History’s Foundation: Jack Arends Hall

By Olivia Willoughby

Jack Arends Hall, or the Visual Arts Building as it is more commonly known, holds two former faculty members at heart.

Jack Arends, former head of the art department, was the reason for the Visual Arts Building’s existence, said Visual Resources librarian Kathy Krolo.

“This building was named for the School of Art director who was responsible for having the building built,” Krolo said. “Arends was a strong advocate for that.”

According to a Chicago Tribune obituary published Nov. 25, 1986, Arends was “instrumental in establishing Northern Illinois University’s Art Department as one of the largest in the nation.” Prior to his death, the university honored Arends for his success in bringing funds to the Visual Arts Building as well as getting it designed.

Before the Visual Arts Building’s creation, the art department was located in Stevens Building, Krolo said. The art department needed room for art education craft labs and art history lecture halls. It also needed space for art media like fiber arts, metals and sculpting.

“All these classes were in a very tiny facility in the old building,” Krolo said. “Arends was the one that promoted the art building because we needed the space. Once we got this building, he was able to hire more faculty members and the program got more robust.”

Within the building resides the Jack Olson Memorial Gallery. While it may be frequented with several graduate shows, some students don’t know where the gallery got its name.

“It’s funny that I don’t know who he is,” said junior ceramics major Christine Wilson. “I never thought to find out anything about him.”

Olson was a former professor who joined the art education department in 1968. In 1990, he won the Excellence in Teaching Award, dedicating his time to working hard and closely with his students, according to the gallery’s website.

“We selected to commemorate him because of his strong belief that having a gallery space would enhance instruction,” Krolo said.

After Olson and his wife, Eleanor, died from cancer, the Jack and Eleanor Olson Art Scholarship was created to honor their lives, said Susan Carter, administrative assistant of Dean Richard Holly in School of Art. The gallery was built along with the building under the name “Gallery 200.” Krolo said the gallery was named soon after his death.

Gallery Coordinator Peter Van Ael said students not knowing who the buildings are named after does not diminish any of the activities within those buildings.

“They are important to the history of the school, but that does not mean we have to hit them over the head about who these individuals are,” Ael said. “It’s the same thing with other schools or colleges on campus. In anthropology and knowing who Cole was, you’re not going to find people who necessarily know that.”

According to the Facilities Naming Policy, names are designated to buildings based on three criteria: financial contributions made to the university or foundation, special circumstances or recommendations made by the President and Board of Trustees, and exceptional services benefitting society.

By the mid 60s, after the building of Jack Arends Hall, the art department was expanding. Now, it is one of several of the largest art departments in the U.S.