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No one can fault Margaret Haydon, Mark Ritchie and other University of Wyoming Department of Art faculty members for the excessive elation they express now that classes have begun in the university's new Visual Arts Building.
After all, Haydon, a ceramics professor, and Ritchie, who heads UW's printmaking program, had spent years teaching art classes in the Wainwright bungalows, the cramped, dilapidated former married student housing facilities north of the Fine Arts Building along Willett Drive. They can't hide their enthusiasm as they proudly teach classes in their new naturally lit, bright and roomy studios.
The Visual Arts Building is the latest in a series of capital facilities projects at UW to improve instruction, learning and research opportunities for students and faculty. The 79,000-square foot facility provides expanded teaching studios and spaces for art history, ceramics, drawing, foundations of art, graphics, painting, printmaking, sculpture and small metals.
In addition to the basic teaching studios, the facility offers administrative offices, a large student commons area, a gallery for exhibiting students' work and to support the Visiting Artists Program, and a large lecture room for art classes and other programs. Individual studio spaces and offices for faculty supplement the teaching studios.
"I almost cried -- I found this facility to be so stunning," says Haydon after walking into the building for the first time. "It was just overwhelming, there are no words to express how wonderful it is."
She says the building creates a positive environment for students. The facility continues UW's effort to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for sustainability, and is expected to achieve LEED gold status. It features a natural ventilation system and a solar collector on the roof that provides up to 35 percent of the building's heating needs.
"The students have more respect for what they do, because they have been shown respect by being given this new building," Haydon says. "It gives them a sense of confidence, and they will have a broader experience in the things we can offer them. For example, we'll have a dedicated space for plaster work that we didn't have before."
Her students share the excitement.
"It's just amazing, everything is topnotch," says Adam Helzer, a junior art major from Torrington. "It has everything we need. I'm excited to come to class."
Hailey Woodall, a freshman from Buffalo, is grateful that she will spend the remainder of her undergraduate years in the new building.
"I love working with clay, so it's great to have the space to do bigger projects, now we have the space to store our work," she says. "There is so much room to grow and do good work."
Both students appreciate the cleaner, safer environment that was a major focus of the design and construction of the new building. They note there are fewer distractions than in the old bungalow studios.
"You feel like you are in a real studio," the students say. "We can focus more on what we are doing."
Ritchie is impressed with the additional space, too.
"The students no longer have to negotiate space, the studios are flexible and they can rearrange things to accomplish the work they need to do," he says. "I'm certain we'll see more ambitious work in terms of scale, and I think students might craft things a little better because we are in a cleaner environment; there is a sense of pride in working in such a building."
The professors note the building offers new opportunities for artists to show their work. Haydon says she looks forward to inviting visiting artists with higher profiles. The facility now offers space to display student work as well.
Conor Mullen of Casper, a recent UW graduate who now assists Ritchie, notes the importance of being located next to the Art Museum.
"It will encourage them to make more use of the collections, and opportunities such as the Art Museum's Juried Student Art Show will better prepare students for careers in the profession," he says.
Haydon and Ritchie agree that UW students have always done great work, and now they will have the opportunity to do even better.
"It raises the bar for all of us," Haydon says. "We now have a facility that matches the quality of the teaching that goes on here."
The building is the first phase of a long-range plan to achieve cultural distinction outlined in University Plan 3, UW's strategic plan.
The second phase is a planned performing arts facility contingent upon legislative appropriations. It would include 120,000 square feet of renovated space and a 51,900-square-foot addition. It houses offices, teaching laboratory/studios such as music, music rehearsal, acting and dance; and performance spaces such as concert halls and theatres. The facility will support the University Cultural Programs series that brings nationally and internationally recognized artists to campus and serve as a base to provide educational opportunities in which visiting artists share their expertise, not only with UW students but with state and regional residents.