Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on Friday received a $25 million donation from the Windgate Foundation to build and maintain the Windgate Hall of Art and Innovation that will anchor a planned Art & Innovation District.
This is the largest single gift in the university’s history, and it makes the foundation A-State’s largest single benefactor. The gift brings the Windgate Foundation’s support to “just under” $40 million, Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said during a news conference Friday afternoon in the Reng Student Union Auditorium.
Of the gift, $20 million will be spent on construction of the hall and the other $5 million will be spent on long-term maintenance, he said. The university said it will begin raising additional funds for the hall and the district, and formalizing those plans, next year. Groundbreakings and construction timelines have not been set for either project.
“We believe that art is part of every endeavor. The humanities is what makes us humans, and the arts are a huge part of humanities. The goal of the Windgate Hall of Art & Innovation is to create new opportunities that fuse together art, science, design and innovation – whether it's a bridge, a building or a business plan – when it’s excellent and elegant, we call it a work of art,” Damphousse said. “What Wingate Hall will do is bring together art and engineering, art and computer science, art and business, and art and anyone else who wants to join with art. There is going to be a lot of that happening now. And we now have a place to do it.”
Plans for the larger district project include renovating and updating several older buildings on campus, such as the fine arts, math, computer science and lab sciences buildings. Officials said the district will feature green space, bike and walking paths, outdoor art pieces and an amphitheater for performances and lectures.
Damphousse said, “We envision classrooms and lab spaces to hold courses across a wide range of disciplines. We want to create for students more than a state of art learning environment, but a new approach to innovation, discovery and learning.”
Those disciplines could include game and app design, virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as business analytics and product management, officials said at the conference.
The chancellors said in a news release, “The marketplace of tomorrow demands that we all have crossover skills. What we do today prepares students for a future economy that changes not every few years, but every few months.”
Damphousse added that this project aligns with the school’s #Discover2025 strategic plan that was approved about a year ago. He mentioned other projects for students, too, notably the renovation of the old bookstore into a hub that will provide 24/7 access to resources and places to meet and to study.
The College of Engineering & Computer Science and the College of Liberal Arts have partnered on the projects, and they plan to involve other colleges as well, including the Neil Griffin College of Business.
An example given was how the business college has worked with the liberal arts college’s Department of Art & Design on a proposed new digital innovation master’s degree program that will be submitted to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in early 2022. The ADHE will have to approve the program before it can be offered by A-State.
The $25 million gift follows the Windgate Foundation awarding a $6.4 million grant to A-State for arts education and needs-based scholarships in May and gifting $6.7 million last year for the 17,500-SF Center for Three-Dimensional Arts, which is expected to be completed in May.
Damphousse said the university continued speaking with the foundation after it funded that center, about A-State’s plans to do more. Discussions about the hall and district have been ongoing since February, he said.
The hall is the latest expansion for the university, which in 2019 opened the $58 million Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center. The same year, it completed construction of a two-level 66,500-SF football facility in Centennial Bank Stadium.
Friday’s announcement is also the latest in a series of multimillion-dollar Windgate contributions to higher education institutions, including a $30 million grant to the University of Arkansas for the second phase of its planned Windgate Art and Design District that was awarded in August.