Western gives behind-scenes tour of new art department facilities

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University gave patrons of the arts a behind-the-scenes look Thursday, Nov. 4, at the creative process that goes into the paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works that will soon be on display in the galleries of the university’s massive Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Western’s department of art hosted an open house in the recently completed art wing of the new building, and several hundred people turned out for the first public event in the $30 million, 122,000-square-foot center. They were treated to drawing and painting demonstrations, examined photography, sculpture and mixed media works, prowled through art history books – and even got their hands dirty molding clay pots in ceramics studios.

Thomas Moore of Asheville plays the oud, a Syrian stringed instrument, while John Speier of Bryson City, an art student, draws him.

Thomas Moore of Asheville plays the oud, a Syrian stringed instrument, while John Speier of Bryson City, an art student, draws him.

In welcoming remarks, Western Chancellor John W. Bardo thanked the citizens of North Carolina for approving in November 2000 the $3.1 billion state higher education bond package that is funding construction of the Fine and Performing Arts Center, and he singled out N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight for understanding the impact the center will have on Western North Carolina, both artistically and economically.

“To be very competitive, a region is going to have to be very creative. This facility gives us the opportunity to have the arts front and center at the university. It’s no accident that the very first academic building you see when you come on campus is this one,” Bardo said.

“This is a special building, filled with good, creative people. It will help us define the future. This building, this facility, this direction are right for this university and right for the mountains. Look at what has happened to Asheville and to Western North Carolina over the past several years. This is now a ‘cool’ region to be in. It’s now a destination for people because of the quality of life, the quality of culture and the quality of education,” he said.

Matt Liddle, head of the art department, told the crowd that the new Fine and Performing Arts Center is ample evidence of the university’s increasing emphasis on the arts.

“This building is dedicated to the principle that art is important. Art is important for all of us, especially at a university setting where we are all about the free exchange of ideas and the life of the mind, affirming and challenging what we believe,” Liddle said. “Art is about taking an idea and giving it some form. This building is a good example of taking an idea and giving it some form. This building is a metaphor for the value this university and this community place on the arts.”

Martin DeWitt, founding director of the museum of art within the center, gave a preview of what to expect in the art museum’s four separate art galleries, which comprise more than 4,470 square feet and will hold Western’s permanent collection and rotating displays of contemporary art, drawings and student work.

“We know the impact of what goes on in this building will not only be felt on the campus, but also in the community, the region, the state, nationally and internationally,” DeWitt said. “We really do have the intent to bring the world here to Cullowhee. But, at the same time, we are bringing Cullowhee to the world.”

Emy Mixon and Jarod Yerkes look at paintings during the art department's Open House Thursday, Nov. 4, at Western.

Emy Mixon and Jarod Yerkes look at paintings during the art department’s Open House Thursday, Nov. 4, at Western.

Paul Lormand, founding director of the performance facilities in the new building, promised good things to come in the facility’s 1,000-seat auditorium, a hall capable of hosting Broadway-quality productions. Workers are putting finishing touches on the performance space, which is expected to be ready for use by next fall.

“The performing arts make you feel good, vital and excited,” Lormand said. “They make you feel good to be alive. It is our goal to challenge the minds, touch the hearts, and reach the souls of everyone who enters our doors. When we open those doors, you will discover a celebration of life.”

While DeWitt and Lormand spoke about future activities in the new building, the art department’s Jon Jicha reminded open house attendees that much is happening now in the facility, including a new master of fine arts degree program that began this past summer.

The graduate program – offered through an unconventional course structure featuring an intensive, on-campus residency during the summer and distance course work during the fall and spring – has already attracted students from across the nation, Jicha said.

For more information on the program or other art department activities, contact the department of art at (828) 227-7210.