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Richmond Center completes new arts village

June 11, 2007

KALAMAZOO--The completion of Western Michigan University's sweeping 44,000-square-foot, $13 million Richmond Center for Visual Arts boosts the image, stature and awareness of the Frostic School of Art and brings to fruition a West Campus arts village.

"It consolidates the visual and performing arts to foster an artistic community," says Dr. Margaret Merrion, dean of the WMU College of Fine Arts. "For the first time, we can bring together two-dimension and three-dimension artists, choreographers, actors, dancers, musicians, graphic designers and teachers of the arts. We expect to spawn more interdisciplinary inquiry among the students and faculty."

Situated between the Gilmore Theatre Complex and Dalton Center Recital Hall along the University's Fountain Plaza, the copper-adorned, eye-catching structure puts a 20,000-square-foot sculpture garden in the path of passersby, beckoning them to step inside where natural light streams into the lobby through a bank of two-story windows. Spread throughout the building's first floor are galleries, a lecture hall and exhibition support offices. A wide staircase leads to the second floor, which contains a student lounge, administrative offices and an advising suite. Graphic art takes over the third floor, which is complete with a high-tech design center, digital print center, studio, client conference room, critique space and classrooms.

"The Richmond Center is an architectural jewel--giving shape to our public mission of elevating the human condition through the arts," Merrion says. "We eagerly welcome the community to partake in viewing contemporary exhibitions in its new galleries. They reflect the programmatic work of our students, faculty, visiting artists and University Art Collection."

Each of the center's three galleries was designed to draw in the public and raise the stature of the Frostic School of Art and College of Fine Arts. The Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery is 4,000 square feet with a 30-foot ceiling and will feature major exhibits. The Eleanor R. and Robert A. DeVries Student Art Gallery is 1,500 square feet with a stairway that allows direct access to the student lounge, where receptions and special events will be held. It will showcase exhibits for art majors and, in some summer months, the work of distinguished alumni and regional artists. The Rose Netzorg and James I. Kerr Gallery is 1,000 square feet and will display works from the University Art Collection, faculty and visiting artists.

In addition to displaying more permanent works of art, the pebble-strewn sculpture garden surrounding the first floor will bring the works of nationally and internationally recognized artists to campus as part of WMU's ongoing sculpture tour. The garden features five pieces, which include the work of Michael Dunbar, noted artist and co-founder of the Navy Pierwalk Sculpture Program.

The new building, with its copper, glass, steel and cement façade, had its groundbreaking in May 2005. It was designed by architects from SmithGroup's Detroit office to be a vessel that unites light, art and people.

"The major challenge from faculty at the outset was that they wanted a building that not only announced itself as a visual arts facility, but also a building that would draw the public in and engage the public in ways we never had before," says Phil Vander Weg, former director of the Frostic School of Art, who oversaw the project. "I feel that the design that SmithGroup came up with responded to that challenge."

The center's $13 million cost was funded almost entirely with private funds, more than any building in WMU history. Major underwriting came from James and Lois Richmond, the Gwen Frostic estate and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. The Richmonds, longtime Kalamazoo residents and WMU alumni, made a $2.5 million gift toward construction of the new center in part to thank the University for their educations, which led to well-paying careers. Lois Richmond is a former assistant vice president at Bronson Methodist Hospital, and James Richmond, himself an artist whose work is permanently part of the building, was a senior vice president with Stryker.

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 500 people squeezed together in the center lobby on April 12 to dedicate the sparkling structure. The Richmonds were in that crowd, along with University and college administrators, members of the WMU Board of Trustees, art students and project architects.

"Exactly 23 months ago to the day, we broke ground for this magnificent building, and I said, 'Oh, Happy Day,' " Merrion recalled at the ceremony. "Today, it's time to say, 'Oh, Grateful Day!' According to G.K. Chesterton, 'Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder,' Today, we are doubly happy with the wondrous Richmond Center for Visual Arts."

Media contact: Tonya Hernandez, (269) 387-8400, tonya.hernandez@wmich.edu

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