Regis Center completes Arts Quarter

Chelsie Hanstad

University art students started class for the first time last week in what University administrators said is the most advanced art building in the country.

“This is a major thing,” project manager Kelly O’Brien said.

The Regis Center for Art, designed by University professor Garth Rockcastle, consists of two buildings. The west building is dedicated to the two-dimensional arts such as painting, drawing, printmaking and electronic arts. The east building is for sculpture and other three-dimensional arts. The buildings are connected by a skyway.

The east building is also the new home of the Nash Gallery, once located in Willey Hall. The first exhibit in the new gallery opened last week and features faculty works.

Student artwork is displayed in the east building’s main entrance and in a student gallery. A student video installation currently occupies the top floor of the west building.

The buildings are the first in the nation to install durable, asbestos-free paneling called Swiss Pearl.

“We’re not breathing asbestos anymore,” ceramic arts senior Holly Gosselin said. “It’s cleaner, healthier. (Having a new building) is a new experience. We don’t know what to think yet.”

The previous art building was abandoned in part because of asbestos-related problems, O’Brien said. It was an old billboard factory purchased in 1965 for $1 from the Naegele Sign Company for temporary use.

In addition to asbestos issues, the building was inconvenient for handicapped students, and it had frequent bird and rodent problems. It would have cost $10 million to bring the building up to code, O’Brien said.

“There were health and safety concerns – a huge number of code deficiencies,” art department Chairman Mark Pharis said. “This is a better facility for artists.”

The new buildings have more space and better equipment, Pharis said. The Regis Center completes the West Bank Arts Quarter, a set of buildings housing arts-related disciplines such as music, dance and theater.

The new art buildings include studios, teaching spaces, a foundry for melting metals, an exterior courtyard, student exhibition spaces and 23 kilns.

“It’s cleaner, more modern,” art senior Becky Thompson said. “But they need more bike parking.”

Some of the old has also been incorporated into the new. The old art building address, 2020, hangs above the foundry. Terra cotta panels from the old building are displayed on an exterior wall as ways to remember the old building, which will soon be gone. It is slated for demolition this fall – and with good reason.

“We had names for mice,” Gosselin said.

Enrollment in arts courses is up 23 percent over the past decade, and art is now the seventh most popular major, according to the College of Liberal Arts. Ten thousand students use Arts Quarter buildings each year, along with more than 160,000 audience members who come to view the shows and exhibitions the area produces.