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A new home for art and theater
Center for Contemporary Arts opens

Shepherd University art and theater students can breathe a sigh of relief--their days of traipsing all over campus to classes are over. They now have a spacious new home to create their works of art. Phase I of the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) opened its doors in February and the students and faculty couldn't be happier.

The new building contains 10 classrooms including a digital photo processing studio, a printmaking studio, and a studio with a suspended floor for dancers. There are also offices for the faculty in the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater and for the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF).

"This building forms a focus point for our campus," said Dow Benedict, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. "We are making ourselves distinct."

Located on West Campus, the CCA was designed to fit in with the natural surroundings. The roofline of the building mimics the rolling mountains visible in the distance. "If you look down from the Frank Center, you can see how the roof blends," said Benedict. The copper exterior represents a metal that sculpture students typically work with. "Once the copper on the outside of the building patinas, the building will take on the color of the Blue Ridge Mountains," said Ed Herendeen, professor of theater. "It was important that the CCA be an inspirational place for the people who make the art--the students and the professional artists who work here."

"My favorite feature is actually the appearance of the building," said Jeremy Blaine, a senior photography major originally from Arlington, Virginia, but now a Shepherdstown resident. "It is a welcome change from the yellow brick design of East Campus and will continue to change forever, much like what actually goes on inside," he said.

"The outside of the building reflects the contemporary notion going on inside," said Rhonda Smith, professor of art and chair of the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater. "One of the first things the architects came up with was the roofline and the metal exterior."

The inside of the CCA was designed to take advantage of the natural north light and features high ceilings, large windows, polished concrete floors, storage areas, and large garage doors that open to let air in and also to allow no size limitations on the artwork being created. The building also has wireless Internet.

"The best feature is the soaring roofline in the studios that allows all the light to come in. When you have soaring ceilings, it just opens people up and makes anything possible. I think those studios make anything possible," said Smith. The combination of concrete floors and studio space have also made it possible for Smith to roller skate around and check on the students' work.

The second floor of the building has conference rooms, a reference room, and interior windows that view the studio classrooms below. The walls are painted green and there are couches and chairs along the hallways where students can sit and take a break. "The couches and chairs make the atmosphere more homey and fun to be in," said Kyle Schmitz, a sophomore photography major from Springfield, Virginia. Along the outside hallway of the building are large windows with shelves that are open to the classroom inside. These windows can also be closed to display the student artwork to passersby.

Steps were also taken to make the building more environmentally conscious. The large, open windows allow more sunlight, reducing the use of lights; all the windows open, saving on air-conditioning costs; and the printmaking studio was converted to be non-toxic. "The non-toxic process is safer for the students because we aren't using so many solvents and chemicals," said Smith. "I am really proud we made the decision to do that."

The construction of the new building was important for a number of reasons, says Benedict. "We were trying to run art, music, and theater out of one building that was built in 1981. When the Frank Center was built, music had about 100 students, art had probably about 100, and there was no theater program at that time. Since then music is up to about 120 majors, art is about 300 majors, and, with theater and the CATF, we didn't have the facilities to be able to put in a theater major. An additional space would allow us to take art and let it expand, take music and let it expand, and be able to add theater."

The building consolidates the art program which Benedict says had classes scattered all over the campus. "We have had art in the Frank Center (part of it is still there), Knutti Hall, and Reynolds Hall and there has been art in Sara Cree Hall, the new Erma Ora Byrd Hall, and the Byrd Center."

"There just wasn't enough available space," said Smith, "which meant that classes were running in the spaces continuously. The students didn't have an opportunity to go into those rooms and work on their projects because classes were always going on. The worst place for that was the basement of Knutti because all the drawing and painting classes were taught there and were back to back from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. The students had no place to work, and you cannot really produce artwork if you only work during class time."

"Working at Knutti was inconvenient, dark, and out of the way," said Daniel Masi, a senior painting major from Charles Town. "As a painting major, I am required to bring in paintings I am working on in my home studio. Lugging them across campus after trying to find parking, and then entering the building only to find a narrow staircase obviously not designed with art students in mind was frustrating."

"The time was right to accommodate the needs of the programs because they were growing and running out of space," said Herendeen. The festival received a grant for a 10-year strategic plan that identified a need for new facilities to meet the needs of contemporary theater. The CATF had plans to start a capital campaign to raise the funds to build a new center themselves. "It seemed like a win-win to approach Shepherd and the art department to form a partnership. We felt together we could raise more money and create a more inspiring space than if we did it separately." Phase II of the CCA will be built with private funds.

In addition to providing more space for the art department, the move to the CCA allows the Department of Music to expand in the Frank Center. "The Frank Center was designed to expand with a three-story addition on each wing of the building. Then West Woods and the Butcher Center were built, and the expansion that was going to be possible, no longer was," Benedict said. The plan now is for the music department to expand into the art side of the building. The music department had previously had to have quieter, listening classes near performance classes and with more room in the building they will be able to have a quiet side and a performing side in the building. The open space in Knutti has made room for a possible campus television station.

Collaboration is another word frequently used when describing the CCA. That collaboration has already begun with the combination of the art and theater departments to create the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater and also with the CATF. "Ed Herendeen, Dow [Benedict], and I started discussing how we all wanted to grow and thought, let's join forces. It's been a really good connection," said Smith. "We are interested in the contemporary--Ed more theatrical, but art is also about performance. We anticipate that we will start offering performance-based classes next year and that collaboration is really going to start to happen. There really will be this connection that begins between theater and art that hasn't really happened in the past," she said. "This new building is going to make it possible."

"One of the features of this building is a unique opportunity to collaborate and work together and create works of art together by crossing our particular disciplines. We are committed as a faculty to cross-disciplinary work," said Herendeen.

"Having the art disciplines under the same roof allows students the opportunity to investigate ideas and focuses other than their own," said Karli Steffy, a senior painting major from Charlottesville, Virginia. "The instructors can also use this chance to further develop their teaching methods."

The CCA will help Shepherd stay competitive with art and theater programs at other schools. "The reputation is already here for both of the programs, and during campus visits you could see students get deflated by the cramped spaces and having to take them all over to show them the places. Now we are able to have space that is specific to what they do. For someone in the arts, the uniqueness of it is something they are going to be very attracted to," said Benedict.

"At an open house when students and parents walk through this building, they are going to be impressed with the facilities and feel like it really is an art building," said Smith.

"I predict that this state-of-the-art facility will attract the next generation of future artists in theater and visual arts to Shepherd. It will ultimately attract some of the finest master teachers and artists from around the country," said Herendeen.

The new building is important to Shepherd's future. "We think that we will add a theater component that will attract students interested in a crossover degree," said Smith. "Today's student is very interested in getting a job after graduation. The truth is, most art degrees don't offer a job at the end. We believe that with the new building and this collaboration, we will be able to offer an experience that will give them really unique opportunities because of CATF and its summer program. Students will be able to intern and get experience with set designers, costume designers, and lighting designers. This is the kind of experience and diversity of experience a lot of schools aren't able to provide."

Students believe the new building will have a positive impact on Shepherd's future. "In the future more serious artists will consider Shepherd as a place for education in their pursuit of a career in the arts. I think the Contemporary American Theater Festival will grow and become a landmark for contemporary performance as well as art," said Masi.

"Once you go inside the building, it just makes you want to create art," said Schmitz. "I wish I was going to be a freshman this fall so I could start all over just in the new building."

--Stephanie Horst

Center for Contemporary Arts Dedication and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image.

Ed Herendeen, professor of theater (l.); Rhonda Smith, professor of art and chair of the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater; and Dow Benedict, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, gather in the painting studio of the new Center for Creative Arts.

Jeremy Blaine

The copper exterior of the CCA building, shown above in a November 2007 photo, will lose the shine and gain a patina as it ages.

The painting studio has high ceilings and plenty of light.

Shepherd's new Center for Contemporary Arts, Phase I.


Department of Contemporary Art and Theater

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF)

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