Boise State's New Work of Art

“This came across in such a big hurry. There’s a big deadline but nobody will tell us why.”


The Boise State University Department of Art is currently housed in five buildings scattered across the sprawling downtown campus. Students taking photography and sculpture make their way to the Liberal Arts building, while those studying illustration or painting hoof it across campus to the Arts West building.

But not for long.

Boise State is moving forward at full steam with a proposed multi-million-dollar Fine Arts Building that will house the entire fine arts department and potentially the Arts and Humanities Institute.

"The Fine Arts Building will be where we relocate--with new, expanded modern facilities--our Fine Arts program, such as sculpture, metal works, the graphic arts," said Jared Everett, interim associate vice president of campus planning and facilities. "The performing arts--like music and theater--is actually a different department."

The proposed site for the building is currently a parking lot alongside Capitol Boulevard.

"We believe and are proposing that the Fine Arts Building will be located north of our Micron Business and Economics Building. ... It'll be on Capitol Boulevard, about mid-block on the east side in between the Towers Residence Hall and the College of Business," said Everett.

Though the project is still in its earliest phase, it has the potential to dramatically alter Boise State's downtown footprint.

"It's too early to opine on what the dimensions will be, but what I can tell you is that we do want to have an appropriate density indicative of an urban campus so it's not going to be one or two stories; it'll hopefully be in the four- to five-story [range], but all of that will be determined as we complete the design," said Everett.

The Idaho Division of Public Works issued a request for qualifications for the new Fine Arts Building, which were due March 6. According to DPW Project Manager Ben Hill, the building has a ballpark budget of $30 million and received substantial interest from firms out of state.

"It's really pretty exciting because we're getting interest from all over the place," said Hill. "Top design firms like Perkins + Will out of Seattle and Thomas Hacker [THA Architecture] out of Portland, Ore."

But that doesn't mean local firms aren't in the running.

"Usually when somebody from out of town calls me, they say, 'Well, do we need to team up with someone locally?' And I say, 'Yeah, it's kind of a good idea because we like to see some of that money stay in town here,'" explained Hill.

After reviewing the proposals, DPW will select five companies to further develop their ideas and pitch their projects in person March 19. The winning firm or firms will then move forward with programming and meet with art department staff to determine their needs.

"We're just doing the planning, feasibility and programming studies, and if the outcome of those is that this facility is feasible and affordable, we will ask the State Board [of Education] to approve us moving into the design phase, and later on, we'll go back to the board asking for approval to construct if the design works out," explained Everett.

All told, the university hopes to have shovels in the ground by spring 2014--a timeline that Hill said is shorter than most projects.

"I just haven't heard hardly anything from BSU on this job, which is kind of weird," said Hill. "We work together with them, but this job came across in such a big hurry. ... There's a big deadline but nobody will tell us why."

Kirsten Furlong, director of Boise State's Visual Arts Center, is also surprised by how fast the project is moving.

"It's happening at a very quick pace; I wish I had an answer. It's just amazing because it's something that we've been talking about the need for a really, really long time," said Furlong.

She said the new building will "radically change" the art department, and added that her colleagues are thrilled to finally have classrooms that cater specifically to the needs of artists.

"All of our facilities have just been retrofitted into buildings that just had completely other purposes," said Furlong. "So now we're going to have the opportunity to have a state-of-the-art facility for all of the different areas that we teach, and we're going to be able to design and build the space to really meet those needs."

Hill said that arts programs nationwide tend to get short shrift when it comes to allocation of campus facilities.

"In the old days, artists would usually get the crappiest old building on campus--and I'm not speaking specifically about BSU, I'm talking about art schools at all universities and colleges," said Hill. "Artists do a pretty good job of making do with cruddy old spaces, but they typically don't have a lot of the safety features that they really should have for some of the types of materials that artists really like to work with--so actually having proper ventilation systems and waste systems and things like that."

According to Everett, the university has been requesting state support for this new building for at least three years.

"In the last accreditation cycle for our Fine Arts program, the accreditation body--while approving of the facilities--indicated that one of the big concerns is that the facilities for those programs were undersized, under-equipped and that more modern facilities were needed," said Everett. "So for us to really grow and continue to elevate these programs, they are in need of new and better facilities."

In fact, Boise State's Department of Art recently switched from open enrollment to an application process in order to alleviate crowding in the program. Fall 2012 enrollment for art and design students was 600--a slight decrease from previous semesters.

"More students want into these programs," said Everett. "Some of those programs are achieving prominence on regional and national levels, and the current facilities will not facilitate that growth. The number of students that can get into that program is currently being limited by the facilities and we need to address that."

Though both Hill and Everett have heard rumors that there was a private donation to the university to fund the building, Vice President of Advancement Laura Simic said they're just rumors.

"We're still really, really early in the planning stages, part of our funding is going to come from our bonding capacity, and we're still exploring whether or not that will include any private funding, as well," said Simic.

Project planners agreed that the high-profile building is barreling forward at a rapid pace, and Everett confirmed that the enterprise is being championed from the top.

"The campus executives have made this facility a priority. I believe there are people in the community who are wanting this facility to be a priority, as well," said Everett. "We just want to see it happen. Sometimes, to be honest, the way that you get things done is you set high expectations for things to get done."