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New Mexico State University

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NMSU seeks funding for art building renovations

New Mexico State University is requesting $1.5 million in planning and design funds for the renovation of D.W. Williams Hall, in preparation for the general obligation bond in 2016. Currently, private contributions and pledges for the renovation total $801,568. The renovation of D.W. Williams Hall will have a tremendous long-term economic and cultural impact on students and faculty at NMSU, as well as the larger community of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico.

D.W. Williams Hall building exterior
New Mexico State University is requesting $1.5 million in planning and design funds from the state Legislature for the renovation of D.W. Williams Hall. Originally constructed in 1938 as the university's gymnasium, Williams Hall currently houses the Department of Art and University Art Gallery. (NMSU photo)
D.W. Williams Hall building interior with bleachers
Concrete bleachers that were part of the original gym remain in Williams Hall as part of the offices, classrooms and storage space in the building. (NMSU photo)

The list of academic opportunities provided by NMSU’s Department of Art at D.W. Williams Hall on the NMSU campus is abundant. Students have significant opportunities to work in the fields of ceramics, drawing and painting, graphic design, metals, photography, printmaking, sculpture and art conservation. Unfortunately, space is so limited in the building, the College of Arts and Sciences is unable to meet the needs of the number of students wanting to enroll.

D.W. Williams Hall was built in 1938 as a gymnasium. The original 27,000-square-foot building served as a venue for athletic and campus events for almost 35 years before becoming home to the Department of Art in 1972, when the building’s area was increased to 36,857 square feet by the addition of a second floor over portions of the building. An annex was constructed in 1984, adding more than 11,926 square feet, including a 450-square-foot addition built in 2002 for the Museum Conservation Program – bringing the total existing building to 48,783 square feet. A 2012 programming study determined that 91,180 square feet was needed to properly house the current programs.

While the renovations did increase the number of programs offered, they came at a cost. There are ventilation issues and a lack of appropriate space. Original concrete bleachers are situated throughout the building and leave wasted square footage, as the tighter spaces under the bleachers are not accessible. Because the additions to the building were tacked on piecemeal and over a period of several years, the flow through and around the building is not efficient. This makes it difficult for students to get from one class to another in a timely way.

“What it all boils down to is the students, and the opportunities they deserve,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Christa Slaton. “We could teach more students, but we just don’t have the space. This is one of the greatest needs on campus, because we are not maximizing our student credit hours when classrooms and studios can only accommodate six to 12 students per class.”

The Museum Conservation Program at NMSU is one of only three undergraduate programs of its kind in the United States. Despite the ever-increasing interest among students, the conservation lab can only accommodate six students at a time – an unfortunate dilemma when studies show more and more students are moving into the workforce to serve in arts- and culture-related jobs, while serving as active participants in economic growth.

Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research, created a report titled “Building on the Past, Facing the Future: Renewing the Creative Economy of New Mexico.” The report shows arts and cultural industries in New Mexico have a national reputation that is far beyond the state’s size or economic standing. These industries employ 43,031 people in New Mexico, equal to 1 of every 18 jobs in the state.

The report also shows that an abundant arts and culture industry in a community highlights a thriving economy, which, in turn, attracts business leaders. The arts create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases.

“You can’t talk about economic development without talking about the arts,” Slaton said. “Art is essential to economic development. Businesses are attracted to cities with good schools, quality medical care and a rich cultural life.”

The proposed renovation will include studio and classroom space for each area of specialization: ceramics, drawing and painting, graphic design, metalsmithing and jewelry, photography, printmaking and sculpture. Special attention in a new facility will be paid to environmental sustainability, safety, storage, lighting and creative space based on the particular needs of each art form. The new facility will also house adequate faculty offices and studios and student gathering spaces.

In addition to educational facilities, a new art museum and gallery will enhance visual art exhibitions and will be supported by permanent collection storage that meets conservationist standards. An art conservation laboratory, adequate to serve the art museum and gallery, as well as meet the growing demand of students in the field, will be conveniently located in the building.

Enhanced, state-of-the art space will allow NMSU to attract faculty and students with the most potential and expertise. They will, in turn, help to enhance our creative potential, economic health and quality of life.