College turns to art for aid

An art appreciation class at Concord's Barber-Scotia College is being used to promote the school as an economic, cultural and academic asset to the area.

Instructor Fred Motley teaches a dozen students about art from around world, as well as possible careers in art. The 60-year-old Motley graduated from Barber-Scotia in 1973 and commutes to teach each Monday from his home in Danville, Va. He was given an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Living Epistle Bible College in Brown Summit.

Third-year president David Olah, 65, in charge of growing the student population - among other administrative duties - said improving the college through classes such as Motley's could offer many local benefits.

Barber-Scotia is one of 11 historically black colleges and universities in the state and is among 105 such institutions in the nation. At its peak, 1,200 students roamed the downtown campus.

At the end of the academic year in June 2004, however, the college had lost accreditation because of apparent discrepancies in enforcing institutional policies, including the number of credits needed to complete a bachelor's degree, Olah said. The loss of accreditation led to the college not being able to pay its construction debt on renovations to Faith Hall, he said. The school has since been trying to rebuild its image, said Olah.

In the college's third year of a recruitment-retention program, Olah said he wants the student population to double each year for the next few years. Enrollment this year fell short of the goal of 50 students; Olah said the college hopes to serve 80 to 100 students next year.

There's always a risk the school could close, said Olah.

"This institution can only have as much voice as the community gives it," said Olah. "We've been here 143 years, and during those 143 years we played a vital role at times. At other times, we were just here.

"It's really in the hands of the board of trustees, the board of visitors, the alumni - they're really the ones who will determine if this institution goes forward.

"But I'm excited and I think (the college) has a lot of potential. We're trying to put together a multicultural learning environment, and Scotia was doing that up until the loss of accreditation. They were really moving in that direction, and we want to pick that up and go forward."

The college has submitted an application for accreditation and Olah said he hopes it will be granted in three years or less. Until then, he's looking to re-establish relationships that existed before the college's downfall.

The school's 36 students come from diverse backgrounds, including Europe and Canada. Two of the school's instructors teach 10 students in Haiti and the school's chairman was recruited from Iran.

Smaller student enrollment, however, apparently doesn't change some teachers' techniques.

"Having 15 students is like having 1,500," Motley said. "If you treat them any differently, you're not fulfilling your mission. You have the same expectations from them, and I think the whole administration is feeling that."

Students recently were taught by Grammy Award-winning producer, social activist and college lecturer 9th Wonder, and school leaders have collaborated with Evolution Solar of Texas and Gennix Technologies of Charlotte - both renewable energy companies - to set up a curriculum and create a work-study program.

The school's three degree programs focus on renewable energies, business entrepreneurship or religion. Every student must pursue a four-year degree and a 12- to 18-month certification course that focuses on renewable energies.

"This helps students gain a marketable skill while pursuing a degree," said Olah. "It also may spark an interest in a future career. Motley's cultural art program is an essential piece of the school's total curriculum."

Herve Bellow, 24, is a sophomore who moved to North Carolina from New York. He plays basketball for the school and plans to take Motley's class next semester. He said he was interested in the class exhibit because it featured works from his native country of Cameroon.

"I'm really happy to be here and be a part of the process of building the school," he said.

Motley's students recently visited several area museums, including the historic Mattye Reed Museum at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro.

The collection represents a cross-section of sculptures, masks, musical instruments and textiles from 35-plus countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria. Students also learned about the roles of curator and docents.

Students brought back what they learned and helped design and install their own campus exhibit, which featured 26 works, including a framed print by Durham-born artist Ernie Barnes, known for his work on the television series "Good Times," as well as traditional sculptures, masks and fabric samples from Cameroon.

Students discussed the works in class, refined details of each work and served as docents for the month-long exhibit.

The student exhibit is a step toward establishing an official community cultural center on campus. Motley said he hopes to form alliances with other area nonprofits to host small chamber recitals or acoustic performances, poetry readings, book discussions and future art exhibits.

Jason Aransevia, 23, a freshman from Toronto, Canada, also plays basketball for the school and is one of Motley's students. He said he likes being part of a school with such a rich history.

"To be a part of history is important," he said. "The school has a great vision for their students and their program, and I think they just need support. No school's perfect but it's in the transition of working towards that. I really think they care."

So far, he said, the class and the school are making him and other students better people, so they can go on to help others.

"I like the class and I like how he approaches the class," Aransevia said. "Dr. Motley makes you look deeper into what you're seeing, and that's going to help me not take certain things in life for granted. I think I'll come out with a more positive outlook on not just the class, but on life."