Even though inclement weather outside moved a planned groundbreaking at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith to an inside location, enthusiasm was still high.
It looked and sounded like a traditional groundbreaking, and the shovels were there, but there wasn’t any dirt to turn. But that didn’t stop the remarks from showing the importance of the event and the way the groundbreaking still pointed the campus to the future.
Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, said the ceremony for a new visual arts building on campus symbolized a step forward in the institution’s mission.
“Construction of this building furthers the University’s mission while enhancing access to the arts as we prepare our students to succeed in an ever changing global world and advance economic development and quality of place,” said Beran to the crowd attending the brief ceremony.
“This building succeeds with each point of our mission,” he stated. “Art impacts our thinking and the way we see the world. It changes us. The building also will provide a space for public events from film festivals to guest lectures to special art exhibits, which boost the local economy and quality of place.”
The 58,000-square-foot visual arts building, to be located on the southwest corner of Waldron Rd. and Kinkead Ave., will bring all of the UAFS art programs, now spread across five buildings on campus, into one facility.
“This new building will serve not only our art students with studio space,” Beran said, “but will also help to enrich all students as they study art as part of their general education.”
James O. Cox, chair of the UAFS Board of Visitors, gave a welcome at the ceremony, stressing another cause for celebration of the event.
“With the turn of our shovels this afternoon,” Cox said, “… we take the first step in the University’s master plan to reshape the face of the campus during the next 20 years. This is a wonderful reason to be here and to celebrate.”
The UAFS master plan, unveiled in October, provides the foundation for future facilities and physical plant development over the next 15-20 years. The new visual arts building is the first structure on the plan.
Bill Hanna, UAFS Foundation Board member, thanked the chancellor and UAFS First Lady Janice Beran for making it a priority to bring art to the campus and the community.
“This commitment can be seen in the latest and largest transformation on the campus and is the reason we are here today,” said Hanna, who also expressed appreciation to the Windgate Charitable Foundation for the $15.5 million grant given to UAFS to construct and equip the facility.
“At the same time, we applaud them for including the challenge grant of $2.5 million, which will allow others to partner with this gift,” he said. “I know that with the tremendous community support of the past that we will meet this goal, and I know that the UAFS Foundation will continue its good stewardship of the money that this community gives to change lives through education.”
Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, gave attendees a look back at the history of the art department, from talking about the first full-time faculty member, Harold Keller, to his replacement, Pete Howard, who Rinne called “the heart and soul of the art department for the next 30 years.”
Rinne then brought the focus to the next faculty addition, Don Lee, who helped Howard build a solid, two-year program, which has been followed by four-year degree programs in graphic design and studio art.
“As I do accreditation visits around the country for the Higher Learning Commission, I have visited a number of art schools over the years,” Rinne said. “When I return home and see the work of our students … I am always impressed and proud. Our students’ work is every bit the equal of what I have seen at these other institutions. And often it is better.”
Rinne also praised the architects for their design of the facility, saying all artists are faced with limitations when beginning the creative process.
“Architects may be the artists faced with the greatest limitations, because they not only have issues of the physics of materials, but they also must create an art work that is both functional and must be built within a given budget,” he said. “We are very fortunate to be working with an architectural group that has created a design that rises above these limitations, creating an edifice of beauty and sensibility.”
Student Rebecca Carolan of Alma, a senior art major, said her time at UAFS has been full of growth, both in her work and in her relationships with other artists.
“The initial impact of the new building will be immediate -- studios where our elbows don’t rub, a gallery space where we can learn how to best bring our work from the easel to the public, and space where all students have the opportunity to transform big ideas into even bigger objects,” said Carolan.
“But, to me, the most important aspect of this new building will be a more subtle transformation, its effects reaching far beyond the classroom,” she added. “Bringing our whole department under one roof is the gift that goes beyond square footage and proper facilities. This shared space brings our art historian to the studios, our studio artist to the graphic design table and all of these heads bumping in the same common areas. By changing the process in this magnitude, we change the product immeasurably.”
Tossing “dirt” at the end of the ceremony were Dr. Paul B. Beran and First Lady Janice Beran; Dr. Mary Lackie, vice chancellor for university advancement and executive director of the UAFS Foundation; Bill Hanna, member of the UAFS Foundation Board; James O. Cox, chair of the UAFS Board of Visitors; Dr. Ray Wallace, provost and senior vice chancellor; Dr. Georgia Hale, interim associate provost for academic affairs and dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology; Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Don Lee, associate professor of art and department head of the art, graphic design and theatre departments; Rebecca Carolan, senior art major from Alma; Russell Fason, AIA, Witsell Evens Rasco Architects; Mark Beach, vice president and chief operating officer, CDI Contractors; and John Brown III, executive director of the Windgate Foundation.
The new three-story building is being designed by WER Architects of Little Rock. Construction manager for the project is CDI Contractors of Little Rock and Fayetteville. Plans call for the building to be completed by July 2015.