The Fouts Center for Visual Arts honors the memory of Elizabeth Fouts van Oppen, matriarch of a three-generation Whitman College family.

WALLA WALLA— The Whitman College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to honor Elizabeth Fouts van Oppen, an alumna with a life-long devotion to the arts and education, by naming the newest campus building in her memory.

The 38,000-square-foot Fouts Center for Visual Arts facility, currently under construction, will provide space for the college’s burgeoning visual arts program, including painting, sculpting, drawing, digital arts, welding, instruction and exhibits.

Artist's rendering
Fouts Center for Visual Arts

“A strong Whitman connection and a commitment to visual arts inspired Elizabeth van Oppen’s life,” said President George Bridges. “Her influence and example motivated eight family members to attend Whitman, and she considered her years at the college among the most enriching of her life. From what I have learned about her, she clearly embodies the spirit and passion for the arts that this new facility will arouse in current and future generations of Whitman students.”

Elizabeth Fouts van Oppen
 Elizabeth Fouts van Oppen

A scholarship student from a rural background, she developed passions for music, art and literature that exemplify objectives of the Whitman liberal arts experience. Originally from Boise, van Oppen graduated from Whitman in 1940 with a degree in music and English, staying at the college an additional year to earn a teaching credential.

After WWII, van Oppen and her husband, Frits, settled in the Los Angeles area where they raised their three children. She led church choirs and taught piano before pursuing a master’s in education and teaching high school English. Her 16-year teaching career included creating and chairing the humanities department at a new high school. She was designated a California State English Teacher Specialist and was a board member and State Officer of the California Association of Teachers of English. After retirement, she returned to her first love of the piano and studied with a renowned teacher and performer in the Los Angeles area. Frits and Betty relocated to Mercer Island in 1989, where she lived until her death in August 2000.

In 1960, while directing the choir at Hillcrest Congregational Church in La Habra, California, van Oppen envisioned and founded the Hillcrest Festival of Fine Arts, a long weekend of invitational art exhibits and demonstrations that has since had many imitators in Southern California. She was director during its first four years. The 47th consecutive Festival in February (2007) drew its usual 10,000 visitors from all over the area. A newspaper article written on the occasion of the 40th festival described it as “the vision of former choir director Betty van Oppen as a gift to the community—a way to bring more culture into the area.”

Construction of the Fouts Center for Visual Arts began in late January; expected opening is fall 2008. It is located off Park Street, just south of the Reid Campus Center.



CONTACT: Lenel Parish, Whitman College News Service, (509) 527-5156