Insights

Building Campus Community Through the Arts

Macalester College completes the final phase of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center renovation—creating a campus focus on the arts and multidisciplinary student engagement.

The opening of the new Theater, Dance and Classroom building at Macalester College in the Spring of 2019 represents the successful completion of a three-phase, multi-year renovation and expansion of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center that places the arts at the center of student life. As with the two earlier phases that included the Music building, Arts Commons, Art Gallery, and Studio Arts building, the Theater and Dance building provides optimal classroom, rehearsal, and performance spaces that prioritize teaching and learning for students working in the arts as part of their liberal arts curriculum.

Originally completed in 1965 on the western edge of campus, the Arts Center had become dated when Macalester College developed plans to redesign the complex with HGA, seeking to break down the silos between studio arts, theater, and music while upgrading and customizing spaces needed for each discipline.

Together, the three phases completed over the past several years have repositioned the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center as a premier destination for arts education nationally.

Theater and Dance

An overriding theme is how space is used in the new three-level Theater and Dance building, which replaces the original building with 7,500 more square feet of space efficiently organized to facilitate different learning, teaching, and performance styles. Each teaching and rehearsal space was designed to maximize the flexibility of the type of performance accommodated within, from dance to multi-media productions. Additionally, the expansion relocated key spaces of the Theater and Dance Department closer to the Music Building and Arts Commons, creating greater opportunities for cross-disciplinary work.

“We designed the spaces with students and their education at the forefront,” said Karine Moe, Provost at Macalester. “The new performance studios are spacious and flexible, creating a template for creativity that will adapt to ever-changing ways of conceiving of theater and dance. State-of-the-art costume and scene shops provide excellent teaching spaces for students interested in design and technical theater.”

Active Learning Classrooms

As an urban campus, Macalester College is squeezed for space and expansion opportunities are limited. A utilization study completed on the campus in 2013 demonstrated a need for more general academic classrooms, particularly ones that can be flexibly arranged to accommodate active learning pedagogy. An “ah-ha!” moment in the design process occurred when the team realized it could add nine flexible classrooms to the existing two classrooms on the second floor of the Theater and Dance building and connect them by skyway to the Olin-Rice Science Center, thereby meeting the greater campus need in a convenient location. Now, classes from religion to philosophy to biology are meeting in the Theater and Dance building classrooms, demonstrating the College’s commitment to a curriculum that breaks down traditional discipline silos.

“The addition of approximately 270 classroom seats in this facility will breathe a whole new energy into the southwest corner of the campus as many students cycle through the building every day,” said David Wheaton, Vice President of Administration & Finance at Macalester. “Prior to the construction, this part of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center was of exclusive use of the Theater and Dance Department, so most students would visit the space only periodically to attend performances. The new classrooms create greater traffic and interaction among students from a wide range of academic departments and programs.”

Specialized Learning Spaces

Overall, the building program includes 11 classrooms and seminar rooms designed to support interactive teaching models with cutting-edge technology and easily reconfigured furniture; a performance space featuring flexible, hinged galleries that can create different seating and performance configurations; a 2,400-square-foot Fox Dance Studio for instructional practice; the Hubert-Seikaly Black Box Theater used for theater, dance, and lighting design classes; the Berg Studio used for dance forms that need a Marley vinyl floor; and a Design Studio equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Additionally, support spaces include a costume shop; pocket seating throughout the hallways to encourage student gathering; and a box office shared with the Music Department adjacent to the Arts Commons.

Studio Arts and Music

The Theatre and Dance building complements the two earlier milestones. Phase One included the Music building with added dedicated choral and instrument rehearsal spaces, individual practice rooms, teaching studios, a 314-seat Concert Hall designed for acoustical accuracy and adjustability, and a two-story Arts Commons that quickly became a favorite campus gathering space. Phase Two focused on the Studio Arts, with new print making, drawing, pottery, and sculpture studios. Designed to meet stringent arts education and life-safety standards, the building features a zoned mechanical system with cutting-edge exhaust, filtration and protection standards that exceed industrial and laboratory codes.

An Expression of the Arts

The Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center is designed with an outward expression that integrates the three phases, giving each a distinct yet unified identity. Each phase includes a featured façade with custom architectural expression related to the arts discipline within. The entry façade of the Theater and Dance building, for instance, features a flowing, perforated, custom-metal scrim façade that is internally lit, alluding to the movement, fabric, and theatricality of performance arts.

The Arts Center is part of a wider educational movement across campuses today, in which arts facilities help shape social changes and inspire students. As campuses become more diverse and students seek greater expression of their personal experiences, arts facilities help students generate and share ideas with peers and the public. The Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center is about nurturing creative talent and encouraging students to discover appropriate voices for artist expression—at a strategically visible location where the arts can positively influence student life.