With renovations completed at the old Provo High School this summer, the College of Fine Arts and Communications is using the campus as a rest stop on its way to a new arts building.
BYU’s West Campus has been in the works since 2018, when BYU bought the high school. The Faculty of Fine Arts involved in the renovation said what happened at the old high school was nothing short of a miracle.
“Just little miracles of finding these spaces that no one thought would work,” Assistant Dean Don Powell said. “And then they started working great.”
Many spaces have been completely flipped to accommodate BYU’s theater and arts students: the kitchen is now a photography darkroom, the weight room is an art gallery, and the gymnasium has become the main stage.
Although the new facilities are a bit different, Associate Dean Rory Scanlon said students and faculty are taking the renovations in stride.
“Because it’s art and design and theater and media arts, they were all excited to try it out because they love working in a new field and trying something brand new and something very different,” Scanlon said.
Powell said the expanded space has given students and faculty new creative opportunities.
“The best comments seem to come from the Department of Art, because now they have this big space that they can get dirty and nobody gets mad at them,” Powell said.
After the new music building is completed in January, the Harris Fine Arts Center will be demolished to make way for a new theater and media arts building.
Scanlon said any growth issues will be worth it once they are in the newer and bigger buildings. The larger student body has outgrown many of the facilities at HFAC, which is more than 50 years old.
Some modern updates are overdue at HFAC, according to Scanlon. For example, there are earplug dispensers in each of the band and orchestra rooms because the sound quality in the room is too harsh for the students’ ears.
“Wearing earplugs to work in the orchestra is like wearing gloves to paint,” Scanlon said. The new building will provide students and faculty with the facilities and room they need to become better artists, performers and musicians.
From physical facilities to food services and interior design to technology, Powell said the renovations took collaboration from nearly every department on campus. He praised the positive attitude of the workers, faculty and staff involved in the project.
“Instead of throwing up their hands and getting frustrated, they came in with the great attitude of, ‘Let’s figure out how we can make this work,'” Powell said.
Because a high school is only a temporary place, Powell said budget decisions must strike a balance between utility and longevity. Many of the building’s added features, such as stage lighting and design computers, will move with the department to the new main campus building in three years.
“We want to make sure it’s fully functional for our college without putting too much money into it,” he said. “It’s just going to be wasted when we get out of here.”
Fine arts students and faculty will have to wait about three years for everything to be completed, but it sounds like a little creative tweaking in the meantime won’t be a problem. According to Scanlon, the expansion marks a turning point for BYU artists.
“We are looking at a whole new era for the arts at BYU, and we are pleased that the university and the church have decided to fund this,” he said.