Cutting-edge technology. Areas for collaborating. Expanding creativity. This is the vision for the Cohen Exploration Lab and Cohen Commons, an exciting new space that opened last week in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre, thanks to a generous donation from Alan Cohen, BA’48, MA’69.
“Our goal was to create an area where new technologies entice new ideas and allow students to explore their creativity with the faculty and each other,” Cohen said. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to cluster and to explore art as an expression of life and the world around them. We want them to know that it’s not just about the brush, and it’s not just about the history; art is a part of the world around us. It permeates everything.”
The Cohen Exploration Lab is a media-equipped lab and student space intended for unstructured work time, discussion, seminars, viewings, as well as opportunities to work collaboratively. The Cohen Commons, adjacent to the lab, is a gathering area for socializing and community building, with display cases where students can show their work.
Daughters Sari, Debbie and Susan watched their parents’ involvement with the Department of Visual Arts grow over the years, particularly deepening when their parents became art collectors. Creating this type of space was a longtime dream and offered an opportunity to celebrate their mother’s dedication to the Visual Arts program.
“Our mother was very committed to the Artlab Gallery and this will allow the work she was doing with faculty and students all those years to continue,” Susan said.
In addition to being a mentor to students and faculty, Phyllis Cohen, MEd’81, served on Western’s university Senate and played an active role on the Advisory Committee for the Department of Visual Arts. The couple also frequently attended student and faculty events in Visual Arts. Together, Alan and Phyllis also established the Cohen Explorations Program, a special course that enabled students to travel to major galleries in cities, like New York and Montreal, or to work alongside important artists as guests in the department, in an effort to augment and expand their student horizons.
Equipped with leading-edge technology, including two state-of-the-art 3D printers, photo printers and live projectors, the Cohen Exploration Lab and Cohen Commons invite students and faculty to come together to collaborate, to interact with new technology and to experiment, Cohen said.
“We really wanted to become involved and questioned how we could help students to push boundaries and think differently.”
Patrick Mahon, Graduate Chair in Visual Arts, also witnessed the Cohens’ involvement with the department and said their forward thinking and support has been invaluable.
“Phyllis was really an engaged member of our community and asked a lot of insightful questions about what we were trying to accomplish. She had so much to share thanks to her travels and experience in the art world. You could really tell she was interested in the future and the well-being of the department.”
Prior to the official opening, students were invited to tour the space and were eager to begin using the equipment and experiment, Mahon said.
“While there needs to be oversight and technical support for students, the Cohen Exploration Lab gives students a space where they can see opportunities to be creative and do things they might not otherwise do in more structured courses,” he continued.
Third-year Studio Arts student Ronnie Clarke focuses her work on performance installation and media art. She already sees incredible potential to grow in her art using the new technology.
“These resources can reshape the way we think and do our work,” she said. “They will give people access to new ideas and expand their horizons as artists. The 3D printer, for example, will open a lot of doors creatively. If you’re missing a part for a piece you’re working on, you can print it. It’s not just providing opportunities, but also solutions.
“Having this technology will put us ahead of our competitors. It’s so important to give young artists important resources like these to start their careers.”
Michael Milde, Dean of Faculty of Arts & Humanities, said the department is very fortunate and grateful the Cohens befriended Visual Arts long ago and have continued to support a wide array of student opportunities over the years. This latest gift, he said, “once again stirs the sources of creativity.”
“Imagination is the lifeblood of creativity. Every so often, imagination benefits from a timely boost that opens up a world of possibilities,” Milde said. “By giving student artists leading-edge tools, and the creative space in which to work and display their creations, the Cohen gift will stimulate experiments and innovations that will enrich the educational experience at Western.”