Before the silver ceremonial shovels broke the earth to officially begin construction of the College’s visual arts center March 27, Franklin & Marshall President Daniel R. Porterfield thanked and praised the pacesetting donors, Susan and Ben Winter ’67, seated before him.
“[They are] visionaries in the arts and education who understand that remarkable spaces clear the mind and kindle fire; challenging their occupants to reach higher, try harder, go farther,” Porterfield said. “Your love and generosity have made this awe-inspiring visual arts center possible.”
Ben Winter is principal of The Winter Organization, a leading real estate investment management business focused on the New York metropolitan area, and a vice chair of F&M’s Board of Trustees. He and Susan Winter, a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, are avid art collectors and patrons of many visual and performing arts organizations.
“I believe a liberal arts curriculum is the foundation of a broad education,” Ben Winter said. “This new building will provide the opportunity to not only make art in its many forms, but also will allow the integration of art and art history into other courses, and I hope a real academic synthesis will result.”
Funding for the $28 million center began in 2016 with the Winters’ $10 million gift – the single largest from an alumnus in F&M’s history. The couple also helped fund the initial exploratory phase of the project in 2015.
Under a large white tent filled with F&M benefactors, administrators, staff, faculty, students and alumni, Board Chair Sue Washburn ’73 quoted an article by novelist Claire Messud, “Art has the power to alter our interior selves, and in so doing to inspire, exhilarate, provoke, connect and rouse us. … If ever there was a time for art, it’s now.”
Architect of the Winter Visual Arts Center, the world-renowned Steven Holl, said as he conceptualized the project, he first considered one of the College’s two founders, Benjamin Franklin and one of his pastimes.
“The first sketch was me thinking about Ben Franklin’s kite, getting electricity somehow, stuck in the trees,” he said.
Holl, whose New York-based architectural firm designs museums and building complexes across the United States and in such far-flung locales as Helsinki, Beijing, London and Prague, said the campus trees provided a central idea for the design.
The new visual arts building, its kite-like design rising into the campus’s leafy canopy, is almost double the size of the Herman Arts Building, now being demolished. Its four levels will feature studios for art and photography, classroom space, two small galleries, a film laboratory, and a cinema-screening auditorium and lecture hall. The center is scheduled to open the fall of 2019.
From conception to completion, Holl said, buildings designed by his firm took an average of eight years. “Here, in less than five years, we’re going to see this building completed; it’s going to go very fast,” he said. “Groundbreaking, for me, is like a sacred act; when the shovel breaks the earth, it’s a sacred cut in the earth.”