Webster art students struggle to pay class lab fees

Webster graphic design major Katie Neal works on a class project with supplies she paid for out-of-pocket. PHOTO BY CLAIR STAPLES/The Journal

Life can get expensive for full-time art students, like Katie Neal, who spend hours outside of class working on their art. Not only do art students pay out of their own pocket for most of their supplies, but every art class also has a lab fee that ranges from $30 to $150.

“I don’t have time to work a lot, so all of my money goes to gas and art supplies,” said Neal, a junior graphic design student.

Angela Morra, a representative for the art department, said classes that do not require the same cost of supplies have cheaper lab fees. Lab fee payments are processed by Morra, art department Chair Tom Lang and Dean of Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts Peter Sargent.

Neal said she usually spends about $120 out-of-pocket on supplies at the beginning of each semester, and the cost continues to rise throughout the semester.

Unlike conservatory students whose tuition is raised due to theater expenses, art students’ tuition is set at the same rate as the rest of the Webster University student population; they are  only charged a lab fee, drawing professor Brad Loudenback said.

A portion of the lab fee goes to maintaining the art building and its facilities. Photography students need chemicals for developing photos. The graphic and media design students need certain computer programs.

“There’s some things that just need to be in the studio,” Lang said. “For example, a saw blade in the sculpture room. Students should expect that those things are there and they’re sharp and ready to use.”

A portion of the fee goes into a general fund to be used for class expenses like guest speakers and trips. An art history class recently used part of that fund for a bus trip to a Kansas City art museum.

The lab fee can also go into a budget for art supplies. As faculty members representing a non-profit institution, the funds can buy materials in bulk from local vendors tax-free. The fee saves students money and curves some of their expenses. These supplies are consumable materials that run out and need to be replaced like drawing utensils and paint, Lang said.

“Sometimes you’re able to figure out how to equally divide them between the students, and other times it depends on who’s doing the most work,” Lang said.

In Gary Passanise’s painting class, canvas is bought in large quantities from Art Mart. Art Mart gives Webster professors a 40 percent discount and is tax-free. Passanise said the owner of Art Mart offers Webster samples and closeout items in the beginning of the year.
Despite this, Neal said students taking these art classes would eventually have to purchase the materials anyway.

“A lot of the stuff you buy, it’s not something you’re going to use once, it’s tools that you continue to use. Even if I wasn’t in class, I would probably end up buying the stuff eventually,” Neal said.

Loudenback said that because the art department has selective admission, most art students are art majors, which means buying their own supplies will benefit them in the future.

“If they buy a box of charcoal or a handful of oil paints in their first semester, they’re not going to use all of that, so they’re building up a cache of supplies that they can continue to use,” Loudenback said.

Neal said she does see a lot of the money actually getting used, but there are still some art classes which it is unclear for what the lab fee is used.

“I don’t know where it goes, some stuff there’s no way I used $150 worth of things in that class,” Neal said.

Neal’s painting class required the fee, but she said she did not receive supplies that class.

“I had to pay the fee for it, and then I had to buy all of my own materials,” Neal said.

Loudenback said although it may seem like students are not getting anything back, there are usually bulk supplies that students take for granted.

“I can’t speak for the individual teachers, but one thing students don’t see are the things that we buy, like say drawing boards and easels, paper cutters and devices. We have to then ask students to buy a certain amount of materials themselves. Art is just unfortunately a very expensive process,” Loudenback said.

Photography professor Robin Assner said art professors commonly compare the art fee to non-art student’s textbook expenses.
“If you buy a $75 or $100 book for a regular class, we don’t have books for art classes. So I feel like the supplies are almost equivalent to books in other classes,” Assner said.

“Everyone thinks we’re so lucky because we don’t have to buy books, but we probably spend twice as much on art supplies,” Neal said.
Neal said she and most art students go to Art Mart or Dick Blick to buy cheaper supplies. Both Art Mart and Dick Blick offer students discounts. Dick Blick offers students 15 percent off supplies, and Art Mart offers students 20 percent off supplies. Students can also order cheap art supplies online at places like www.cheapjoes.com or www.bhphotovideo.com.

Assner said students have dropped her class because they could not afford supplies. She said there is no escaping the demand for photography supplies.

“I can try to limit the burden by trying to provide some of my own stuff for them. I’ll either try to get supplies for them, I can lend them my camera. I try to make it accessible to any student,” Assner said.

Loudenback said he also tries to help students who are unable to pay for their supplies.
“If any student ever comes to me and says ‘I’m out of paper or I’ve only got ten bucks, I can’t do this,’ I will find a way to supply them with what they needed immediately,” Loudenback said.

Passanise also said he gets supplies for students who cannot afford them. He bought canvas and paint brushes for his class at the beginning of the year.

“We figure a way how to get them what they need,” Passanise said.

Passanise also tries to recycle or use recyclable materials, especially surfaces to paint on. He said freshman students will sometimes leave their old or unwanted projects, and his class will paint over them.

Neal said she would continue to pay out of her own pocket for supplies to fulfill her dream of becoming an artist.

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