The Fine Arts Center, a multi-million dollar project that has been on the university’s radar for several years, is still moving forward, though plans for the building have changed in recent months.
The center, which will be located across from the main campus next to the Millennium Centre upon completion, will provide spaces for the music and theatre programs, in addition to a 1,200-seat auditorium available for general use.
Other fine arts programs, such as art and design, bluegrass and aerial dance, will not have designated spaces in the building because of budget limitations.
Jeremy Ross, chief of staff for external operations, said programs such as dance and bluegrass were not available as majors or were not offered at the university at all when the original planning for the center began several years ago.
“The budget from the Tennessee Board of Regents did not originally conceive all of the programs that we wanted to put into this building,” Ross said. “In fact, some of our programs did not exist when the formation of the budget, in scope, many years ago was created.”
Mira Gerard, chair of the department of art and design, said she was one of the many people included in conversations about the center when plans first started to move forward in recent years.
“I think the initial thought was that all of the arts areas might move over there, but that’s unrealistic because, in addition to performance and exhibition spaces, the need for rehearsal spaces for music and theatre, classrooms for art and so on would be enormous and far, far beyond the scope of what that budget could provide,” Gerard said.
Gerard said the project was scaled back during the last academic year, with a new focus on providing performance and exhibition space and some limited rehearsal space for all the departments, with no classroom space.
However, Gerard said even that plan was well over the budget approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.
“The reality of that, although they did draw up a beautiful architectural plan, was that it would come in at least $16 million, if not $20 million, over budget,” Gerard said. “And unfortunately, unless there’s a way to change that budget, that’s impossible.”
Gerard said it was then announced that the university would continue to move forward with the project, cutting some programs from the building.
According to new plans, the center will include a black box theater, a large music hall and some rehearsal space. Ross said the building is expected to be complete in 2019, with no groundbreaking date currently scheduled.
Fundraising is also still ongoing, though Ross said the university has raised most of the necessary funds.
“We have a matching requirement of $10.2 million, and we’ve raised just a little over $9 million,” Ross said. “So we still have about $1.2 million to go, but we have a little bit of time to do that.”
Although not all of the arts programs will be included in the building, Ross said he believes that planning and fundraising for the center has demonstrated a strong collaborative effort by the community.
“There are over 500 donors,” Ross said. “The City of Johnson City and other government officials have invested in the project. The faculty and staff have been patient and worked hard on it. The entire region has invested financially and in other ways, and the project has really just brought people together.”
Though Gerard was disappointed that the Fine Arts Center would not include space for art and design students, she is confident that other gallery spaces will become permanently available for student use.
“I have a lot of other ideas about how visual arts can be part of the community, and I’ve shifted my focus,” Gerard said. “I’ve met personally with [ETSU President Brian Noland] to discuss other options, and to that end, he’s worked closely with me to create another plan for our department.”