Marshall celebrates grand opening of ‘world-class’ Visual Arts Center in downtown Huntington

VACRibbonCutting_09-18-14Marshall College introduced an art program on the school’s Huntington campus in 1902, despite having no facility dedicated to the arts.

It took a while—a little more than 112 years to be exact—but finally  the Marshall University School of Art and Design has its own facility. A large crowd of members of the Marshall and Huntington communities witnessed the official opening of the university’s Visual Arts Center, which was celebrated last week with a ribbon cutting at the renovated, six-story former Anderson-Newcomb (Stone & Thomas) Department Store building.

President Dr. Stephen J. Kopp joined with Donald Van Horn, dean of the College of Arts and Media, and several others for the ribbon cutting at the building located across 3rd Avenue from Pullman Square.

“The dedication of our Downtown Visual Arts Center is a historic event in the annals of Marshall University’s history,” Kopp said. “After decades of unfulfilled promises, the dream of a modern, aesthetically magnificent edifice that will support and energize the creativity and imagination of our visual arts students and faculty has now been realized. Much hard work and ingenuity have gone into the transformation of the old Anderson-Newcomb building, preserving its distinctive architectural lines, while creating a world-class visual arts center. Everyone associated with this city and the Marshall family should be very proud of this accomplishment. We now have a beautiful, iconic showplace in downtown Huntington that epitomizes who we are. I expect to see more Marshall University facilities moving in that direction. This first step opens up all sorts of possibilities for the university to grow and our community to prosper.”

In 1902, the building known then as the Valentine, Newcomb & Carder Department Store opened downtown as a three-story structure. Little could anyone imagine what the future connection would be between Marshall’s art program and that building, which added three floors in 1920 and became known as the Anderson-Newcomb Department Store.

While Marshall’s art department continued to grow through many decades, the department store thrived, too, before running its course. Marshall purchased the building, which had been closed for years, in 2011 for $750,000, with the idea of turning it into a Visual Arts Center. Van Horn credited Kopp for seeing the project through when others before him did not.

“I think that Dr. Kopp was presented with a vision of something that could happen downtown, and he recognized the strength of that vision and purchased that building,” Van Horn said. “And, here we are, three years later. Those past promises were never fulfilled for a variety of reasons. It’s a whole new paradigm for visual arts education. I think we’ll see the benefits from this for years and years to come.”

Hannah Saxton, a sophomore graphic design major, said the building is a huge asset to Marshall, the School of Art and Design, and downtown, where she works for a locally owned business.

“Not only is the Visual Arts Center a fantastic new facility, but the location will make a huge impact,” Saxton said. “Downtown is beginning to come back to life and thrive. Not only will the students benefit by being more in the heart of the city, but the other businesses will benefit from having the students downtown as well. Personally, I couldn’t be more excited to get the semester underway.”

Shortly after the fall semester began, Saxton said, the center already had met all her expectations.

“From big things, like the new equipment, to the small details, such as each floor’s color coordination, it’s all been planned out thoroughly and it shows,” she said.

Daniel Kaufmann, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, teaches photography in the Visual Arts Center.

“Everything is great!” Kaufman said. “The new darkroom sink and equipment are a huge improvement over what we had in Smith Hall. The students have been very excited and impressed with the new facilities. Generally, I think the biggest difference is having the space we need. Everything has its own room rather than the multipurpose rooms we had before.”

Zoe Myers, a junior printmaking major, said studying in the new Visual Arts Center is like “a breath of fresh air,” especially when compared to the old location on the sixth floor of Smith Hall.

“The first time I got to see the building, I was like a kid in a candy store,” Myers said. “It is absolutely beautiful on every floor. Even though the sixth floor at Smith Hall is where we got the creative juices flowing, the Visual Arts Center has given us students and professors inspiration. I am thankful and excited to be a part of this building in its beginning stage.”

The renovation, which included the addition of 65,000 pounds of steel in a 66,000-square-foot area, cost $13.7 million and is being paid for with bonds and private donations. The renovation incorporates the building’s original hardwood floors with smart lighting, highly efficient heating and cooling, and Wi-Fi throughout.

The ground floor features retail space and a 2,200-square-foot gallery with nearly 150 feet of linear display space.

Art education, art history, fibers, foundations, graphic design, painting, photography and printmaking students are studying their crafts on floors two through five. The sixth floor includes administrative space and a picturesque view of downtown and six blocks of the Old Main Corridor leading to the Huntington campus.

Sculpture and ceramics will stay in the university’s art warehouse on 20th Street.

“The renovated building will bring some cohesion to the program that they have not had and a stronger sense of purpose,” Van Horn said. “It gives the program an opportunity to grow. Over time what we will see is the development of some new programs that heretofore we have not had a place for. And, new programs will bring more students to Marshall. Putting Marshall in downtown is a wonderful step for the university.”

Van Horn feels certain the center will bring commerce downtown.

“To bring a couple of hundred students and faculty downtown on a daily basis has to have a pretty dramatic impact on the economy of downtown Huntington,” he added. “And, as time moves on and we see the kind of growth that we expect will happen, those numbers will only get bigger. Bringing this program downtown will have a far-reaching impact on the health of our community.”