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Happens Here: Creative Spaces

Happens Here is a behind-the-scenes view into the lives who power UT.

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Kat Denton and Ann Hamilton’s ONEEVERYONE mural.
Kat Denton and Ann Hamilton’s ONEEVERYONE mural. Photo by Chantal Rivera.

Kat Denton: The Office Among Peers

Sunlight streams through the dozens of windows in the lobby of Dell Medical School. Chatter echoes through the hallways as medical students hurry to class, staff members walk to meetings and visitors grab coffee from the cafe down the hall. A large mural hangs above an imposing desk where Kat Denton, the face of Dell Medical School, greets visitors with a friendly smile.

Denton, a senior administrative associate of Facility Management and Operations at Dell Medical School, has many responsibilities. She manages the calendars for the Health Learning Building, the Health Discovery Building and the Health Transformation Building. She assists the executive director, and she delegates the tasks of five student workers to ensure that the building is running smoothly. If anyone needs anything, Denton is the one to call. And she does this all while sitting at the concierge desk, greeting every new visitor.

“When you come in, I’m your jack of all trades,” said Denton. “I wear many hats around here.”

Denton’s office space is unique. Her desk is open and accessible to all comers. Denton prefers it this way; it is much easier to perform her duties when everyone can easily find her to ask for help.

“This building is all windows, and I can see what’s going on,” said Denton. “Any kind of action that’s going on here, I’ll see it. If I was stuck on an eighth floor with no windows, I’d never know what’s going on out here.”

One of Denton’s favorite things about her office is the desk itself. The pecan wood finish on the surface tells a powerful story. It was built from one of trees that UT cleared four years ago in order to build Dell Medical School. Many of the trees were protected or relocated, so her desk is one of the only structures like it—a truly unique testament to the founding of the school.

“My desk is the only one that’s made this way,” said Denton. “I think I have the best desk around.”

Judith Patrick and some posters adorning her office.
Judith Patrick and some posters adorning her office. Photo by Chantal Rivera.

Judith Patrick: The Spotlight Office

A spotlight highlights a blown-up, black-and-white portrait for “Phantom of the Opera” that takes up an entire wall. Signed posters from well-known (and less-known) musicals and plays cover the door. A antique lamp in the corner provides a key light, setting the scene. This office, tucked away behind a large stage backdoor, can only be described as a theater kid’s dream. So it seems fitting that it belongs to the assistant to the director of the Performing Arts Center.

Judith Patrick has been the director’s assistant for four years. She took the job after working with the Blanton Museum.

“I love the arts,” said Patrick.

Patrick isn’t just a fan of the arts, but a participant. Her colorful show posters have something in common: They’re all from performances Patrick has seen herself, on the stage just behind her office.

“I’ve never seen anything bad here,” said Patrick. “But these are some of the shows I really liked.”

Patrick does her best to fill her office with things reflective of her personality. Her bookshelf is decorated with a clown wearing 3D glasses and a bobblehead pair of characters from the animated sitcom “Rick and Morty.” On her desk she has a mini zen garden that she got in a white elephant Christmas party, a Simpsons lava lamp that used to be in her son’s bedroom before he moved out, colorful cards and souvenirs from the Blanton gift shop, and several other meaningful but seemingly random items. A doormat at the entrance reads, “Hi, I’m Mat.”

“I’m really into fun,” said Patrick.

It’s very apparent how much time and care Patrick puts into her job as assistant to the director. In between the family photos, show posters, playbooks and events calendars are shoved into every spare corner. She even volunteers as an usher on show days. In fact, considering how much time she spends walking the multiple floors, the entire PAC feels like an extension of Patrick’s office.

“The opera performances are on the stage across from my office, so I get to hear them all day when they’re rehearsing,” said Patrick.

The McCullough Theatre, which is adjacent to her office, is a smaller theater, holding about 400 people. Many of the school’s recitals and student performances take place on that stage. From her desk, Patrick can hear much of what is going on backstage daily. The more high-profile shows, such as Broadway or celebrity appearances, take place in Bass Concert Hall, where Patrick volunteers as an usher. She tacks between every floor, guiding people to their seats on the first through sixth floors and then catching some of the show herself if she has the time. On an opening night, Patrick could end up staying until past 10 p.m., and that’s after a full work day.

“I just decided I wanted to get involved,” said Patrick.

This kind of devotion certainly deserves a spotlight.

Janet Davis, holding a Rock figurine.
Janet Davis, holding one of her office artifacts. Photo by Chantal Rivera.

Janet Davis: The Office of Things

In Janet M. Davis’ blue-walled office in Burdine Hall, a collection of knickknacks top corner-to-corner bookshelves. Circus posters hang on two walls, highlighting one of Davis’ many passions, and her windowsill hosts souvenirs from Hawaii, her place of birth. Even the floor holds memories; a box of antique Ms. magazines that her mother used to own welcomes each visitor. There isn’t a single thing in the office that doesn’t hold a story.

Davis, a professor of American studies and history, has been at UT for 20 years. She teaches a large number of courses, including large lecture-based introductory classes that count toward the legislative requirement for American history, much smaller survey courses, and specialized seminar courses that delve into American pop culture and social movements. She is also the associate director for the Plan II Honors program, and she helps students formulate ideas for their thesis projects. After class hours, Davis works as a consultant for documentary films, including “American Experience” on PBS, and she engages with the public by consulting for publications, working on film and museum projects and publishing her own novels. Her topics are as diverse as her office decorations. She has written about the circus, animal care in America and, more broadly, transnationalism and America’s place in the world.

Her active life is reflected in her surroundings. Davis says that the number of things in her office is always growing, and she is constantly forced to move stuff around to accommodate new things. She certainly has no plans to stop acquiring.

“In many respects I feel like I haven’t fully moved in here,” said Davis. “And I probably should because we’ve been here for 12 years now. That’s a pretty good sign that we’re going to be here for a while.”

The most eye-catching part of the room is the toys. On top of every cabinet and bookshelf are various entertaining relics of the past. Wooden riding horses mingle with troll dolls and their wild-colored hair; a large Green Bay Packers cheese hat sits next to a rare Earring Magic Ken doll. Davis has managed to save a little piece of multiple past cultures in her office.

“I love material culture,” said Davis. “And I have a hard time throwing away things I cared about as a kid. So a lot of childhood artifacts have ended up here in my office. It’s fun to have this kind of environment that’s a little bit unexpected.”

Davis enjoys the conversations that come about due to the objects in her room. When students come to talk about an assignment, or even when staff members or fellow faculty members stop by just to chat, there will always be a moment for Davis to discuss the things she loves.

“The connections between my workspace but also what I do are very much inseparable,” said Davis.