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‘Visual Arts District’ reinvigorates outdoor spaces, enhances art facilities

Providence College’s visual art facilities now have a visible core, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Champlin Foundations, which provided much of the funding for the renovation of an arts district on the East Campus.

“The impressive Arts Walk is now a highlight of PC’s campus tours,” said Dr. Joan R. Branham, professor of art history and chair of the Department of Art and Art History.  “Students and faculty couldn’t be more pleased or proud.”

The vehicular road leading to Hunt-Cavanagh Hall and the Service Building — where most studio art courses are held — has been replaced with an inviting pedestrian pathway paved in brick and granite. It starts behind Dore Hall, the future home of the College’s School of Business, and continues past the McGlynn Sculpture Court.

A labyrinth inlaid in etched granite is the centerpiece of the pedestrian plaza between the entrances to Hunt-Cavanagh and the Service Building. The labyrinth is a scaled replica of the one in the 13th century Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France.

The footpath ends at an outdoor classroom that features an analemmatic sundial — a timepiece designed specifically for the location. The viewer serves as the gnomon in this unique installation. When standing on the spot designated for the current date, the cast shadow points accurately to the present time.

“The medieval labyrinth and calibrated sundial are great representations of the arts and sciences literally in stone,” Branham said.

A winding, handicapped-accessible path curves around the sundial and leads to the art garden, an outdoor classroom behind Hunt-Cavanagh Hall that was completed in the fall of 2012. The space has a gravel surface ideal for setting up easels for painting or drawing classes and serves as a nature lab with unusual plantings to inspire artists in training. Outdoor lighting allows it to be used for gallery openings and other evening events.

The scope of the work included improved drainage in the area as well as reinforcing the roadway, which has tunnels beneath it dating back from the East Campus’ former use as a hospital.

Improvements inside and out

Changes are evident inside the buildings as well. The Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery has been revived with new flooring that’s actually old. The reclaimed historic maple hardwoods came from the Balsams Resort in New Hampshire and date back to 1917, the year Providence College was founded. Improved lighting and new, coordinating benches invite visitors to linger.

In addition, this is the second year that senior studio art majors have had a dedicated space in which to produce pieces for their thesis shows. The studio in the lower level of the Service Building was formerly used as storage by PC’s facilities staff but now sports track lighting, work tables, and easels.

Ever since the students moved in, “work has just been pouring out of this space and into the galleries,” said Branham.

Previously, art majors would hang works in progress in one of the drawing studios or otherwise constructed their pieces in dorm rooms.

“I could not be happier in my new studio space,” said Emily Smith ’14 (West Islip, N.Y.), a studio painting major and art history minor. “Not only do the new studios allow more room for production, they bring my classmates and me closer. I work privately, but also have a community of artists surrounding me.”

Studio painting major Grant Bay ’14 (Chicago, Ill.) also expressed his gratitude for the student-dedicated studio space. “The new studio space has allowed me to generate work to my maximum potential, and has provided ample space for experimentation and creation of work that challenges my studio practice, greatly assisting my development as an artist,” he said.

A room in Hunt-Cavanagh that was once home to the College’s art collection is also being converted into a seminar room for upper-level art history courses. The collection will be moved to a larger, climate-controlled facility in St. Catherine of Siena Hall.

Two other projects round out the changes to campus art facilities. The former chapel in Guzman Hall, which had been used as rehearsal space for student dance groups, has been converted into a large auditorium for public lectures, art history courses, and student programming. It boasts advanced projection equipment for showing films and the largest projection screen on campus — slightly bigger than the largest lecture hall in the Ruane Center for the Humanities, said Mark F. Rapoza '90SCE, assistant vice president for facilities and planning.

To accommodate the demand for rehearsal space, new dance studios have been constructed in former seminar rooms in Moore Hall, Rapoza said.


—  Liz F. Kay

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