For photography professor Ruth Adams, the University of Kentucky's new School of Art and Visual Studies Building means one pretty simple thing: "I'm so grateful to be in a building where I can breathe."
For Adams, who spent years in the rundown former tobacco warehouse that housed art studios and classes, the now renovated University Lofts on Bolivar Street, also a former tobacco warehouse, mean no more toxic fumes, no more sweating in 90-degree temperatures, no more crowding and much more actual art.
"It's functional and beautiful, and there's room to make art and move and breathe," she raved.
A few years ago, UK gave up on any meaningful renovations to Reynolds, and started on the University Lofts building. UK paid $6.7 million for the building, which had been renovated into loft-style apartments, and has used almost all of the $8 million earmarked to turn it into studios, offices and classrooms.
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Some professors will have offices and studios for the first time in the new building. For artist and professor Arturo Sandoval, who worked in Reynolds for 41 years, the new building is "to be free again. To create in an environment that's much more conducive to creating."
Omni Architects tore out the lofts and created glass and steel spaces, with much more glass, to allow people to see the creative process. The new building includes studios for ceramics, printmaking and painting, along with a series of darkrooms so students can learn all manner of old-time photographic development, along with the digital methods, too. Six digital media labs feature equipment that was impossible at Reynolds because of the antiquated infrastructure.
The new building is light and airy and will foster collaboration, said Robert Jensen, the school's director. "Art students have a way of hiding away," he said. This building "will cause them to behave in very different ways than they did in the past."
Jensen is also proud of the building's gallery, which is large enough to host guest artists and bigger shows than the school has done before.
"The building couldn't have opened at a better time," said Michael Tick, dean of the College of Fine Arts. He pointed specifically to new energy at the UK Art Museum with new director Stuart Horodner, saying, "There's a synergy we've never had before."
The art faculty wants the new building to be more open to alumni and the public so they can understand how new generations of artists are being educated. Although the building will be open for some summer school students, the grand opening will be Sept. 8. At some point, there will be a big party that features an alumni exhibit, and, faculty members say, marks a new era in arts education at UK.
"Students have been really sad to leave Reynolds," Adams said, because it's been a symbol for so long, "but they come in here and they understand."