Strong foundations of learning exist for Jacksonville State University art students. The students, so serious in what they are doing, seemed headed towards promising careers. But the art department does not exist for its own purposes alone; it provides cultural enrichment for the community.

And with new leadership for this part of the university and an exhibit up by the Visual Arts Society now in Hammond Hall Gallery, it is an exciting time for students, faculty and viewers.

Seth Johnson moved into his office June 1 as department head and has been getting to know the faculty, which he calls “the backbone of the department” and the students, whom he describes as “a good student base”. But it is not his first time to walk the halls and stop in the classrooms of the building: He was a graduate here 15 years ago, and he remembers that time with pleasure. Johnson, then from Athens, Ala., received a freshmen art scholarship given by the Visual Arts Society and progressed through the entire program offered. Upon graduation from JSU he recalls that it was a rich experience and he built his teaching and graphics design career on it.

“I remember that the faculty was collaborative,” he said. “It was an opportunity to learn many techniques in art making. The department has a wonderful history and good support from the university.”

Among many other pursuits, such as print making , he is a graphic designer. But “graphic design” has a much wider definition these days: it means digital work, videos, websites, social media and more. Therefore, the graduate program now underway in the department is termed “Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication and Design” and it is a landmark in the department’s progress.

The program’s first student, Susan Robertson, will graduate soon. Johnson will be instrumental in getting the program accredited.

“I am excited to be involved on the front end in growing the program,” he said. “This MFA program is the only one in the state -- and there are not that many in the southeast,” he added.

Coming here from Tennessee

Johnson received his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Tennessee where he was also hired to be an instructional technology specialist, and later hired by Middle Tennessee State University to be a professor of graphic design. While at MTSU he heard of the need in the art department here and decided to apply. For his family ( Jillian, his wife, and two children) coming to Jacksonville is not like coming to a new place; it’s more like returning to a familiar place that gave him a good start.

Johnson also did lots of professional work in websites and DVDs for resort campaigns, traveling to many points around the world. Two years ago he created motion graphics for a TV series documentary “Brush Country” that aired in Texas for which he was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy.

VAS Exhibit up through July 10

“I really like the diversity in this body of work,” Johnson commented as he browsed the current display in Hammond Hall Gallery. “With mosaics by Margaret McNaron, drawings that offer discoveries by Bryce Lafferty, watercolors -- one by Betty Mills Groover, another by Julian Jenkins -- fantastic photography from around the globe (three from Lesa Cummings) and a poster commentary and book assemblages, Johnson believes the show makes for a fine visual encounter. In fact, JSU offers a wide range of arts in other departments as well that serve everyone, he said.

“I used to go with my Dad on his business trips to Washington, D.C. I would spend hours at art museums, “Johnson remembers well. “But art is right here at the university. We don’t have to go out of town to see it. More specifically, I want to find a way to get more people in town into our art exhibits. Our gallery is such an important resource.”

VAS membership includes art faculty and area artists. Everyone is invited to see the exhibit.