Arts faculty to get face-lift

By Chris Beauchamp

Performing arts programs at the University of Calgary are set to receive a cash injection from the Students’ Union quality money.

The SU Students’ Academic Assembly voted near-unanimously this week to approve $30,000 for facility improvements to the departments of dance, drama and music. The planned upgrades include new paint, mirrors and soundproofing in music rehearsal rooms; electrical work, new lighting equipment and paint in the main drama studio space; and upgrades to dance studios in Kinesiology and Craigie Hall. The proposal was spearheaded by last year’s SU fine arts representative Dustyn Richardson, and continued by current rep Ryan Anderson.

“It feels good,” said Richardson, noting it took over a year to poll students, speak to the departments and draft the proposal before it was approved this week. “I got an overwhelming response from performing arts students that we had a facilities problem. Right now we don’t have the essentials.”

Richardson said the need for improvements mostly stems from the age of Craigie Hall, which was built in 1966. The main drama studio room is a prime example, with faulty dimmers, wiring that shorts out, inadequate plumbing and broken sound and light equipment, he said.

Drama department head Dr. Jim Duggan acknowledged the problems with the room and stressed the “lab-intensive” nature of the performing arts.

“That’s a very good analogy,” said Duggan. “Our production program is, in fact, lab intensive. It’s really important that we have the right materials, supplies and machinery in those labs. The only difference between us and science is we invite the public in to watch our lab experiments.”

Duggan said improving the facilities was not possible following government cuts to education spending in the 1990s, and the subsequent cuts faced on the departmental level.

“I really appreciate the SU doing this, and I hope the administration takes note,” he said.

The quality money has been allocated to the SU from the U of C budget annually since December 2003, based on a percentage of the university’s base-operating grant. The SU is set to receive nearly $1.8 million this year, though the fine arts renovations will come out of last year’s pool.

Fine arts dean Dr. Bill Jordan said the upgrades are overdue and ideally the funds might elicit further contributions to the faculty.

“The appearance of neglect in these facilities has come about because priorities had to be set in the lean times,” said Jordan. “I think this is very important because it’s a student initiative. We’re really, really thrilled.”

Jordan stressed other financial contributions like the recent $1.2 million donation to the faculty by U of C alumnus John Lefebvre are helping to change the perception that fine arts is cash-starved.

“We’ve had our fair share of cuts,” he said. “But we’ve got some really great things on the horizon too.”

Although the move will see much needed improvements to aging rehearsal spaces, some questioned whether the university itself should pay for the improvements directly.

“I think it is the university’s job,” said SU vice-president academic Paige Forsyth. “This is a push on the university to put money towards this, because I don’t think the faculty has the money.”

U of C VP external relations Roman Cooney said the facility problems were due to limited resources. He also said the university’s commitment to the arts will be evident later this year through the U of C’s 40th anniversary celebrations and an initiative called Discover the Arts.

“Three years ago, when we tackled the budget, we wanted to show students we were serious about directing significant amounts of money to the things important to them,” he said, of the quality money initiative. “The fact that we have not been able to put money into some areas does not mean we think they are not valuable.”

Richardson said funding was not secured for similar upgrades in visual arts studios because student response to his efforts was apathetic, and because the arts parkade is a newer facility than Craigie Hall. The renos will take place this summer.

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