The grand opening of the new Baugh Center for the Visual Arts doesn’t officially occur until Oct. 19, but the building on 9th Street across from the Mabee Academic Center has already opened its doors for the fall semester. Classes began Aug. 20 and many faculty members, along with returning art students, have shown their gratitude for the big change of scenery.
Teachers and students were not impressed with the school’s prior art quarters, to say the least.
Art professor John Hancock said, “Art was over at Presser Hall in the basement. We had four small rooms we did all of our art classes in. It always flooded (when) we had heavy rain. It was always dark, crowded and dirty.”
Sophomore art education major Ashley Lenz, however, seemed to have conflicting feelings about the new facility.
“It was mixed emotions. I loved Presser. I only went one year, but I kind of connected to it. Then again, this facility is awesome. So I was really excited to get into a new building,” she said.
Chair of the art department Hershall Seals noted that he already sees a strong impact being made.
“We’ve had our first week of classes, and our teaching experience has already changed dramatically because of the room to actually create sizable works of art and to have enough floor space for students to actually work,” he said.
Art majors are feeling more at home, and Seals hopes this newfound optimism will show in their latest artwork.
“I overheard a group of students in the hallway when I walked by. I heard one girl tell another girl, ‘I finally feel like a real university art student.’ To me, that meant so much to hear a genuine response from a student. That confirmed the professionalism of the building and just the high standards that the architects seem to call for,” Seals said.
The art center comes equiped with nine major classrooms and four senior studios students can utilize for work on their senior shows, as well as a host of new tools for use on various project.
Seals said, “We have been able to purchase a lot of new equipment. We have brand new potter’s wheels, new printing press, and most impressively, we are going to have a brand new bronze foundry area. We’ll also have a new glass blowing area.”
Art majors now have 24/7 access to the building, giving them the freedom to work on their projects whenever they’d like. They can scan their school identification cards whenever they need entrance to the building outside of regular class hours.
Throughout the semester, there will also be various opportunities for students around campus to observe brand new art pieces.
Seals said, “We will have regular events, mainly in the art gallery. We have four gallery openings scheduled for this semester, plus a senior exhibition. There will be an opening for that. We will probably do eight to ten exhibits a year in our gallery. They’re free and open to the public.”
He also hopes those outside the university will take part in these opportunities to experience the new facility.
“We want all of the community to come see our building, see our gallery and enjoy. The artwork that we present is the highest quality artwork that we can afford to bring to Belton,” he said.
Along with student art exhibits, the center is hosting a showcase entitled Truth and Consequence displaying the work of Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts Ted Barnes and his wife, Debra Smith Barnes.
The artwork is a combination of mixed media painting and collages, photo collages and acrylic paintings.
The exhibit opened Aug. 29 and will run until Sept. 21. The art gallery is on the second floor of the new building and will remain open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Despite all of the new transitions taking place, Hancock is enthusiastic that professors and students can keep a positive attitude when it comes to their work.
“We’re hoping to carry over the same relationship that we did have with our students. We did lose over half of our upperclassmen at graduation, so we’re starting new relationships with the incoming freshmen. We’ve always been very nurturing with our students, and we work with them as close as we can. We try to be more mentors than teachers,” he said.
Seals is grateful for the support the university has shown throughout the entire process of making the vision of creating the center a reality.
He said, “This new visual arts building is more than I ever expected it to be. I dreamed of having a building here for many, many years and when it finally happened…it’s better than I have ever dreamed. I really appreciate the administration, Dr. Oldham and Dr. O’ Rear for being supportive of our program, and making sure that it happened in a right kind of way because we are now the premier art department in the Southwest for people to choose to come to get a Christian higher education.”