UAFS breaks ground ‘metaphorically’ on $15.5 million arts building

story and photos by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Faculty, staff, students and members of the community figuratively broke ground Monday (April 21) on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's new $15.5 million visual arts building in a ceremony that was moved indoors due to rainy weather.

The new 58,000-square-foot facility, to be built at the intersection of Kincaid Avenue and Waldron Road, is the first building to be constructed as part of the university's new master plan and will bring all art department programs under one roof.

"This afternoon, we take the first step in the university's master plan to reshape the face of the campus during the next 20 years," said James Cox, chairman of the UAFS Board of Visitors.

Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, told a packed room of university supporters that just as the Ballman-Spear Building — an arts building — was the first building constructed when the university moved to its present location during the 1950s when it was still Fort Smith Junior College, the construction of this latest arts building was an important step in moving the university forward.

Rebecca Carolan, a senior art major from Alma, spoke of how the construction of the new building and the re-location of all the arts programs from five buildings into one would change the university in an immediate way.

"The initial impact of this building will be immediate," she said. "Studios where our elbows don't rub, a gallery space where we can learn how best to bring our (work) to the public and space where all students have the opportunity to transform their big ideas into even bigger objects."

UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran said the new building would further the university's mission upon its opening in just over one year.

"Construction of this building further's the university's mission while enhancing access to the arts as we prepare our students to succeed, as our mission statement says, 'In an ever changing global world.' And continuing with what our mission statement says, 'The ability to advance economic development and advance equality of place.' This kind of structure, this kind of building, this kind of investment in the community does all those things. It helps us to succeed at each point of our mission."

Beran said the new building would impact how students at the university see the world, adding that the artist pieces brought to life both in the university's older facilities and the new facility "changes us."

Funding for the facility was provided by a $15.5 million gift by the Windgate Charitable Foundation. In literature provided to guests at the groundbreaking ceremony, the university noted that it was seeking additional donations through naming rights associated with various sections of the building.

"Windgate Charitable Foundation has challenged UAFS to raise $2.5 million in private support to help establish an endowment for the facility," the literature read. "The naming opportunities presented offer ways to partner with the university to provide valued resources for students and the community at large."

Among the naming opportunities are a $500,000 sponsorship of the facility's cinema room, as well as a $500,000 donation of the building's primary gallery. Opportunities for naming rights range from as low as $5,000 to five different half-million dollar opportunities.

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"I know with the tremendous community support of the past that we will meet this goal," said Bill Hanna, a member of the UAFS Foundation Board. "I know that the UAFS Foundation will continue its good stewardship of money that this community gives to change lives through education at this premier institution."

And while rain may have caused the groundbreaking to move indoors and become merely figurative, Beran said it was reflective of the type of building that would soon rise at the corner of Kincaid and Waldron.

"In light of the fact that this is a 21st century building, I find it somewhat appropriate that we are doing it metaphorically and without the need to actually turn dirt ... that we are, in fact, turning dirt in our own minds and that the technological opportunity that we have with this building is reflected in that ability to do this from a distance."

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