Deans Letter: Upgrades Needed for our Fine Arts Facilities

Thursday, October 11, 2018
a portrait of Dean Doug Dempster

From Arts Next, Fall 2018 issue

The first building ever built for the College of Fine Arts was the stout but venerable Homer Rainey Hall, west of the Littlefield Fountain. Rainey Hall was finished in 1941 for the music department, reconstituted in the newly formed College of Fine Arts after being struck 20 years earlier from the UT budget in a line-item veto by Gov. Ma Ferguson.

Rainey Hall was state of the art at the time, beautifully designed with sound-insulated studios, instrument lockers, practice rooms and recital halls. It now houses the Department of French and Italian, though the Butler School still holds chamber music recitals in the adjacent Jessen Auditorium, an acoustically gorgeous Art Deco jewel box.

The next great wave of construction for the College of Fine Arts came in the 1960s when the Art Building, Winship Drama Building, the Lab Theater and the Band Hall were built. A third wave of construction broke in the early ‘80s when the Doty Fine Arts Building, the Performing Arts Center, including Bass and McCullough halls and the Scenic Shop, and the Music Recital Building were all completed.

In their day, these facilities were the envy of arts colleges nationally and the pride of UT’s ambitions as a cultured, creative campus. These facilities have served well many generations of students and faculty. But increasingly, what we teach, and the ways we teach for the future our students will soon inherit, have outstripped the adaptability and potential of these venerable facilities.

And we’re growing significantly as a college. Undergraduates majoring in the college will grow by more than 50 percent over the next few years, in fields and subjects that didn’t even exist 50 years ago. There are limits to how much an old facility can be adapted for new uses, and we’ve had to be creative to make room for new programs and technologies.

The University is investing annually in keeping our buildings mechanically operational and safe with new roofs, HVAC systems, ADA-compliant bathrooms and electrical and security upgrades. With the help of the Provost, the College of Fine Arts is investing as much of the college’s resources as we can collect into modernizing our aging facilities.

Over the past several years, we’ve completely renovated the Visual Arts Center, replaced ceramics studios with digital fabrication labs, modernized the technology in dozens of classrooms, upgraded Bates Hall and all our theaters. We’ve renovated and modernized the entirety of the Fine Arts Library, consolidating print collections, adding classrooms and offices, creating more study spaces, and created a maker space, a recording studio and other enhancements.

This year we’re working on upgrades to recording studios in the Butler School, classrooms and computer labs in the Art Building and creating a teaching laboratory in the Scenic Shop for a new program in live performance technologies. The B. Iden Payne Auditorium is being reimagined and refitted as a high-tech performance space and teaching laboratory.

But much more is needed to keep pace with our growth and, more importantly, to stay abreast of the future of the arts that is already with us today. Addressing our facilities and space needs will be one of our highest strategic priorities over the next decade as we continue to grow and evolve as a college.

Excelsior!

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