Construction, Renovation Project at UW Promises Boost for Performing Arts
Talented trumpeter Stephen Wadsack of Gillette says he chose to study music education at the University of Wyoming largely because of the close contact he would have with outstanding music faculty members.
It definitely wasn’t because of the existing facilities for studying, practicing, rehearsing and performing at UW.
But as a result of a major renovation and expansion of UW’s 41-year-old Fine Arts building -- which will transform it into a modern Performing Arts Center -- Wadsack and his fellow music, theater and dance students will soon have the facilities to match the top-notch instruction they’re receiving.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Performing Arts Center project is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 10, near the southeast corner of the existing facility. The public is invited to the event, which will include brief comments from UW President Tom Buchanan, UW Board of Trustees President Dave Bostrom and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Oliver Walter.
For UW’s music, theater and dance faculty members, this is a long-awaited project that will finally provide an appropriate home for their popular, growing programs – and that promises to propel them to new heights of excellence. For current and future students, it will significantly enhance the educational experience and boost their post-graduation prospects. For the university, it will transform one of its most public faces into a centerpiece for the performing arts in the Rocky Mountain region. For the local community and the state, it will make perhaps Wyoming’s most important cultural venue a much more inviting place to enjoy performances and will strengthen arts education overall.
“I am very excited about the expansion and renovation, and am simply thankful that I will be around to enjoy it for a year or two,” says Wadsack, a sophomore who’s a member of the award-winning Wyoming Jazz Ensemble and a drum major with the UW Western Thunder Marching Band. “When the project is complete, we will have new additions that are considered standard in most top-tier performing arts schools. It will definitely improve students’ overall experience, as well as the value and reputation of their degrees when they graduate.”
The Performing Arts Center project is funded by a combination of bond proceeds, a $14.2 million legislative appropriation, private donations and other funds. The university and UW Foundation are working to secure $2 million in private gifts to complete the financing package, and there is potential for additional giving to support equipment and instrument acquisition.
The project includes about 120,000 gross square feet of renovation of portions of the existing building, along with about 50,000 square feet of new construction. The new space will include a 256-seat Thrust Theatre and a 100-seat Recital Hall added to the east side of the existing building, linked by an east lobby featuring a new box office. Other new spaces will include band/orchestra and choral rehearsal halls, and a second dance studio.
Existing space will be renovated to create light, sound and design labs; teaching and rehearsal space for musical theater; dressing and makeup rooms; and improved classrooms. In addition, the project includes vital sound isolation and acoustic work for instrumental music individual practice rooms and classrooms -- features that are necessary for Department of Music accreditation.
Sampson Construction Co. of Cheyenne is the construction manager. Completion is scheduled for December 2014.
The Performing Arts Center is the second phase of UW’s investments in the arts. The first was the $33 million, 79,000-square-foot Visual Arts Center that opened in 2012. In total, the university and the state have invested about $70 million in the two projects.
Funding for the Performing Arts Center project isn’t sufficient to revamp all of the existing building: For example, many faculty offices, unchanged since the facility opened in 1972, won’t see any upgrades. The available resources have been targeted at features that directly affect students and the public.
Department of Music Chair Theresa Bogard and Department of Theatre and Dance Head Leigh Selting began working at UW more than two decades ago. They’ve both seen significant enrollment growth in their programs since that time.
When Bogard came to UW in 1992, there were 117 undergraduate music majors and 13 graduate students. This fall, she expects about 150 undergraduates and 35 graduate students.
There were 34 theater and dance majors when Selting arrived in 1987. Today, there are 167.
“This project will give us the proper spaces that we need to teach, and allow us to do what we do in an outstanding manner,” Selting says. “We’ve been adapting for a long time with these limited facilities, and we’re excited about the improvements that will allow us to keep growing.”
Both department leaders say lack of space has been a serious problem. Classrooms and rehearsal rooms are just too small to accommodate the numbers of students, forcing instruction to take place in performance venues -- even at the same time performance preparation such as theater set creation is taking place. Bogard and Selting can offer plenty of other anecdotes that illustrate the cramped quarters: dance performers having to dress in public restrooms; makeup being done in shifts because rooms are too small; set preparation taking place in costume fitting rooms; musicians practicing in stairwells; faculty and staff offices being placed in janitor and storage closets; and the marching band having to rehearse in the lobby because no room is big enough.
“It will be wonderful to have the space we need,” Bogard says. “We can hardly wait.”
Sound control has been a particular problem for the Department of Music, as a lack of sound-proof practice rooms and classrooms regularly creates a cacophony in the building.
“It will be much easier to practice my own instrument without hearing everyone else who is practicing at the same time,” says Anna Fasken, a sophomore music education major from Palisade, Colo., who plays the cello.
Like Wadsack, Fasken says she came to UW in large measure because of her personal contact with Department of Music faculty members. The two students agree that improved facilities, combined with outstanding faculty, will make UW even more attractive to prospective students.
“UW has some very talented music faculty, and equipping our building with modern technology will make us even more marketable,” Wadsack says. “Updating technology to stay competitive with other schools will definitely help the university’s credibility in performing arts circles. I really do feel that recruitment will see a boost due to this project. It shows students that they can receive strong musical instruction in modern facilities without having to go out of state.”
The performing arts have a long and proud history at UW, and the university’s programs have achieved national recognition. The Jazz Ensemble, for example, regularly earns the highest ratings at national jazz festivals and last year performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
UW music, theater and dance graduates have gone on to successful professional careers throughout the country. They also fill important workforce needs as teachers in K-12 schools, among other jobs, across the state and region. That’s not to mention the role that performing arts fill in providing a well-rounded education -- something that has been at the core of UW since its founding more than 125 years ago.
“We’re educating people to figure out how they’re going to find a place in life,” Selting says. “The arts help students learn critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and commitment. It’s all part of a broad liberal arts education.”
UW’s programs also embrace their mission to promote the arts across the state, including regular tours and performances around Wyoming through UW Fine Arts Outreach, which also brings students and educators to campus to work with major artists and UW faculty. And UW Cultural Programs offers a rich array of music, theater and dance performances by artists of national and international distinction.
That statewide mission will only be enhanced with a modern Performing Arts Center where students and faculty members have the best atmosphere to hone their skills -- and where the public enjoys more than 100 concerts and dozens of theater and dance productions annually.
Selting points out that, aside from the Wyoming Union, the Performing Arts Center likely sees more student and public foot traffic -- with more public access and use -- than any another building on campus.
“When the project is finished, all of those people will be able to enjoy some of the finest facilities in the region,” he says.
University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra string section members Ruth Jacobs, a senior from Casper, right, and graduate student Wei Guo of China, left, work with Associate Professor John Fadial in UW’s Performing Arts Center. Groundbreaking for a major renovation and expansion of the facility is scheduled Friday, May 10. (UW Photo)