fine Arts) integrate experiences in perennial foundational skills with emerging concepts and technologies for students desiring to pursue the visual arts as a profession or as a focus for graduate studies. Watkins College of Art also hosts a dynamic Community Education program with courses, workshops and camps for students of all ages and skills taught by practicing artists.
The Watkins Institute opened in 1885, following the death of entrepreneur Samuel Watkins, who in his will left $100,000 and downtown property on what is now Church Street for the establishment of a school that would teach the “business of life” to people in need. The transition of Watkins Institute to a full college began in 1977 when the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) approved associate degrees in fine art and interior design. Later years saw the additions of bachelor programs in film, interior design, photography, graphic design and fine art.
More recently, changing demographics resulted in economic challenges for small independent colleges, and particularly for limited program institutions such as art colleges, causing Watkins to pursue strategic alternatives. That process resulted, in early 2020, in negotiations that resulted in the Watkins College of Art and Belmont University boards unanimously approving a merger of the two institutions. The new Watkins College of Art at Belmont preserves the college’s long-held mission of advancing culture through the illuminating power of art, while opening new doors for students that were previously not available to them.