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Watkins’ students host art gallery criticizing merger with Belmont

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

The walls are lined with photos of desolate art studios and classrooms, as well as sheets of paper that tower over the scene, smeared with grievances in black ink. Together, the sheets form a makeshift document.

“How Not to Save an Art School.”

The art was part of an installation criticizing the merger of Watkins College of Art with Belmont University, which was announced only five days earlier.

Milo Clark was one of more than 20 students who helped put together the event, helping decorate the exterior of a rental truck with defiant banners and Watkins-branded posters with sad-face emoticons rendered in charcoal — all part of a three-hour pop-up showcase titled “In Good Faith: How Not To Save An Art School.”

Following the announcement and a subsequent town hall meeting at Watkins, students there grew increasingly worried about the merger and what it would do to their community, Clark said.

“It’s like when mom and dad suddenly announce, ‘Hey, we’re getting a divorce!’” he said.

One Watkins student at the event, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid potential backlash from Belmont’s administration, said that moving from a smaller, secular university to a larger, Christian one could present unique challenges.

“Imagine if someone were to, all of a sudden, drag you out of your school and put you in a Satanic school, for instance,” said the student. “How would you fit in and get along? And would you feel safe, and have all your needs met?”

The student said that while they took no issue with Belmont’s values, they were concerned that a Christian school may censor art that didn’t align with its values.

“It’s nothing personal about Belmont, either, Belmont is its own organization. They have their own ideas and morals and I think that’s honorable, but to be plucked out and then be told what you’re supposed to do, it’s just concerning.”

The gallery’s centerpiece was a TV screen displaying clips from a recent town hall-style Q&A between Watkins students and Belmont Provost Dr. Thomas Burns, as well as Watkins President Dr. Joseph Kline.

The clips included comments from Dr. Burns as well as audio of a Watkins student crying.

Watkins senior Mia Jones said she was concerned that the culture at Belmont may be less welcoming and encouraging for students — particularly for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Going to Belmont, that’s a completely different atmosphere,” Jones said. “Students who need that extra support or that extra push, they won’t get it, you know. That would really strongly affect their future.”

Another student, who also asked to stay anonymous, said that if Watkins students could stop the merger from happening, they would.

“I think it’s pretty obvious … that if we were given an opportunity to save our school, that would have happened.”

Photos by Justin Wagner.

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