Williamsburg community discusses proposed arts complex

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February 24, 2011

10:54 PM

Students at the College of William and Mary were called upon to take an unapologetic stance toward the construction of a new performing and fine arts complex.

Director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art Aaron De Groft addressed a small crowd of students in the Sadler Center Tuesday as part of a town hall meeting on the new integrated arts complex to be built at the current site of the Muscarelle, Andrews Hall, Phi Beta Kappa Hall and the Phi Beta Kappa Hall parking lot.

“The arts are the core of this College, and it’s time for the arts to become a priority — and we shouldn’t apologize for it,” De Groft said. “This arts complex will cost less than the business school and the integrated science building.”

The College was the first in the nation to include fine arts in its curriculum, doing so in 1779. The modern fine arts department, established in 1936, was also the first in the nation. However, the Muscarelle has not been renovated since the museum’s completion in 1983, even though the size of its collections has nearly tripled.

De Groft said that the College’s priorities, which he said put the arts last, must change. According to De Groft, the College’s previous administration cut the Muscarelle’s budget by 90 percent in an effort to phase out the museum entirely from campus.

“I get myself into trouble sometimes because I don’t understand why the arts are not given enough publicity or resources, when our Michelangelo drawings, for example, were given national attention,” De Groft said.

Specific design plans and a timetable have not been completed. A feasibility study was conducted last year, leading to a preliminary design that nearly doubles the size of all current fine arts buildings, combining each with a new Muscarelle museum.

“Now that we have amassed [that] kind of space, we need a lot of student voices to tell us what they need done with the space,” De Groft said.

A new Muscarelle museum would serve as the new public entrance into the College, housing the departments of art and art history, theatre, speech, dance, film studies and music. In addition, a 250-seat auditorium, a first-class theatre, a concert hall, a student coffeehouse, a reception area, a black-box theatre, a recital hall, ensemble rooms and experimental studios would be integrated into the building.

“These new buildings need to be high efficiency and high energy, like the business school,” De Groft said. “In addition, the buildings should be inspiring, feasible and functional.”

For these reasons, De Groft said that glass or slate needs to be used instead of historic materials. He gave the example of Kansas City’s Bloch Building of the Nelson Atkins Museum, which is made of glass and glows in the dark, as a building acceptable for the arts.

De Groft also suggested using swing spaces and hydraulics to make large recital or concert halls multi-purpose.

De Groft described the financial planning as three-fold, consisting of buy-ins from the commonwealth of Virginia, student fees and major private fundraising. However, he said that the complex has a long financial road ahead of it before construction can begin.

“As of now, we have no financial reality,” De Groft said. “Student fees for the current classes are a necessary reality. And if we don’t use the state, Virginia Tech will for a new fine arts complex.”

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