October 18, 2010 | Myrna AndersonMatt Kucinski

A new front door: CFAC opens
They're moving in the pianos and the paintings. The CFAC is dedicated on Wednesday, October 20.

The pianos have moved in. The art has arrived. Staff members from the office of conferences and campus events are making themselves at home. Next week, folks from music will take up residence. The Covenant Fine Arts Center (CFAC), under renovation since May of 2009, is set to open.

"We’re pretty excited,” said music department chair Bert Polman. "There’s sort of an adrenaline level.”

The $15 million renovation added 40,000 square feet of space to the original 84,000 square-foot FAC. The expanded west lobby, whose long stretch of windows looks out on the Commons, opens in one direction to a new 240-seat recital hall and in the other to the new 3,800 square-foot Center Art Gallery.

The expanded east lobby, a student lounge which fronts the East Beltline, is surrounded by classrooms, practice and teaching suites, instrument storage, a musical library and the English and music department offices. And the entire facility is anchored by the renovated CFAC auditorium, complete with new HVAC and lighting, fabrics and acoustical panels. 

Out of the stairwells

"The pride and joy, I think, is going to be the new recital hall,” said Polman, who praised the beauty and intimacy of the new performance space. Paneled in wide bands of wood (for acoustical purposes) the new hall will welcome chamber ensembles, solo artists, lecturers and other performers. Polman is enthused about the teaching and practice suites, which, he said, will eliminate the “proverbial practicing in stairwells.”
"I think our students will be so excited,” Polman said. “I mean, we do this for them. We don’t just do it to bring the building up-to-date.”

Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart, who began installing work in the gallery this week, is equally enthusiastic about the new Center Art Gallery. The exhibition space houses two galleries for displaying a rotation selection from Calvin’s 1,500-strong permanent collection and a larger gallery—whose 33-foot walls are capped with a light well—for temporary exhibitions. Zwart is pleased that the new location in the CFAC will improve the Center Art Gallery’s visibility: “It’s almost double the size of our current space, but much more flexible,” he said.

The enhanced west lobby is a much-needed improvement to the building, said Polman: “When you look at the big concert halls in the world … one-third of their space is lobby space. You need that space to be human … At intermission, you need mingling space, you need gab space, you need reception space.” The lobby was re-designed with a hospitable eye, Polman said, which will encourage visitors to the gallery, recital hall or auditorium to visit the other spaces as well.

"We’re all excited with the collaborations that will come and the synergy that will develop because we’re housed more closely together … ,” agreed English department co-chair Elizabeth Vander Lei, who will be moving with the department to the CFAC in January. “I could see English 101 teachers using pieces in the art gallery as a springboard for writing assignments.”

Creating a flow

The building was designed to allow the recital hall, gallery and auditorium to flow together on the first floor, while academic enterprise continues uninterrupted on the second floor. “There are entrances on the upper level on both sides so that faculty and staff can enter without going through the west lobby if there’s a big event going on there,” said Calvin director of physical plant Phil Beezhold.

And the CFAC’s exterior was designed to flow well with Calvin’s original Prairie School look. “One of the things that was really important … was to make the building fit the campus, ” said Beezhold of the building’s characteristic arches, brickwork, overhanging eaves, large windows and limestone decoration. Beezhold also answered the architectural question that will likely be asked many times in the future: “They don’t mean anything. It’s just decoration,” he said of the Arts and Crafts-style limestone reliefs on the CFAC’s north and south facades.

The architect who oversaw the renovation of the CFAC, Rob Den Besten, is a ’96 Calvin grad who works with GMB Architects+Engineers in Holland. Den Besten, who remembers taking his English classes in the original FAC, was a bit daunted about restoring the building that he—and the committee regarded as the “front door” of the campus. “We wanted to modernize it but respect its heritage and respect its nostalgic appeal to everybody on campus,” he said.

Many celebrations

The CFAC will have its official dedication, with reception following, at 4:30 p.m, Wednesday, October 20 in the main auditorium.

The once-and-future residents of the CFAC will be celebrating their new home in several ways in the week following.

On Thursday, October 21, beginning at 3:30, the English department will host “A Flight of Words,” a selection of readings by faculty and students. The readings will be immediately followed by the featured speaker, author Walter Wangerin.

The Center Art Gallery will feature The Humor and Wit of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which will kick off with an opening lecture by art history professor Henry Luttikhuizen: “Laughing and Learning within a World Turned Upside-Down: An Introduction to the Bruegel Exhibition.” The exhibition runs October 21 through December 11, 2010.

And the music department will host performances by several groups in several CFAC venues simultaneously at the Calvin Music Festival, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, October 22 and 23.

Den Besten will be in attendance on the 20th. “I was proud of the building as a graduate,” he said. “I’m really excited—a little nervous.”

~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing

The lamps in the east wing of CFAC

The starry ceiling of the CFAC

Joel Zwart in the new gallery

Robert Nordling moving in

Watch video

Take a tour of the new Center Art Gallery.

For the record, the first work of art hung on the wall in Calvin's new Center Art Gallery was "Return of the Prodigal" by Thomas Hart Benton. The engraving, part of Calvin's permanent collection, was hung without fanfare or formal celebration by Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart—who is trying to get used to having space for the permanent collection. "The amazing thing is, you can fit this space into our current space," Zwart said, walking into the main gallery, "but we have more wall space because it's uninterrupted footage."

Zwart and staff are getting used to another luxury: light. Since 1973, the gallery has been housed in the basement of Spoelhof College Center, where it moved when the art department outgrew its first home: the original FAC. Attendance at exhibitions in the Spoelhof nether-regions was decent, until the adjacent Spoelhof Coffee Shop moved upstairs and took its clientele along.

Zwart has dreamed of having a new Center Art Gallery since since he joined the Calvin staff in 2003; and no one is happier to see it happen than Edgar Boeve, the founder of Calvin's art department. "I’m thrilled that I’m still alive that I can see the department has finally moved art out of the catacombs to the center of the campus, where students can have contact with it daily," Boeve said. Zwart agrees. "Even though we've tried to make the gallery accessible to the college community, it's been the department of art and art history's gallery. This is much more the gallery of the Calvin community."

The new Center Art Gallery opens at 7 p.m., Thursday, October 21, with "Laughing and Learning within a World Turned Upside-Down: An Introduction to the Bruegel Exhibition.” Refreshments and a gallery tour will follow.

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