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Belmont to merge with neighbor art institute Watkins College of Art
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Belmont to merge with neighbor art institute Watkins College of Art


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Belmont University has reached an agreement to merge with Watkins College of Art, Dr. Bob Fisher announced Tuesday morning alongside Watkins President Dr. Joseph Kline.

Belmont will establish the new Watkins College of Art, welcoming visual arts students from the original Watkins institution into Belmont beginning in the Fall 2020 semester, Fisher said.

“I believe art graduates are going to be uniquely positioned to thrive in this coming era,” Fisher said. “Their creativity, their innovative thinking, their problem-solving skills and abilities fit right into the entrepreneurial spirit of Belmont.”

While visual arts students join the new Watkins College of Art, Watkins film students will be able to enroll at the Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business, and Watkins interior design students will be able to enroll in the O’More College of Design.

The Watkins operation will move to the Leu Center of Visual Arts, and Watkins’ home campus will be sold. The revenues from that sale will go into a permanently restricted endowment to benefit all current and future students of the Watkins College of Art.

Dr. Bob Fisher and Dr. Joseph Kline. Photo by Henry Gregson.

Former Watkins students, as well as the incoming class for the fall semester, will be eligible for scholarships funded by the endowment from the property sale, according to the press release. 

There are currently around 150-200 students enrolled at Watkins, according to Belmont’s Office of Communications.  

“Actually, our enrollment projections for next year are good,” Kline said. “They’re up 25 percent year over year, but you know, folks need to figure out what they want to do, where they want to go. I met with the students for the first time today and assured them, ‘this is actually going to make your educational experience better.’”

James Pierce, the current chair of the art department, will become the first dean of the Watkins College of Art, and Kline will join Belmont as a special consultant to guide the transition at Fisher’s request.

Watkins is one of only 29 independent art schools accredited by the National Society of Schools of Art, Fisher said.

Both presidents spoke to the motivating factors of the merger as well as the anticipated results.

“In today’s educational environment, obviously, let’s address it – it is becoming more and more difficult for small colleges, particularly specialized like ours, to perpetuate themselves,” Kline said. “We have done that for 135 years. We have had many iterations. I assure you, with all sincerity, this is the best one we’re ever going to have. Hopefully this is the last one we’re ever going to have.”

Fisher expects exciting results for students who see the products of the merger.

“I think you’re going to see some really cool equipment come over here next year,” Fisher said. “We’ve got cool equipment already, but they’ve got some great equipment that will be coming. But most importantly, they’re going to be around some students from Watkins that I think are going to lift us all to a higher level.”

Fisher said he understands that some may be confused by the change, but he expects that those affected by the merger will find positive results.

“We found that there always is an initial reaction that says, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for,’” Fisher said. “But I do hope that over time, once they come over, once they tour our facilities, once we have a chance to meet with them, that a huge percentage of those students are going to say, ‘yeah, I want to come to Belmont.’”

Article written by Evan Dorian. Photo courtesy of Belmont Office of Communications.

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