Department of Communication Arts Reminisces its Golden Journey
By Chelsey Thompkins
Current students only see the Department of Communication
Arts as it is today, located in Sanford Hall in Statesboro and Jenkins Hall in
Savannah. The largest department in the College of Arts & Humanities, it
offers five undergraduate majors and minors and one master’s program. Several
student organizations and applied opportunities allow students to learn more
about their fields of study. The department offers all these things and more,
but it certainly didn’t begin this way.
Speech was initially offered through the Division of Languages, officially becoming a stand-along department circa 1969 with Clarence McCord, Ph.D., as department chair. The department was first called the Department of Speech & Drama. Theatre and speech courses had been taught at Southern at least since 1953 when Dorothy Lee came to campus to teach speech and theatre and direct student productions. In 1969, the Hollis building was the Department’s birthplace, and where it remained for 21 years, complete with adapting classrooms to serve as a puppet theatre and as a broadcast studio, as it expanded programs available to students.
1974, Public Relations and Broadcasting emphases were added to the degree
options. According to Dr. Hal Fulmer, former chair and alumnus, McCord’s notion
to add these emphases represented forward, visionary thinking as many in
academia hadn’t grasped the idea of communication as a process that would
coalesce with these emphases. With a number of shared courses in media and
journalism, eight years later, the department welcomed the journalism major
from the Department of English, Journalism and Philosophy. Within the same
year, the Department of Speech & Drama was renamed as the Department of
Communication Arts to represent all the communication, theatre, and
media-related majors and emphases.
After being housed in Hollis for 21 years, the department made a move to the South Building in 1990, and subsequently to the Communication Arts Building, or, as some called them, “the trailers.” The broadcast studio from Hollis was relocated in the former College of Education’s Audio-Visual studio space in the Carroll Building, while theatre continued using McCroan Auditorium as its primary theatre, although the costume and scene shop in the “old alumni gym” was long gone by this time. During this time period, the scene shop moved to a butler building behind the Skate-R-Bowl (known to long-time alumni), while the costume shop and puppet theatre operated from the Skate-R-Bowl. The costume shop and scenery and prop storage was later moved to a rented building on 301 at the edge of campus. In the Communication Arts Building, a large “classroom” was converted to what professor emeritus Gary Dartt described as “a small, but intimate, black box theatre.” Later, a new, butler building scene shop would be built in its current location behind the Sculpture/Ceramic Studio.
Despite the trailer-style department home, faculty continued to remain focused on students and the curriculum. Among those faculty members was Pamela Bourland-Davis, Ph.D., current department chair. “What was going on in the classroom was more important than where the classrooms were located,” Bourland-Davis said. But she would always add that if students could accomplish so much in “the trailers,” think about what they could accomplish in state-of-the-art facilities. Although many students weren’t excited about attending classes in trailers, it didn’t diminish the quality of education students received. In fact, the department experienced continued growth and adaptation. In 1996, Public Relations and Broadcasting both became majors, and one year later, Speech Communication became a major, and was later renamed Communication Studies.
The millennium rolled in, bringing more milestones. In 2003, the first communication arts awards ceremony was held to recognize outstanding students and scholarship winners. Five years later, the department celebrated another achievement with the ribbon cutting for the Center for Art and Theatre, providing the department with a state-of-the-art black box theatre as its primary performance space, with the Performing Arts Center also serving as a stage option for performances, as available.
In the course of its time in “the trailers” which was far beyond temporary, the department encountered yet another building shift. In 2009, the department moved to a renovated, Veazey Hall. At the time, the faculty and students felt they had really “moved on up,” having traded in an old trailer with leaks and squeaks, for a brick building – even if columns filled the middle of each classroom. Within a short time, however, the department lost classrooms in Veazey to non-academic units for office spaces. Classes were held throughout campus, and students and faculty began to feel “functionally homeless” with no central gathering area for all majors.
In 2014, the department witnessed an enormous opportunity when Sanford Hall became available for something other than residential housing, and the department was named the beneficiary. After years of migrating, Sanford Hall finally gave the department a place to call home. The inspiration for Sanford’s design, according to Bourland-Davis, was “a nod to the past with our eyes on the future.” Students and visitors will note the original stairwells sporting layers of paint from the past, and the donated television set lighting from years of use in the broadcast studio now retrofitted with LED lighting.
The department continued to adapt and transform at this time as the Multimedia Communication (formerly broadcasting) major was renamed Multimedia Film & Production, and the Journalism major combined with the former Multimedia Communication Broadcast News Emphasis to become Multimedia Journalism, through which students learn in a multi-platform environment. In 2016, the costume shop and prop storage would be moved farther away from campus to the Central Warehouse Building, providing a state-of-the-art facility for students to obtain experience in a full range of costume design work.
Four years later, the Board of Regents decided to consolidate Georgia Southern University, Armstrong University, and the Liberty Center, which opened other doors of opportunity. The consolidation resulted in the department’s college changing its name from the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences to the College of Arts & Humanities. The Department of Communication Arts now spans across two campuses, with the Statesboro Campus adding the Professional Communication & Leadership master’s program, which had been developed at Armstrong. Armstrong Campus added Communication Studies as an undergraduate major and with its well-established theatre program, the two represent Communication Arts in Savannah. Journalism is also offered as a minor.
At the Armstrong Campus, the department is located in Jenkins Hall, which was renovated over a decade ago. It offers a proscenium stage, small black box theatre, and studio space. It includes a self-contained production area with scene shop, small costuming area and dressing rooms. The department also offers theatre appreciation and public speaking courses at Liberty Campus regularly.
In fifty years, the Department of Communication Arts has grown
– and moved — since its establishment, and in many ways, it has come full circle.
It has gone from migrating across campus to finding its own home on Sweetheart
Circle, just a building away from its first home in Hollis. It has gone from
offering two majors in Communication and Theatre, which are still central to
all programs, to now offering five undergraduate majors and minors and one
master’s program. Meanwhile, Communication Arts has a similar foundation at the
Armstrong Campus, with the theatre program having long been integrated into the
fabric of student life and the Master’s program having been offered for over a
decade, with modifications.
The Department, and its faculty and students have had many
other accomplishments – outside of the facilities – which recognize the
longstanding work of faculty and students.
The theatre program has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre.
Theatre productions have been invited four times, within six years, as one of 6-8 mainstage Performances, of the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, resulting in national awards and recognition of their work.
Communication Studies students have had papers accepted for the Southern States Communication Association’s Theodore Clevenger Undergraduate Honors Competition for at least 20 years consecutively.
Multimedia Film & Production students are submitting work to film festivals.
Multimedia Journalism student received competitive a nationally competitive Dow Scholarship/Internship.
Multimedia Journalism started The 301 online magazine for regional feature stories and, with MMFP, has hosted live election night coverage for over a decade.
Public Relations students have been competitively selected to host one of 10 regional Public Relations Student Society of America conferences (4 of 4 bids selected)
Public relations students continue to intern, with approximately 80% completing an internship as part of their degree program.
department has also served as host for state and regional groups: the Patti
Pace Performance Festival, Georgia Communication Association, Georgia Theatre
Conference, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival – Region IV.
This year, the department will celebrate the accomplishments
of our alumni, faculty, staff, and students through the 50 + 1: 50 years as a
stand-alone department and one year on the Armstrong Campus. The celebration
will begin Oct. 17-18, focusing on connecting alumni with students, their
peers, and the school as we reminisce on the department’s Golden Journey,
coming full circle – at the Statesboro campus’s Sweetheart Circle and with
Communication and Theatre programs at the Armstrong Campus.