‘A new era for the arts’: A look at BYU’s new west campus

After finishing renovations at the old Provo High School this summer, the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications is using the campus as a rest stop on the way to a new arts building.

BYU’s West Campus has been running since 2018, when BYU purchased the high school. The faculty of fine arts involved in the renovation said that what happened in the old high school was nothing but a miracle.

“It’s just minor miracles of finding these areas that no one thought would work,” said Assistant Dean Don Powell. “And then they started working wonderfully.”

Many spaces have been completely replaced to accommodate BYU theater and art students: the kitchen is now a photography darkroom, the weight room is an art gallery, and the gymnasium is the main stage.

In BYU’s new West Campus Headquarters, the old high school weight room is now an art gallery. Many rooms have been redesigned to accommodate BYU theater and art students at the former Provo High School. (Abigail Gunderson)

While the new accommodations are a little different, Deputy Dean Rory Scanlon said students and faculty are taking the renovations step by step.

“Because it’s art and design, theater and media arts, they all love to work in a new field and try something brand new and very different, so they’re excited to try it out,” Scanlon said.

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

“The best reviews seem to come from the Art Department, because now they have this large area where they can get dirty and no one gets mad at them,” Powell said.

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

Scanlon said the growing pains after settling into newer and larger buildings were well worth it. The larger student body has outstripped most of the facilities at HFAC, which is more than 50 years old.

According to Scanlon, some modern updates are overdue in HFAC. For example, the orchestra and the orchestra rooms each have earplugs because the sound quality in the room is too heavy for the students’ ears.

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

From physical facilities to catering and interior design to technology, Powell said the renovations have received collaboration from almost every department on campus. He praised the enthusiastic attitude of the workers, faculty and staff involved in the project.

“Instead of throwing up their arms and being frustrated, they came in with the big attitude, ‘Let’s find out how we can do this,’” Powell said.

Because high school is only a temporary place, Powell said budget decisions must strike the balance between utility and longevity. Many features added to the building, such as stage lighting and design computers, will be moved to the new building on the main campus with the department within three years.

“We want to make sure this is fully functional for our college without investing too much money,” he said. “It will be wasted when we leave here.”

Fine arts students and faculty will have to wait about three years for everything to be completed, but it looks like a little creative editing won’t be a problem in the meantime. According to Scanlon, the expansion is a milestone for BYU artists.

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

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