The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Fine Arts Building Years Away

By Emily Howland

Despite a sped-up planning process, the dream of a new and improved Janet Wallace Fine and Performing Arts Center is still no less than five years away, Classics professor and project manager Andy Overman said. The estimated $65 million project will be a combination of renovation and reconstruction. A lack of funding, in addition to plans for a costly new athletic facility, has stunted progress in the plan to renovate the over forty-year-old Fine Arts building.

In 1992, the project reached the planning phase but funds were cut. The project will return to the design stage this May, over a decade later. No architect has been hired, though the college has a block diagram outlining how the space will be used.

“It is one of the longest art projects I have ever been involved with. It has taken patience,” Fine Arts Chair Ruthann Godollei said.

For decades, Godollei and her colleagues, including professors Beth Cleary and Marjorie Merryman, have tried to persuade the college to replace the Fine Arts Building because it no longer meets proper standards.

“On the surface in some cases [the current facility is] worse than a high school,” Godollei said.

A state-of-the-art facility at its opening in 1964, the building’s time has long since passed. For instance, there is no handicapped access to the second floor or basement of the Fine Arts Building. “This is only still legal because we haven’t renovated the building,” Godollei said.

Also, Godollei said the Fine Arts Building’s 1960s ventilation system is not proper for handling dangerous materials.

“We are not state-of-the art,” Godollei said.

In addition to poor ventilation, the Art building has insufficient space, she said.

The Art Department, for example, is designed to accommodate 100 students and three professors per year. Each year, however, 500 to 600 students and eight professors utilize the space.

The Music Department has insufficient rehearsal and recital space, forcing students to resort to the hallways and their dorm rooms to practice, Overman said.

“The number one issue is that since the programs have changed, the facilities can’t support how we want to teach those three disciplines [Art, Music, and Theater/ Dance],” Dickinson said.

Godollei said she is optimistic about the project’s future because a major portion of the new capital campaign is dedicated to the Fine Arts renovation. Vice President for Advancement Tommy Bonner, who is leading the campaign, said he plans to raise $43 million for the building, leaving the college to fund the remaining $22 million.

“We are just getting started and have $400,000 which will allow us to select an architect and get the final design process underway,” Bonner said.

Since President Brian Rosenberg came to Macalester in 2003, there has been greater emphasis on furthering the project. Rosenberg appreciates fine arts as a central part of the liberal arts education, Overman said.

To ensure that the college builds a lasting top-rate facility, Rosenberg ordered a detailed program analysis to determine the needs of the Art Department as far as fifty years after the building’s opening.

“We are moving quicker than I would have thought a couple years ago due to Brian’s focus on the arts,” Overman said.

Planning for the Fine Arts renovation is further complicated by the minimum of three departments that utilize the building, as well as the four buildings it would involve, said Dickinson.

Constructing a Fine Arts center is more heavily mechanical, while a field house is just a big box, Dickinson said. The complexity of engineering makes the project more expensive.

“You can’t screw up on a gym too much,” Overman said. “Even if we were offered $50 million we are moving as fast as we can responsibly move.”

Macalester’s Art Department can hardly compete with peer schools. Fine Arts faculty visited over 20 college campuses in two years to evaluate their Art Departments. Many schools had renovated or were in the process of renovating their Fine Arts centers, Overman said.

“At other colleges they have senior studio space,” art major Cecilia Caride ’06 said.

Each year 15 to 20 Art majors graduate with approximately 50 Art minors, said Godollei.

In an overview of the Art Department in 1999 Godollei found that the Fine Arts Building served two-thirds of the college in all three departments.

“We are not just serving a special interest group,” Godollei said.

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