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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 19.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Edgewood College opens a stately arts center
VTAC was built from March 2011 to July 2012.
Credit:Edgewood College

A giant Heritage Oak tree towers over Edgewood College, as if protecting the people who work, study and create there. More than 100 years old, it's a steadfast presence in an ever-changing landscape. The latest addition to this scene is another majestic structure: Edgewood's new Visual and Theatre Arts Center (VTAC), a 44,000-square-foot space that houses an art gallery, a black-box theater and studio-style classrooms for the school's growing art department.

VTAC was built around the tree's roots and the campus' 13 Native American effigy mounds, says gallery director Paul Baker Prindle.

"Its shape accommodates the tree," he explains. "Edgewood is proud of the beauty and history of its land. We wanted [VTAC's design] to illustrate that, and we're exploring this idea in the gallery."

Designed by Potter Lawson and constructed by J.H. Findorff & Son, the three-story structure pairs skylights and natural materials with industrial elements such as concrete floors and exposed beams. Eager to obtain LEED certification, decision-makers implemented green features such as an energy-saving geothermal heating-and-cooling system.

In the atrium, glass panes climb from the floor to the ceiling, framing the tree and ushering sunbeams into the space. The light illuminates the entrance to the new gallery, where an Ernest Hüpeden exhibition opens Friday, August 24. This show is the public's first chance to glimpse the building. The community will formally welcome VTAC at a Saturday, September 22 dedication ceremony filled with art, theater, poetry and music.

Beyond the atrium lie 12 studios dedicated to specific art forms, such as sculpture, ceramics, drawing and digital photography. Their size allows more students to take art classes, according to Robert Tarrell, an art professor who's been working on VTAC for more than 25 years.

"Students can also create bigger pieces than they could in the old classrooms," he says. "They'll be able to express themselves on a different scale."

The new theater also accommodates grander projects and up to 113 audience members. Students can configure the stage for different performance formats, and an adjacent scene shop lets them roll sets into place for each of the season's five productions.

Though VTAC was built from March 2011 to July 2012, its history stretches back to Edgewood's 1955 master plan. Recognizing that one building couldn't contain the school's artistic ambitions, Sister Mary Nona McGreal, president at the time, added VTAC. Since then, the college has added majors in studio art, graphic design and art therapy.

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