A project nearly two years in the making, the Visual Arts Studio opened its classroom doors for students at the start of the Spring 2021 Semester. The studio, along with an additional parking lot, stand where the Kirkham once stood on the north end of campus.
At approximately 8,800 square feet, the studio holds two large classrooms for the Department of Art’s sculpting and ceramics courses. Other rooms include faculty offices, a locker area for students to store projects, a lobby, and larger storage areas in the back to house kilns, clay, and other art supplies.
Several BYU-Idaho employees, including a university architect and art faculty members, toured several other university ceramics and sculpture labs to help design the new space.
“What’s interesting is that while we have relatively the same amount of space in the new studio that we had before when we were located in the Kirkham, this space was designed for the art department from the very beginning,” said BYU-Idaho’s Department of Art Chair Brian Memmott. “We are getting a lot more from the space because of that. The architects have really worked miracles with it.”
One very intentional decision was the number of windows and the amount of natural lighting the studio has.
“Natural lighting plays a vital role in helping the eye to see real colors, which is so important in arts such as pottery or sculpting, said art faculty member Kody Keller, who teaches Sculpting Fundamentals and 3D Design courses. “It’s a very refreshing thing to have and we knew we wanted to incorporate that as much as we could.”
The building features ribbon windows on the east and west walls, with a skylight above the foyer that supplies natural light. The frontside of the building, facing north, is completely composed of glass which makes it possible for individuals passing by to easily view the studio’s lobby, which was designed to also function as a student gallery.
“We really wanted to have this available for whenever classes or other student groups just wanted to curate shows,” Keller said. “It provides a possibility for students to create an experience.”
Between the east and west walls of the frontside of the building is a curtain wall with two 18-foot strips of LED lights. These fun, unique lights are art unto themselves, programmable to change colors and brightness.
Other additions to the the studio include an area for a woodshop and a metal foundry to create bronze sculptures, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts studio.
“This is going to be a beautiful space to work and develop in,” Keller said. “Every class will be enhanced. The woodshop and bronze foundry access will give the students greater ability to create in new ways and give them new experiences that were formerly out of their reach.”
Hyrum Benson, an art faculty member who specializes in ceramics, agrees that the studio will provide broader, real-world options for students to help them prepare for their careers.
“My philosophy is to help students learn how to use all of the equipment we use so that they can have that as an ability for when they go out as educators or out on their own,” Benson said. “Part of the upper-level courses go further into mastering technical aspects too, including running and managing a studio. This new space will really help foster that environment.”
After temporarily moving art classes to the Benson Building for the past two years, the Visual Arts Studio has been a greatly anticipated resource for the art department faculty and nearly 1,500 students majoring in art. All art majors require at least one 3D experience, and many come to love 3D mediums and take additional ceramics or sculpting classes.
“We look forward to seeing students understand that this studio was designed specifically for them and hope that really affects their approach,” Memmott said. “It’s all for them.”