Laird NortonWhere creativity can thrive

Art and innovation often go hand-in-hand. Both are about pushing boundaries and finding new and creative ways to shape the world.

Art and design students at Winona State University have been creating inspiring and forward-thinking work for years.

According to Winona State’s Director of Development, Robert Christiano, there’s just one problem:

“Our current art and design facility does not completely meet the needs of the growing and innovative field of design,” he said.

Winona State’s art program has been expanding, which is great – but the program has outgrown its original home in Watkins Hall in both size and scope.

“Current students are always faced with the limitations of Watkins Hall,” Art Gallery and Collections Coordinator Roger Boulay said.

The building hasn’t been updated since the early 1960s, and the students and teachers are crowded for classroom and storage space. Boulay has hopes for a space that will not only solve those issues, but also lend itself to the creativity of the students and staff who work there.

“In art and design, we’re all about aesthetics,” he said. “We believe if you work and study in a beautiful space, it’s going to help you produce higher quality art and design.”

That’s why the University is currently raising funds to retrofit the historic Laird Norton building and create an all-new classroom and community space – to be named the Laird Norton Center for Art and Design. The plan for the center includes not only more classroom and gallery space, but some of the most advanced 21st-century tools for creativity and innovation: a Fabrication Lab, a Makerspace, a Project Incubator Space and state-of-the-art computer labs.

With all of these features, the center is being designed as a hub for the arts – both for students and community members. Students and local artists will be able to use the creative spaces, tools and galleries, making and displaying work side-by-side. That’s something students like Victoria Rogers, who is pursuing a degree in art education, can get behind.

“Getting connections with students and people who aren’t students but just interested in art is a really cool thing,” she said.

The updated learning spaces will also be available for students of any major who would like to bring a design, a project or a product to life.

It takes an investment to make this creative hub a reality. The Laird Norton project will cost a total of $8.5 million. Phase I – which involves getting the building up to code and implementing mechanical, electrical and sprinkler systems – will cost $4.5 million to complete. Once that’s done, it will take an additional $4 million to complete Phases II and III.

So far, donors have committed $1 million out of the $4.5 million required to complete Phase I of the project, and each donor has their own reason to be excited about its future. It may be in the early phases now, but some – like donor and WSU Foundation Board of Trustees member Dick Record – can already see what will be possible when the center is complete.

“As an art collector, I have admired original art and artists for many years,” he said.

His hope is that students will have a newfound confidence when they have a beautiful, updated place to display their work – right in the heart of the Winona Arts District.

“So much original and very good art goes unseen because of the lack of inspiration afforded to students and the space for their art,” Record said. “What can be more satisfying to a student than to have others see and admire their work and their efforts?”

These galleries, according to Winona State University President Scott Olson, will put the Laird Norton Center for Art and Design in the company of “some of the finest universities in the nation” with regard to the quality of available gallery space. But the center, he said, won’t just be a boon for students.

“It will mean a lot to Winonans,” he said. “So much of what makes Winona so vital today is the fact that it has a thriving arts community… this is both a way that students can benefit from the richness that the arts bring to their lives, but also that we can give back to Winona and its citizens.”

For more information on how you can invest in art and innovation for both Winona State and the greater Winona community, visit

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Sarah Stockwell

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