Winthrop students tapped to create art for new credit union headquarters

Family Trust Credit Union has commissioned works of art – to be created by Winthrop University students – for its new headquarters, the first building being constructed in Knowledge Park, a textile corridor connecting Winthrop and downtown Rock Hill. CEO Lee Gardner wants visitors to experience the credit union’s commitment and values through art.

From the Rock Hill Herald:

Personally or professionally you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Whether it’s yourself, your employees or your business, how things look makes a difference.

That’s why Lee Gardner, president and CEO of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, wants to set a high standard when it comes to the credit union’s new headquarters on the corner of West White and Laurel streets in Rock Hill.

The new headquarters returns Family Trust to its roots. It was founded in a stock room at the Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. in 1957. The design of the new headquarters takes some of its architectural cues from the company’s textile heritage. Construction by J.M Cope is expected to cost between $7 million and $8 million.

But it’s more than the building. More than just the front door. When credit union members or others enter the headquarters Gardner wants them to experience Family Trust’s commitment and values through art.

Family Trust has commissioned five pieces of art that will have ties to the textile industry, the credit union’s core values and its service to its members and the community.

Gardner is relying on the talents of five Winthrop students:

• Chelsea Arthur, a senior from Greenville who has experience in sculpture, jewelry and metals.

• Nicole Davenport, a junior from Anderson with experience in sculpture and printmaking.

• Samantha Oliver of Rock Hill, a graduate student with a bachelor of fine arts in ceramics.

• Christopher Smith, senior from Beaufort with experience in jewelry and metals.

• Kaitlyn Walters of Greenville, who graduated in December with a bachelor of fine arts and experience in photography and sculpture.

Incorporating art into Family Trust offices is not new. The office in York has watercolors of peach sheds and railroad cars. The office in Clover has local photography.

But the scale of what Gardner wants at his headquarters is grand. Current plans call for two accent walls to have an art project that includes railroad ties. That idea nicely connects the headquarters to Rock Hill’s history, Gardner said. If the railroad hadn’t come through here, Rock Hill wouldn’t be what it is today.

It’s not the first time Winthrop students have been called upon for their talents. Some of the public art in downtown and at City Hall was done by Winthrop students.

But it took more than reputation for Winthrop’s students to get the commission from Family Trust officials. The students had to research Rock Hill and Family Trust’s history before developing their concepts. Once they had done that, they presented the concepts to the credit union and the design team for the new headquarters. The meetings tested not only their ideas, but also their presentation skills. Not every concept made the cut.

This professional exchange has been a valuable lesson for the students, said Tom Stanley, chairman of Winthrop’s Fine Arts Department.

The art should be completed by the end of this semester but likely won’t be unveiled until the new headquarters opens in the first quarter of 2015.

Nonetheless, the expectations are high.

“It’s amazing what has been proposed,” Gardner said.

Gardner said the project is not intended to set a standard for the Knowledge Park, but that’s what should happen. The construction of the Family Trust headquarters is likely to be the first project completed in Knowledge Park, the textile corridor that connects Winthrop and downtown Rock Hill.

Other projects should be unveiled soon by the development team of Sora-Phelps. There are great expectations for these projects. If successful, Knowledge Park could change the way people work, live and play in downtown Rock Hill. While the Knowledge Park is a physical area, it also is an economic development strategy to bring high-tech jobs to downtown.

Workers of this type, often labeled the creative class, want more than just a place to work and live. They want to enjoy, be connected, interact with their community.

And, as Tom Stanley says, Lee Gardner “gets this.”

“This is not just an opportunity to put up art,” Gardner said. “This is an opportunity to connect ourselves with our community.”