By Chesney Monroe
Union University may not be located near any major art center, but more than $180,000 worth of art resides on campus grounds.
Union had one collection appraised at $180,000 for its 990 tax form for the 2010- 2011 fiscal year. The federal government requires non-profit institutions such as Union to file such forms annually.
The acquisition of such a collection is not the result of lavish spending by the university — the art was donated.
Landon Preston, director of donor relations, said the artwork’s value is so great because it includes several large combined pieces of cast bronze imported from Europe.
The art may be found in Hammons Hall on the second floor above the LifeWay Christian Store.
Lee Benson, professor of art and department chairman, said Union displays hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art that no one would ever think about.
“You can’t put a price on art. It is a representation of beauty and God himself,” Benson said. “Most of the art on campus is either on permanent or temporary loan from different artists.”
Benson said he has at least three pieces of art on campus worth at least $30,000.
A few of his pieces, “The Prodigal Son,” “Two Witnesses,” and “Love Hurts” may be found on the south side of the Penick Academic Complex.
A few of the art pieces Union has acquired are gifts from alumni.
Rob Alsop, who went on to receive his master of fine arts at Bowling Green State University, and alumnus Eric Botbyl each have donated one of their pieces to the university.
Alsop and Botbyl’s pieces can be found by the Bell Tower.
The art department continues to grow as more students declare a major in art. Rebecca Rogers is one of them.
The freshman art major said she loves art because, in her words, anyone can do it.
“Art isn’t hard,” Rogers said. “I love that art is anywhere you look and anyone can do it. They might not think they can, but everyone has potential and everyone knows how to appreciate it.
“It’s so simple; if you can appreciate God’s beauty, you know how to appreciate real art.”
Union has partnered with the city of Jackson to co-own hundreds of pieces of art for the Jackson/Union Sculpture Tour, or JUST.
JUST was created in 2004 to establish Jackson as an urban art center as it continues to grow into a larger city. Its purpose is to encourage Jackson’s citizens to participate in and enjoy visual arts.
Many of the tour’s sculptures may be found in downtown Jackson and surrounding areas.
“[David] Dockery has been one of the most influential people when it comes to art specifically on campus,” Benson said. “He and I came to Union around the same time, and back then, there was no art on campus.”
Benson said Dockery understands the importance of art incorporated with faith, religion and education. Dockery has been actively involved with every purchase made, donation received and idea formed involving art.
Benson added that Union receives emails and phone calls daily from artists throughout Tennessee about placing their art on campus.
“Our university has been blessed to have [David] Dockery as its president, and with his help, [the campus art scene] has changed so much for the better,” Benson said.