The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
It’s not about black. And, it’s not about white or other. Johnson C. Smith University is about urban diversity, coming together for a better future of growth and success for its students and the surrounding communities. At the forefront of this change is its new arts curriculum and the “Arts Factory.”
Johnson C. Smith University is an “urban, independent university” a stone’s throw from uptown Charlotte. And, it is experiencing a renaissance. Like Charlotte’s own growing arts reputation, it’s fitting that the beginning of Johnson C. Smith University’s main campus expansion was the new off-campus arts teaching facility called the Arts Factory.
The Arts Factory is inviting and easily seen driving up W. Trade St. from I77. It is a 14,000-square-foot facility for students majoring in visual and performing arts and features a black box theater and dance studio, as well as work spaces for art and graphic design students. This is a new area of study for the university. The Visual + Performing Arts major has five areas of concentration: theatre, dance, graphic art, film and studio art.
With the guidance of the professional faculty and the new arts facility, students can perform, exhibit and produce their own artwork. During this spring semester, there are already collaborations underway with other arts professionals in the Charlotte area. Later this year, the community will be able to enjoy performances that will showcase the arts at Johnson C. Smith University.
Dr. Ronald L. Carter, the 13th president of Johnson C. Smith University, has been instrumental in this new direction. Carter originally envisioned the Arts Factory as being the launching pad for the revitalization effort of the Northwest Corridor of Charlotte. Driving up W. Trade, one can see this change, growth and diversity right before their very eyes.
Johnson C. Smith University received a $35 million grant from The Duke Endowment. In addition to ground-breakings for different campus developments, with this major grant, the university will be able to assist more students by extending $4.5 million in scholarship funds to international students, as well as those majoring in science, technology, visual and performing arts and social work.
With a history of being a predominately black university, Johnson C. Smith University has begun a major transformation. And, it’s bringing the surrounding neighborhood right up with it. The Arts Factory is only one of many physical transformations. The arts are an excellent manifestation of several core-guiding principles: Academic excellence, diversity, community engagement and distinctive student experiences.
In bringing these changes, the university is attracting students of different countries, races, ages and ideologies so its campus mirrors the diverse global community. By embracing diversity, Carter believes we can learn the qualities that attract people to a cause and use their engagement as a catalyst for our greater well being. The arts have a long history of bringing together communities and diverse populations, as well as problem solving around social issues.