The KU Spencer Museum of Art’s “Wall Drawing 519” by Sol LeWitt was reinstalled, on loan, on the first floor of Capital Federal Hall, home to the University of Kansas School of Business. (©2016 The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
Most business schools aren’t known for their art collections, but the University of Kansas School of Business in Lawrence has made art a central part of its culture. Thanks to a gift from donors, our school has purchased more than 120 works of art to display in hallways and public spaces throughout the business school’s 166,500-square-foot home, Capitol Federal Hall.
The art accentuates the building’s design and “adds elements of creativity and energy to the school’s environment,” says our dean L. Paige Fields.
The idea for the art collection originated with the former dean of the School of Business, Neeli Bendapudi, who in April became the president of the University of Louisville. During Capitol Federal Hall’s construction, a group of KU business alumni expressed interest in contributing to a fund in Bendapudi’s name as a way to recognize her impact on the school. She requested that the fund be used to purchase and showcase significant works of art. In this way, noted Bendapudi, the business school would express the necessity for creative minds in business.
More than 120 works are on display throughout Capitol Federal Hall,
accentuating the building’s innovative design. (Photo by Meg Kumin,
courtesy of University of Kansas/Marketing Communications. Photo
by Meg Cumin.)
In 2015, the school formed an art selection committee to carry out her request. Its members included two alumni from the advisory board of the School of Business, its development director, its staff liaison, the dean emeritus of the KU School of Architecture and Design, the director of KU’s Spencer Museum of Art, and a Lawrence-based artist. As its first task, the committee established the art collection’s mission: to enrich the environment and lives of KU students beyond the classroom by creating a window to the world beyond business.
In the year leading up to the building’s opening in May 2016, the committee sought out art created by artists from Kansas or with connections to the state or KU—many works were created by alumni, faculty, or faculty emeriti of KU. The committee’s intent was to align the business school’s art collection with the university’s mission of providing service to the state.
The school works with Dolphin Frames and Haw Contemporary Gallery in Kansas City, whose staff helps us ensure the works are installed and displayed correctly. As of June 2018, the collection included works by nearly 50 artists.
Perhaps one of the most prominent pieces is “Wall Drawing 519,” an 80-foot-by-11-foot work by minimalist and conceptual artist Sol LeWitt on loan from the Spencer Museum of Art. The work faces Capitol Federal Hall’s central atrium on the first floor and can be seen from Naismith Drive, the street running along the west side of the building. The installation previously was on view at the Spencer Museum from November 2014 to April 2015.
LeWitt provided instructions for installing the large-scale piece, which features a red square on a yellow background, a blue circle on a red background, and a yellow triangle on a blue background. Led by a representative of the LeWitt Estate, a team took more than two weeks to install the vibrant work in Capitol Federal Hall.
Some School of Business faculty have incorporated the art collection into their classrooms, including John Hedeman, director of the school’s Business Leadership Program. Hedeman asks his students to select works of art from the collection that they believe represent their leadership styles and then asks them to explain how and why.
In addition, the collection provides members of our b-school community with opportunities to interact with others on the KU campus. Students from various disciplines—even those who aren’t taking business courses—frequently visit Capitol Federal Hall to view the artwork. During the spring 2017 and spring 2018 semesters, two graduate-level Museum Studies courses developed projects focused on the School of Business art collection. As part of these projects, Museum Studies students worked with our art committee to refine its collections management policy, make suggestions about the placement and potential rotation of works, conduct condition reports, develop procedures for documenting educational uses of the collection, and draft forms to help with the organization and management of the collection, among other tasks.
"Punch Line" is a work by Janet Davidson-Hues, who earned her master’s
in fine arts from KU. Her installation hangs in a large study area in Capitol
Federal Hall called the Incubator, or The Hive. Each glove carries a different
message in the form of a cliché that originated in the boxing world.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Kansas/Marketing Communications.)
The school’s art committee also recently met with the chair of KU’s Kress Foundation Department of Art History to discuss collaborative projects, including creating educational materials about the artworks and artists in the collection.
“It is exciting to consider the possibilities that our art collection holds in regard to generating collaborative opportunities with other departments across campus,” Fields says. “Interdisciplinary projects between business and creative fields can promote the sharing of insights about innovation, entrepreneurship, and problem solving—all skills that we emphasize in the School of Business.”
We invite the public to our school to view the art collection—anyone can come in to view the art during the hours that the building is open. Meanwhile, our art committee meets every three or four months to discuss new acquisitions. Occasionally artists reach out to members directly, but most often, artists and their work are proposed by a committee member.
We are proud that our art collection has come to play such an important role in our activities. It helps us accomplish three main objectives: It enhances the school’s culture and curriculum by provoking creative thought; it portrays the school’s values and mission through careful curation of materials; and it celebrates both the local heartland and the global aspirations of the KU School of Business.
Lauren Cunningham is communications director for the University of Kansas School of Business in Lawrence.
To read more about business schools that are integrating art into their curricula, read “Putting Art at the Heart of Business Education” from BizEd’s May/June issue.