‘A New Era for the Arts’: A Look at BYU’s New West Campus

After renovations were completed at the old Provo High School this summer, the College of Fine Arts and Communication is using the campus as a rest stop on their way to a new art building.

BYU’s West Campus has been in the works since 2018, when BYU purchased the high school. The fine arts faculty involved in the renovations said what has happened at the old high school is nothing short of a miracle.

“Just little miracles to find these spaces that no one thought would work,” said Assistant Dean Don Powell. “And then they miraculously went back to work.”

Many spaces have been completely converted to accommodate BYU’s theater and arts students: the kitchen is now a photo darkroom, a weight room is an art gallery, and the gymnasium has become the main stage.

In the new Central Building on BYU’s West Campus, the old high school weight room is now an art gallery. Many rooms have been repurposed to house BYU’s theater and arts students in the former Provo High School. (Abigail Gunderson)

Although the new accommodations are slightly different, Dean Rory Scanlon said students and faculty are taking the renovations in stride.

“Because it’s art and design and theater and media art, they’ve all been excited to try it because they like working in a new area and trying something brand new and something very different,” Scanlon said.

Powell said the expanded space has given students and faculty some new creative opportunities.

“The best feedback comes from the Art Department, because now they have a big space that they can get dirty and no one gets upset with them,” Powell said.

After the new music building is completed in January, the Harris Fine Arts Center will be demolished to make way for a new theater and media arts building.

Scanlon said any growing pains will be worth it once it’s in the newer, bigger buildings. The larger student body has outgrown many of the facilities at HFAC, which is more than 50 years old.

Some modern updates are overdue at HFAC, according to Scanlon. For example, there are earplugs in each of the band and orchestra rooms because the sound quality in the room is too harsh for the students’ ears.

“Wearing earplugs to work in orchestras is like wearing gloves to paint,” Scanlon said. The new building will give students and faculty the facilities and space they need to become better artists, performers and musicians.

From physical facilities to dining services and interior design to technology, Powell said the renovations have taken collaboration from nearly every department on campus. He praised the best attitudes of the workers, faculty and staff involved in the project.

“Instead of throwing up their arms and getting frustrated, they’ve come in with the great attitude of, ‘Let’s figure out how we can make this work,'” Powell said.

Since the high school was only a temporary location, Powell said budget decisions had to strike a balance between utility and longevity. Many of the building’s added features, such as stage lighting and projection computers, will move with the department to the new building on the main campus in three years.

“We want to make sure this is fully functional for our college without putting a lot of money into it,” he said. “That would just be a waste when we get out of here.”

Fine arts students and faculty will have to wait about three years for everything to be completed, but from the sound of it, a little creative adjustment in the meantime won’t be a problem. According to Scanlon, the expansion marks a turning point for BYU artists.

“We’re looking at a whole new era for the arts at BYU, and we’re delighted that the university and the church decided to fund it,” he said.

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