Clemson Engages Students in Public Art Initiative

THIS SPRING, CLEMSON UNVEILED THE UNUSUAL FINAL PRODUCT of a Creative Inquiry class: “The Clemson Genus Project,” a public art installation by internationally recognized artist Klari Reis spanning the three atriums of the life sciences building.

The CI class, called Atelier InSite, was the brainchild of art professor David Detrich and his colleagues Joey Manson and Denise Woodward-Detrich. While most public art programs have an experienced board of directors selecting artwork, these professors envisioned a different model, one that engaged and educated students. The word “atelier” is derived from the French word meaning “workshop” or “studio.” Atelier describes the atmosphere and attitude toward the installation and development of public art on campus.


“Atelier InSite is uniquely Clemson because we’re engaging students as the primary generator of this project,” said Detrich, adviser to the Atelier InSite students. “You see a lot of top-20 schools with similar programs, but those are not student driven. We want to establish a precedent for student engagement in similar programs.”

Faculty recruited art and life sciences students for the course, where they researched the nature of public art, investigated the design-build process, conducted a site analysis and identified site locations for artwork. When they put out a request for proposals, they received more than 200 applications from artists. They chose Reis because of her attention to detail and ability to fulfill the goals of the project.

The artist allowed the public to name each of the 600 individual paintings, so students, faculty, staff and friends were able to suggest titles. A legend is on display so visitors can see the names given to each one. The paintings were done in petri dishes and depict microscopic images similar to those studied in scientific research.

The public art initiative is the mandate of the design guidelines for current and future campus projects that stipulate, “All capital development projects that are anticipated to exceed two million dollars will consider the benefits of public art and will apply ½ of 1 percent of the construction budget for such work.” As a result, plans are underway to identify other artists for existing and new projects in the following buildings: Lee III, the Watt Family Innovation Center, ONE, the WestZone and the renovated Littlejohn Coliseum. In the process, the Atelier InSite program, along with the Department of Art and the Center for Visual Arts, will be collaborating with all five colleges as well as athletics.

Additional information about the art installation can be viewed at And find more information here about public art at Clemson.