Storm during opening art exhibition “Coded_Couture” exposes structural problems in WSU art buildings

What started as the Ulrich Museum of Art’s opening art exhibition Friday night quickly turned into an exhibition of the structural problems of the art buildings on campus.

“Coded_Couture,” an exhibition featuring 10 international artists’ and designers’ work, opened to the public at 7 p.m. in the Ulrich to a crowd of nearly 500 people.

By 8:20 p.m., a storm had rolled into Wichita and showered the area with rain. A leak in the ceiling of one gallery and water pooling under the doors on the first floor of the museum caused Bob Workman, director of the museum, to close the galleries and move the reception to McKnight Hall. About 8 inches of rain fell in the Wichita area between Friday night and Saturday morning.

Workman said the museum had to take artwork off a wall in one gallery and they will be rehung when the gallery is cleaned. The museum’s art vault, which protects artwork not on display, has its own independent climate system and leak detection. The pieces in the vault were completely secure, he said.

“My concern was that water got into the elevator shaft at the first floor and I was concerned for public safety,” Workman said.

The elevators were fine, but the conditions in McKnight were worse than the museum.

Immediately following the closing of the museum and the relocation of the reception, several students began contacting local media outlets and airing their grievances on social media.

Caitlin Langdon posted a screenshot of a text message she sent to KAKE-TV around 11 p.m., Friday on Facebook. By Sunday, 165 people had shared it.

“How can you even attempt to bring more diverse people to campus, when you can’t even given (sic) them a suitable place to work and thrive?” Langdon wrote.

Langdon said she contacted local news stations — including The Sunflower — to bring what she feels is a neglect of the art college to President John Bardo’s attention.

“Considering all of the flooding happening in and around the Wichita area, and the fact that innovation campus (sic) at Wichita state (sic) is well underway, maybe it would be nice to talk about how the arts are still going underfunded,” she wrote.

We’ve always had crappy windows that need to be completely replaced. There’s roaches everywhere, I see at least one a day, and they’re the big ones, like at least the size of my thumb.”

— Caitlin Langdon

Langdon said she’s in McKnight Hall, where she works in the office, all afternoon Monday through Thursday and that she has seen the problems in the art buildings on campus firsthand.

“The windows are shot,” Langdon said. “We’ve always had crappy windows that need to be completely replaced. There’s roaches everywhere, I see at least one a day, and they’re the big ones, like at least the size of my thumb.”

Langdon said conditions in Henrion Hall, which the university is raising money to renovate, are far worse than McKnight.

“The time and money these students spend to live out their dream — ruined by one building’s shoddy integrity,” she said of McKnight and Henrion Halls, where art students take the majority of their studio classes.

“This is not the first time that McKnight has suffered water damage after a significant rain,” said Rodney Miller, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, in an email Saturday, “and, unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last.”

“There have been numerous attempts by Facilities to rectify this,” Miller said. “But the repairs have not proven to be a permanent solution. Obviously, this is a very frustrating for everyone, not the least of which for the Facilities personnel who have tried numerous times to correct it.

“To say I am not frustrated, indeed concerned, about this situation would be disingenuous. To say, however, that this is evidence that the arts are discriminated against at WSU would be patently untrue,” Miller continued.

Miller cited the nearly $5 million the university has spent on maintenance, repairs and renovations to fine arts facilities in the last 15 years to show the university has been trying to fix the problems with the buildings.

Some art students said they wish the university would seek a more permanent solution to the poor conditions of the art buildings before continuing with other projects around campus.

Melinda Sudbrink has been taking classes in McKnight Hall since 2012. During her freshman year, she said she started to notice water on the second floor of the building every time it would rain. Once, on her way to the restroom, she slipped on a puddle and fell on the hard, cement floor.

“I had a good-sized bruise and was sore for a week or two,” Sudbrink said.

“(The water) runs down the atrium into electric outlets and off the light fixtures.

“It’s a safety hazard.”

A painting and psychology major at WSU, Sudbrink said the flooding Friday night at the opening exhibit for the museum was the “final push.”

“There was essentially a giant party going on as the school was leaking before everyone’s eyes,” Sudbrink said.

Sudbrink took a cell phone video of the water leaking down the walls in McKnight Hall Friday night. She said it’s a problem she has been dealing with since she started at WSU.

“It almost damaged my work,” Sudbrink said. “I had to move it.”

Sudbrink said her studio space has three places where it regularly leaks when it rains, which she called “manageable.” Friday, she said water poured into her working area from 10 to 15 different places.

Langdon said the conditions art student have to work in at WSU is deplorable.

“I’m not an art student, but getting the calls to the office phone about flooding and knowing there’s nothing I can do but call physical plant and get them a bucket is stomach-wrenching,” she said.

Joe Kleinsasser, spokesman for the university, said the water was cleaned from the effected buildings Saturday. He said there was also flooding in Ahlberg Hall.

“The university will be assessing the overall impact of flooding on campus during the next few days and repair what’s required,” Kleinsasser said in an email.

The problem in McKnight, university officials said, is the skylights in the roof of the building.

“I would encourage everyone not to judge too harshly based on a 100-year rain event,” Workman said. “With that said, it is time for a permanent solution to the skylight problem.”