Faculty, students speak: Art Building for the birds

by Nathan Whalen

For almost 30 years, Guy Baldwin, a University metal sculpture professor, has worked in a building that was never designed for his craft. He remembers the fresh coat of paint on the walls and the cleanliness of his new studio when he moved in 1970.
Since then, the paint has peeled, an invincible layer of dirt coats the floor and the department has been overwhelmed with noxious fumes, homesteading birds and poor access. The University said the building would be demolished if the art department ever moved.
The building’s deterioration has frustrated the sculptor and was compounded when Gov. Jesse Ventura didn’t recommend funding for a new building.
“We’re awful tired of living a Bohemian lifestyle,” Baldwin said in his office, located in the basement of the Art Building, which he shares with four other professors and eight teaching assistants.
Rather than help, the building has hindered Baldwin’s teaching.
Many times he has had to turn off the heater in the classroom so students can hear him lecture, and they have to make a compromise during the winter months between teaching students during class and staying warm.
“(The ventilation system) is all kind of patchwork,” Baldwin said. The University’s cure for the ventilation problems has been to resolve them on a case-by-case basis. However, new ventilation problems always arise.
Mark Knierim works in Art Building maintenance. He said the building’s leaks provide betterventilation than the ventilation system itself. As a result of the building’s poor air circulation, metalworking fumes are contained inside the building.
“The most common phrase in the Art Building is ‘What is that smell?'” said art senior Jennie Gibbs.
Some of the most dangerous fumes might not be the ones that smell. Because the foundries, and until recently the furnaces, don’t cleanly burn their fuel, students have had to deal with carbon monoxide. It has become such a part of life that some students recognize the symptoms on the tip of their tongue.
“If you get a sweet taste in your mouth, then you have to get outside,” said art senior Thor Carlson. The sweet taste is a sign of possible carbon monoxide exposure.
Many students said the fumes are shared among the various areas within the department. Many artists either share the same space or are separated by partitions that allow fumes to move freely throughout the building.
In addition to dealing with the ventilation problems, the Art Building also has flying residents.
Birds are able to nest in the building through the windows that remain open year round. The birds have lived in the building for so long, they have lost their fear of people and have even attacked students, Gibbs said.
The birds have even damaged students’ artwork.
Knierim said the birds would pick apart the insulation on the ceiling, which damages work. Bird excrement has also wreaked havoc on the students’ projects.
“I was working on a $12 piece of paper, and a bird shit on it,” Gibbs said. Her printmaking classes frequently require high-quality paper.
What many at the Art Building have found embarrassing is the lack of handicap facilities.
Baldwin said he has two wheelchair-bound students. To take a sculpture class in the building, these students have to venture down a ramp too steep to meet access codes to get to the back of the building, knock on the garage door and hope someone lets them in.
If these students need to use the bathroom, they have to go outside again, back around and up to the first floor.
Knierim, who has helped maintain the Art Building for 12 years, said University Services has been very supportive in trying to maintain the Art Building, but the University’s wishes for the building remain all too clear.
“The building just isn’t worth throwing money into,” Knierim said.

Nathan Whalen covers construction and welcomes comments at [email protected]ily.umn.edu. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3236.