The tower of bright red steel girders signals that the old university warehouse at the edge of campus has been transformed. Facing the Kohl Center across Frances Street, the tower marks the main entrance to the Art Lofts, the new state-of-the-art facility for the UW-Madison Art Department.
The warehouse has housed the glass lab and metal sculpture foundry since 2004. The latest development—a $9.2 million renovation completed in December 2008—provides a new home, renamed the Art Lofts, for ceramics, papermaking and other areas, plus studio space for more than 60 faculty and graduate students and accessible public spaces where art can be exhibited. Art Department faculty and students moved into the Art Lofts over the semester break.
The opening of the Art Lofts marks the consolidation of art programs, facilities, and studios that have been scattered across campus in an assortment of nooks and crannies for decades. Now, all Art Department programs are in just two locations – the Art Lofts and the top two floors of the Humanities Building.
“Faculty and students who have been spread all over campus are already so excited to be working as neighbors in one place,” says Elaine Scheer, former chair of the Art Department, which is one of the university’s largest instructional programs. “There is something about moving to a new space that gives us great creative energy,” Scheer says. “We are so thrilled to be working in studios with great light, heat, huge walls and beautiful spaces.”
Bringing Art Department programs together creates new opportunities for educational and artistic collaboration and cross-fertilization, as well as increased sharing of equipment and resources.
Scheer credits faculty members who were closely involved in the planning process, particularly Carol Pylant (painting), Jim Escalante (papermaking), Paul Sacaridiz (ceramics) and Tom Jones (photography).
During the project, personnel from the Art Department, School ofEducation and campus worked closely with a team from the architectural/engineering firm Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) of Milwaukee.
D’Andre Willis, the HGA project manager, says the challenge of the Art Lofts project was to transform “an existing warehouse that one can’t really characterize as an artistic and creative space or even inviting.”
Willis says the Art Lofts was designed to give the building an identity, to bring natural light into dark interior spaces, and “to make highly functioning spaces for the creation of art and the professional growth of the faculty and students using the building.”
A series of four red light towers, starting with the exterior tower, give the Art Lofts its identity. The towers mark the central corridor, which includes a flexible “Performance Lab” designed to accommodate art exhibits and programs for audiences of more than 90.
Skylights and windows have been added to bring in more natural light, especially into studios. The spacious faculty studios feature 18- to 20-foot-high ceilings, and graduate studios have open, 12-foot-high ceilings.
“After years of planning, it is wonderful to see the Art Lofts finally take shape,” says Pylant.
“We’re looking forward to having our first space designed especially for papermaking,” says Escalante. Papermaking had been located in an old University Avenue storefront that since has been razed to make way for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
The Art Department and School of Education are officially marked the opening of the Art Lofts with celebrations in May.
A remaining section of the warehouse has been reserved for a separate but related project—a new home for Tandem Press, the internationally known fine-art printmaking studio affiliated with the Art Department. Tandem currently occupies rented space in a state-owned building more than two miles from campus. Efforts already are underway to raise private gifts for this project.
Bringing Tandem to campus—which, like the Art Lofts, is part of the East Campus Plan—would enhance the opportunities for graduate printmaking students to work with visiting artists and Tandem’s master printers.
The East Campus Plan also calls for construction of an Art Building, next to the Art Lofts, to house the Art programs now in Humanities, which is scheduled for demolition.
As construction on the Art Lofts began last February, then-Chancellor John Wiley described the Art Lofts and future Art Building on one end and Memorial Union on the other as the anchors of UW-Madison’s East Campus Gateway—an arts district accessible both to the campus community and general public.