KINGSTON, R.I. – December 5, 2022 – At the end of the spring semester, students and passersby in the Fine Arts Center may have noticed a change. The iconic posters disappeared from the walls of the theatre wing, signaling – instead of a production that took place – one yet to come. This past summer, phase 1B of the Fine Arts Center’s long-awaited renovation began.
The project received the go-ahead last year when Rhode Island voters approved bond Question 1, providing $107 million for major renovation projects at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island. Of that, $57.3 million is slated for significant upgrades to URI’s Fine Arts Center, removing half of the existing building and installing an 82,000-square-foot new academic building for the programs inside.
The renovation will provide a long-awaited boost to the University’s fine art programs. Some of the work has already taken place in phase 1A, including mechanical infrastructure improvements, new windows and exterior façade. Phase 1B, the latest phase, includes new windows and an exterior façade for the pods not completed in phase 1A. This fall, workers have been busy separating utilities in preparation for creating a construction site for the new building. Certainly, this fall’s warm weather has been helpful as the work commenced.
The part of the project funded by the bond issue promises to greatly improve functionality and will focus on new construction. With 5,000 students taking classes in Fine Arts each year, it was not feasible to completely shut it down. Pastore Hall is being used temporarily for the art program, which will move into Pastore during the upcoming Winter Break. Pastore was renovated this past summer to ensure that art students have access to adequate space and facilities during their temporary stay.
In terms of space update specifics for the Fine Arts Center:
- The new section will run east-west on the site of the existing Fine Arts footprint.
- The first and second floors of the new building will include spaces for art, music and theatre.
- The 3rd floor of the new building will be the new home of the art department.
- The existing theatre pods (H, J, K) will remain theatre spaces.
- The music department will find new configurations for their programs; pod A will house music, including music therapy; pod D will house music practice rooms; pod E will house music offices; and pod B will remain the concert hall, with updating of the mechanical system.
- Two pods (G and F) will be demolished to make way for the new building and renovation of Fine Arts.
According to Katherine Kittredge, associate director of campus design, the renovations will take place over the next two years, and are projected to be completed in late 2024.
“This will be a major renovation and uplift,” she says. “Students and faculty there take pride in their programs and should have a space to match it.”
Students and faculty have long felt that Fine Arts’ façade did not accurately reflect the vibrant work and energy inside. As other major facilities have been completed, Fine Arts started to look increasingly worn and dilapidated in comparison to the newer buildings, with its grim exterior hiding the active and lively hum inside its walls. “You come into this building and it’s a vibrant and fun place with students active at all hours, making art, hanging out,” says Chris Anderson, visual arts / digital resource technician.
Students are more than ready for a major renovation, even if that means dealing with some disruption. Senior music major Aiden Rogler says, “This is a welcome and much needed update. We all are very excited to see that Fine Arts is finally getting the attention it deserves as the center of the arts on campus.”
Students hope to see the facility match the caliber of the work and people inside, perhaps even lead to a boost in program enrollment in a reinvigorated space.
The planned renovations should keep the community feeling of the center, but make it a more inviting and attractive place to learn in and to visit. “I think it will improve the morale of the students and teachers in the building,” Rogler says. “I am optimistic about the new Fine Arts Center and hope that it also feels like a home for future classes like it has for myself and many other students.”
Sam Giunta, president of the Music Therapy Club, echoes that optimism. “We are excited to use and work in a space that will reflect the hard work and dedication of our department.”
The new building will feature a new theatre lobby, modern acting classrooms, technical areas for digital art and media, recording studios, improved acoustics, more public space and natural light. In conjunction with these renovations, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) will also commission public artwork through the state’s Allocation for Art for Public Facilities Act.
“The state’s arts agency is excited to be partnering with URI in the commissioning of a new art piece for the Fine Arts Center and looks forward to adding new public art to the state’s collection,” said Lynne McCormack, Executive Director of RISCA.
Junior Joey Peavar, a music therapy / jazz performance major, says that Fine Arts’ students are some of the most committed and hard-working on campus: “I see colleagues practicing at remarkable hours and putting in all their time and efforts to master their craft. The pre-renovation state of the building does not nearly represent the character and dedication of the departments inside it.”
The quality of those students and the school’s arts programs certainly draws people to campus. Fine Arts is second only to the Ryan Center in terms of visitors, hosting scores of attractions each year, with five mainstage plays, more than 100 concerts, eight main gallery shows and smaller exhibits. The building brings more than 50,000 visitors to campus annually.
The Campus Design and Capital Projects teams who manage the construction are working to make the process as smooth as possible for students with limited disruption.
Students have quickly adjusted to the renovations happening around them this fall but note they are used to adaptation – these are COVID-19-university students after all. “As we were able to do with the pandemic, we can modify our learning and daily lives in the spaces we have,” Giunta comments.
After the renovations, URI will be able to welcome visitors into a space all in our community can be proud of. And the benefits should outweigh any logistical challenges to work around. “It’s exciting,” says Anderson. “We’ve been waiting for this for a while.”