June 05, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

A plan for the Covenant Fine Arts Center

The contents of the offices are packed in boxes. The keyboards in the music labs are bubble-wrapped, ready for moving. Chairs from all eras of design are stacked neatly in the basement. All of the grands and baby grands have found adoptive homes. Everything in the Fine Arts Center (FAC), the English and music departments and the office of conferences and campus events, is shifting quarters.

"Moving out of here is a major piece of work,” said Bert Polman, the chair of the music department, which has long had its home on the second floor of the facility. In the fall of 2010, those offices and departments will move back into a roomier  headquarters with added classrooms and practice spaces and a new gallery and recital hall. “We’re making changes that will enhance the entire fine arts experience,” said Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart, who will move with the gallery to the new FAC.

Wear and tear

The overhaul is overdue, said vice president for administration, finance and information services Henry DeVries. The original FAC—84,000 square-feet of classrooms and performance spaces— opened in 1966, and since that time it has hosted around 20,000 events: concerts, recitals, January Series and other lectures, the Festival of Faith and Writing and Youth Writing Festivals. As the students and speakers and performers have come and gone, the old building has achieved some wear and tear:

"At the 35-year mark, any building is overdue for a major overhaul,” said DeVries. “We’re talking heating and plumbing and air conditioning and IT and all that stuff has to be upgraded.” Because it was built prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the FAC has significant access issues, DeVries said: “Lots of people have come here. We need to make the building hospitable.”

A larger transformation

The FAC was already scheduled for those enhancements when donors committed $15 million to the project, making a larger transformation of the facility possible. The new-and-improved remodel will add 40,000 feet of space to the east, west and north sides of the facility.

The new 124,000-square-foot space, re-named the Covenant Fine Arts Center, will incorporate English and music department offices, remodeled classrooms, a 240-seat recital hall, a 3,800 square-foot gallery, a student lounge, teacher suites, instrument storage and a music library. 

The west side entrance of the building will be enlarged to serve as an anchor for its three main spaces: the recital hall, gallery and auditorium. “What’s impressive about the design is the way we’ve been able to bring those three public performance venues together,” DeVries said.

An intimate setting

The new recital hall, Polman said, will provide a more intimate setting for the recitals and small concerts that are now being held in the much larger auditorium: “We’ll have 100 to 150 people sitting in this huge space,” he said. “It will be used for not only music concerts but other kinds of concerts."

Polman is also enthusiastic about the expanded spaces for music department essentials. Currently, instruments are inadequately stored, and sheet music is filed in a number of locations. And students practice their instruments wherever they can: “We would have students practicing in the dressing rooms. We would have them practicing in the stairwells,” he said. “All of this is illegitimate.”

The music department re-model is welcome and much needed, Polman said: “It’s going to extend our use of this building as our home for glorious music making for the entire community.”

The renovation will provide not only enlarged space but enhanced visibility for art exhibitions, said Zwart. Since 1974, the Center Art Gallery has made its home in the basement of Spoelhof College Center. And since the coffee shop moved out of Spoelhof Center basement in 2002, taking with it half of the gallery foot traffic, attendance at has been down at shows such as “Highly Favored: Contemporary Images of the Virgin Mary,” “Ordained to Create: The Self-Taught Art of Southern Preachers, Prophets and Visionaries,” and “Robert Rauschenberg, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World."

The gallery’s shift to the FAC is going to be a big plus, said Zwart: “That building has so many people come through it. It serves so many of our students. I think of the gallery as a service. It’s an educational tool for our students and the community. So I think, being there, we’ll be able to serve more people more easily.”

A more permanent collection

The new gallery is actually three galleries, two of which will be used for temporary exhibitions. A third gallery will display a rotating sample from Calvin’s permanent collection:1,500 artworks donated to the college throughout its existence. Various pieces from the permanent collection hang in various places throughout the campus. “There are offices and conference rooms that the general public and the student body can’t get into on a regular basis,” Zwart said. “The college’s permanent collection is an educational tool, and having a permanent gallery for it is going to make it more usable.”

While the recital hall and gallery are undergoing significant changes, the  auditorium at the heart of the FAC will remain largely intact. “We’re changing colors and upholstery, but we’re not changing the geometry of the space,” said DeVries. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of the space will also be upgraded, the organ will be upgraded and there will be an acoustical system “clouds” added to the stage. The “starry ceiling” will remain suspended above the auditorium, but it will be upgraded to energy efficient bulbs.

DeVries is looking forward to seeing the FAC plans materialize. While the project is smaller in scope than the recently completed Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex, it will have a big impact, he predicted: “If you look at the broad scope of the audience—Knollcrest Music Camp, Alumni Players, Oratorio, travelogues—the Fine Arts Center has as big an impact on the community as the fieldhouse, maybe more.”     

Recent stories