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

After renovations to the old Provo High School were completed this summer, the College of Fine Arts and Communications is using the campus as a rest stop on their way to a new arts 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 happened at the old high school is nothing short of a miracle.

“Just little miracles of finding these places that no one thought would work,” Assistant Dean Don Powell said. “And then they started working great.”

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

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

Although the new accommodations are a little different, Associate Dean Rory Scanlon said students and faculty are making renovations a breeze.

“Because it’s art and design and theater and media arts, everyone was 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 comments seem to come from the Art Department, because now they have this big space where they can get dirty and nobody gets upset with them,” Powell said.

Once 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 any growing pains will be worth it when they’re in the newer and bigger buildings. The larger student body has outgrown many of the facilities at HFAC, which is over 50 years old.

Some modern updates have been delayed at HFAC, according to Scanlon. For example, there are earplugs in every band and orchestra room because the sound quality in the room is very harsh on 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 received collaboration from nearly every department on campus. He praised the behavior of the workers, faculty and staff involved in the project.

“Instead of throwing up their hands and getting frustrated, they came 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 place, Powell said budget decisions had to strike a balance between utility and longevity. Many of the building’s additional features, such as stage lighting and design computers, will be moved with the department to the new building on the main campus in three years.

“We want to make sure this was fully operational for our college without putting too much money into it,” he said. “That would be lost when we leave here.”

Art students and art teachers will have to wait about three years for everything to be completed, but from his point of view, 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 pleased that the university and the church have decided to fund it,” he said.

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