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VOL. 125 | NO. 169 | Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Into the Future

Memphis College of Art expands with graduate school

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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Jeff Cook, left, and Brandon Walk of Grinder Fabricating attach steel plate reinforcements for the windows of the new Memphis College of Art Graduate School under construction at 477 S. Main.
Photos: Lance Murphey

Memphis College of Art has undergone big changes in recent weeks, and the newest one has changed the face of the South Main Historic Arts District as well.

The college’s graduate school, formerly housed in and near MCA’s main campus at 1930 Poplar Ave., is now open in a converted warehouse space at 477 S. Main St. The college purchased the 49,025-square-foot space in late January for $400,000 and immediately set to work with Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects on the architectural design of the space, said Ken Strickland, MCA interim president.

Construction began in April with the goal of opening in time for the start of classes last week. The first students began working in the building Monday, and the rest will move from the main campus to the new facility in one week.

“Memphis College of Art is one of the principle participants in the development of the visual arts in Memphis, and the South Main Arts District has long been identified as ‘the’ place, in particular, for the visual arts,” Strickland said. “It seemed critical that we be a major participant in that ongoing development.”

The new graduate center houses MCA’s master of fine arts and art education programs, along with individual studio spaces for students, office space for graduate school faculty and staff, a retail facility and gallery space for public shows.

The building also contains a computer lab with a large-format printing facility, two demonstration classrooms for the art education program and a lecture/seminar space.

A crew from Grinder Fabricating attaches steel plate reinforcements on the windows of the new Memphis College of Art Graduate School along South Main Street.

Work continues on the building, with most facilities set to open by Sept. 6, said MCA vice president for college advancement Kim Williams. The main gallery should be completed by the end of September, with a grand opening slated for October.

“With the significant growth in undergraduate students over the years, we ran out of room for instructional activities in Rust Hall,” Strickland said. “We’d been looking for a means of expanding. … We looked for opportunities to expand in Midtown near the park, but there was not an available facility that would suit our needs.”

The new graduate school’s basement, second and third stories are occupied by students, with the school’s gallery/retail space at street level. Fourth and fifth floors are available for expansion.

A key design feature of the facility, which most recently functioned as an industrial supply warehouse, is a new, red-painted staircase at one corner of the building that’s visible from street level through large plate-glass windows.

“The northeast corner of the building is located in a crook of South Main, and when you’re in the stairwell and look north, you can see all the way to the Orpheum Theatre,” Strickland said.

Paul Morris, president of the Center City Commission, said the graduate school’s relocation will further build momentum in the area as a place for artists and other creative people to live and visit and work.

“It brings so many opportunities to the area,” Morris said, noting that MCA’s addition comes on the heels of a new charter school in Court Square and the opening of the University of Memphis law school on Front Street. “The activity and creative spirit it’s going to bring will be tremendous.”

The new graduate school also caps off a period of growth for the college itself, which recently opened a new residence hall for undergraduate students, Fogelman Hall, at 139 N. Barksdale Ave.

The building completes a pair of residence halls also designed by Askew Nixon Ferguson. Along with Metz Hall, built five years ago, the new facility “allows us to decommission some of our less attractive residences to give students a much higher quality, much nicer living environment,” Strickland said.

Construction of the new residence hall, as well as the graduate school, was completed by Montgomery Martin Contractors. Fogelman Hall is a mirror image of Metz Hall; the only difference is a communal kitchen added to Fogelman Hall for use during events.

Each hall provides living space for 46 students, and each features a glass-walled studio space on its top floor for resident use.

“It has really terrific views, too,” Strickland said.

Because of the additions, the college has found new uses for its older facilities. A structure at Poplar and Tucker Street that formerly housed parts of the graduate school has been converted into MCA’s new administration building.

“That’s taken on a really nice look,” Strickland said. “As people drive down Poplar Avenue, they’re going to be impressed. We’ve completely redone the outside of it.”

The college also has completed renovations in its primary facility, Rust Hall. Now, the school’s focus has turned to kicking off the public phase of its new capital campaign.

“It’s been a really, really, really busy summer,” Strickland said. “Everybody’s been working hard at making these changes come to play.

“There’s a lot to celebrate now.”

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