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Richmond Center dedication set for Thursday

April 7, 2007

KALAMAZOO--A dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting Thursday, April 12, will mark the completion of a new, $13 million art building at Western Michigan University, bringing to fruition an "arts village" for the College of Fine Arts.

University and college administrators, members of the WMU Board of Trustees, an art student and architects and donors of the new James W. and Lois I. Richmond Center for Visual Arts, will take part in the ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. in front of the building. Tours of the new building will begin immediately after their remarks.

Designed by SmithGroup's Detroit office to be a vessel that brings together light, art and people, the 44,000-square-foot art center offers a mix of spacious galleries, student lecture halls, studio space, a student lounge and offices. Its sweeping copper, glass, steel and cement façade have already become an eye-catching focal point of the new arts village, which concentrates all of the fine arts schools and departments in one area stretching from the Gilmore Theatre Complex to Dalton Center Recital Hall along the University's Fountain Plaza. For more than 40 years, the School of Art has been sequestered in "temporary" housing in the basement of Sangren Hall and other campus locations.

"It consolidates the visual and performing arts to foster an artistic community," says Dr. Margaret Merrion, college dean. "For the first time, we can bring together two-dimension and three-dimension artists, choreographers, actors, dancers, musicians, graphic designers and teachers of the arts. We expect to spawn more interdisciplinary inquiry among the students and faculty."

The center's $13 million cost was funded almost entirely with private funds, more than any building in WMU history. Major building underwriting came from James and Lois Richmond, the Gwen Frostic estate and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. The Richmonds, longtime Kalamazoo residents and WMU alumni, made a $2.5 million gift toward construction of the new center in part to thank WMU for their educations, which led to well-paying careers. Lois Richmond is a former assistant vice president at Bronson Methodist Hospital, and James Richmond, himself an artist whose work is permanently part of the building, was a senior vice president with Stryker Corp.

Their collective generosity will boost the image, stature and awareness of the School of Art.

"The major challenge from faculty at the outset was that they wanted a building that not only announced itself as a visual arts facility, but also a building that would draw the public in and engage the public in ways we never had before," says Phil Vander Weg, former director of the School of Art, who oversaw the project. "I feel that the design that SmithGroup came up with responded to that challenge."

Merrion agrees that the building's design will help draw in the public and raise the stature of the School of Art and College of Fine Arts.

"The Richmond Center is an architectural jewel--giving shape to our public mission of elevating the human condition through the arts," she says. "We eagerly welcome the community to partake in viewing contemporary exhibitions in these new galleries. They reflect the programmatic work of our students, faculty, visiting artists and University Art Collection."

Three galleries are housed within the center, which had its groundbreaking in May 2005. The Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery is 4,000 square feet with 30-foot ceiling and will feature major exhibits. The Eleanor R. and Robert A. DeVries Student Art Gallery is 1,500 square feet with a stairway that allows direct access to the student lounge, where receptions will be held. It will showcase exhibitions for School of Art majors and, in some summer months, the work of distinguished alumni and regional artists. The Rose Netzorg and James I. Kerr Gallery is 1,000 square feet and will exhibit works from the University Art Collection, faculty and visiting guest artists. The bamboo wooden floor is in keeping with the intimate scale of pieces to be frequently on view and provides an excellent venue for installation, performance or time-based works.

The building sports many other facilities and features. The Outdoor Sculpture Garden adjacent to the entrance is 20,000 square feet and has the capacity to coordinate with indoor exhibition spaces, the center's auditorium and reception areas and is directly visible from the parking structure and connecting bridge to Miller Auditorium.

The garden features five pieces of sculpture as part of the WMU Sculpture Tour. These include the work of Michael Dunbar, noted artist and co-founder of the Navy Pierwalk Sculpture Program.

The outside entry to the center currently displays work by leading sculptors, such as the piece "Marriage Tree" by legendary sculptor Dennis Oppenheim on loan from the Marlborough Gallery in New York City.

The lobby entry serves as a gathering site for students, faculty and the public on both the first and second floors, accommodating receptions and supported by a kitchen. A large-screen plasma monitor outside the galleries presents materials on exhibition, programming and other events. A print collection and seminar room provides secure storage of the renowned School of Art Print Collection and serves as an appropriate setting for print study by students, scholars and collectors or a seminar room for art history and related courses.

Other facilities include a first-floor lecture hall, exhibition support and offices, administrative suite, advising office suite, and a graphic design floor complete with design center, studio, classroom, print center, client conference room and critique space.

Vander Weg says the center will draw in the rest of the University community and the public because it so effectively shows people what's inside.

"We have gone from a best-kept-secret in the basement of Sangren Hall to center stage with our fine arts colleagues on the plaza," Vander Weg says. "What a spectacular transformation, in so many ways."

Related article
Exhibits debut for Richmond Center dedication

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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