“A New Era for the Arts”: A look at BYU’s new West Campus

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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 en route to a new arts building.

BYU’s West Campus has been under construction since 2018, when BYU purchased the high school. The fine arts faculty involved in the renovations said what happened at the old high school was nothing short of a miracle.

“Just small miracles of finding these spaces that no one thought would work,” Assistant Dean Don Powell said. “And then they turned into work fabulously.”

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

At BYU’s new West Campus Central Building, the former high school weight room is now an art gallery. Many halls have been remodeled to accommodate BYU theater and arts students in the former Provo High School. (Abigail Gunderson)

Although the new housing is a little different, Associate Dean Rory Scanlon said students and faculty are taking the renovations into their own hands.

“Because it’s art and design and theater and media arts, they were all excited to try it because they love working in a new area and trying something brand new and something new. very different,” Scanlon said.

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

“The best remarks seem to come from the art department, because now they have this big space that they can mess up and nobody gets mad about it,” Powell said.

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

Scanlon said any growing pains will be worth it once they’re in the newer and bigger buildings. The largest number of students has overtaken many facilities at HFAC, which is over 50 years old.

Some modern updates lag behind the HFAC, according to Scanlon. For example, in each of the music and orchestra halls, there are earplug dispensers, as the sound quality in the hall is too harsh for the students’ ears.

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

From physical facilities to food services and from interior design to technology, Powell said the renovations required the collaboration of almost every department on campus. He praised the can-do attitudes of the workers, professors and staff involved in the project.

“Instead of throwing up their arms and being frustrated, they came in with the right attitude of, ‘Let’s see how we can make this work,'” Powell said.

Since the high school was only a temporary place, Powell said budget decisions had to balance utility and longevity. Many of the features added to the building, such as stage lighting and design computers, will move with the department to the new main campus building in three years.

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

Fine arts students and teachers will have to wait about three years for everything to be finished, but it looks like a little creative tweaking in the meantime won’t be a problem. According to Scanlon, the expansion marks a turning point for BYU artists.

“We envision a whole new era for the arts at BYU, and we’re glad the university and the church have decided to fund this,” he said.

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