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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing the location or the planned Windgate Art and Design District buildings

FAYETTEVILLE -- Plans to expand arts education at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville include recruiting top talent to transform the university's art school into a nationally recognized powerhouse.

To help with the effort, there will be a major makeover to an area roughly the size of a city block about a quarter-mile away from the main campus.

A planned cluster of arts buildings known as the Windgate Art and Design District will be built after UA last year announced landmark gifts of $120 million from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and $40 million from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

The Walton gift alone stands as the single largest gift to a U.S. university in support of a school of art, according to UA. The Windgate gift -- the single largest grant ever from the Siloam Springs-based foundation known nationally for supporting the arts -- added to the potential for dramatic transformation with funds slotted to pay for new construction.

For the UA arts community, a decision in 2012 to rebuild a former beer distribution warehouse set the stage for the larger development now set to be built.

"I always envisioned that that could be the possibility of our future," said Jeannie Hulen, associate dean of fine arts for UA's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

But the soon-to-rise UA structures will be on property long used by community artists, leading to concerns about a lack of affordable work spaces in Fayetteville even as the university pledges that the new district will be welcoming to the public. Hulen will serve on a committee looking at the wider issues of affordability in the region.

Hunter O'Hanian, executive director and chief executive officer of the New York-based College Art Association, said the potential pool of art students is growing smaller nationally, making it "extremely competitive" for art schools seeking to attract students.

"They're going to be looking at price, they're going to be looking at facilities, and what the chances are of them getting jobs," O'Hanian said.

Hulen said the community can expect to be able to visit a gallery that will be part of the new arts district as well as attend regularly scheduled events open to the public.

"This campus is not just for us. It's also for the community," Hulen said.

On Thursday, the University of Arkansas System board of trustees approved purchases, not yet finalized, of a combined 1.6 acres adjacent to UA-owned property, including the UA Sculpture Studio that opened to students in fall 2016 and serves as the main building block for the arts district concept. A wood shop and studios are part of this two-level building.

The Sculpture Studio, however, sits a half-block away from the heavily commercial Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which is a major traffic artery.

The planned new structures will be "a series of two-to-four story buildings that have public-facing frontage along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Hill Avenue," according to a letter from UA to potential architects that describes approximately 150,000 square feet as the size of the project.

Altogether, the art and design district "covers a full city block," UA states in the document, with the hike-and-bike Tsa La Gi Trail serving as the district's southern border.

Along with the arts-focused buildings is an approximately 27,000-square-foot library storage building under construction, as well as what's known as the architecture BuildLab, an approximately 6,000-square-foot space with fabrication equipment inside a larger UA-owned warehouse building.

The new arts buildings are estimated to cost $40 million, the university has said. Documents presented to UA trustees this week describing the new land deals list offers totalling $3.335 million to three different landowners. Payment will come from university reserves, according to board documents.

"The district's purpose is to provide a suitable environment for art and architecture classes where students create artworks, building prototypes, etc. that require large spaces, specialized equipment, generous loading areas, and other attributes that aren't a good fit for the central campus," UA stated in its letter to potential architects.

Space will be devoted to "studios, classrooms, offices, and support spaces for ceramics, printmaking, drawing, graphic design, photography, foundations, and a student gallery," according to UA's request for qualifications.

The Windgate Art and Design District, once built -- a preliminary timeline shared with potential architects calls for construction to begin in March 2019 and finished by December 2020 -- will make things more convenient for students, Hulen said.

She described UA's visual arts as making do with a patchwork of temporary space over the years, while the permanent facilities have grown cramped as the school's overall enrollment has increased.

The first purchase in expanding UA arts facilities took place in 2012, when the university paid about $550,000 for a former beer distributorship warehouse, Mike Johnson, UA's associate vice chancellor for facilities, said in 2014, the year the university first announced plans to develop an art and design district.

The distributorship purchase culminated a long search process to find a home for UA's sculpture students, said Bethany Springer, an associate professor of sculpture.

"I can't tell you how many different warehouse spaces I looked at, and, for one reason or another, they fell through over the years," said Springer, who joined the faculty in 2006.

When the Sculpture Studio finally opened, it was the first new space devoted to the UA visual arts since 2004, Hulen said. The project involved pretty much completely remaking the facility, Springer said.

Hulen said the arts faculty has taken note of arts facilities at comparable schools, such as the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia.

The approximately 34,500-square-foot Sculpture Studio -- also built with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, which chipped in $1.5 million for workshop equipment and $500,000 for construction -- had a total project cost of about $9.3 million, Johnson wrote in an email last year.

"It ended up being a good model for where we're going, which I think is really important. We weren't shortsighted about anything," Hulen said.

The $120 million Walton grant primarily will support students and faculty, but $10 million is going to renovate UA's Fine Arts Center, a structure built in 1951 on the main campus.

The gift came six years after the opening of the nationally renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, a project funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation and supported by Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton. The gift announcement noted plans for partnerships between the museum and UA, including outreach and public service initiatives.

Beth Bobbitt, a public relations manager for Crystal Bridges, called it a "possibility" that the museum will have a physical presence in the Windgate Art and Design District.

"We certainly will have some role there," Bobbitt said, noting plans for providing the UA School of Art with "direct access" to museum resources, including collections.

Springer said the south Fayetteville area before the 2012 purchase already had a reputation as a spot for artists working in the community.

She mentioned JoAnn and Hank Kaminsky, Fayetteville artists and property owners who, according to UA, have agreed to sell their property to allow for the new arts construction.

The couple were known to rent out work space at various times to different artists and creators, including current tenant Sarah Marsh, a designer and City Council member.

"I could not have started my business if I did not have the space that the Kaminskys rent to me, and I'm terrified of what I'm going to do now," said Marsh. She said she pays $400 monthly for about 800 square feet of "beautiful space."

"There's nowhere in town I'm going to find that kind of a deal," Marsh said.

She said she'd like to see the university do more to coordinate with the city.

"We need to have more dialogue with one another about what's going on," Marsh said.

An outside group, Artspace of Minneapolis, this week announced a $400,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation for a one-year effort to examine the market for artist space in Fayetteville and other cities in northwest Arkansas. Hulen is serving on the organization's core committee.

Wendy Holmes, Artspace's senior vice president of consulting and new projects, said the university's plans to grow arts enrollment bring an opportunity "to figure out ways to keep them in Fayetteville."

Hulen has said future UA goals include enrolling more than 700 arts students. The UA School of Art has approximately 330 student this fall, according to university data.

"I think there's a symbiotic relationship between the timing of what's happening right now with the arts district and the university and our study. I think it's really wonderful that those two things can happen close in timing," Holmes said.

A Section on 01/26/2018

Print Headline: UA plans art district, finds room to grow it

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