The Magnificent New BSU Center for the Visual Arts

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This spectacular structure along the Boise Greenbelt is a multi-dimensional hub of creativity

Article and photography by Ed Guthero

It’s an understatement to say the new Boise State University Center for the Visual Arts makes a dramatic first impression. The building was named Best Overall Project in the 2020 Building Excellence Awards presented by the City of Boise. The tunning contemporary structure looms large on the university campus. The towering stark white front accented by strategically placed long vertical window slits stands tall against the clear Boise blue sky.

The white stone begins to wrap around the building and gives way to a massive wall of dazzling blue glass, four floors of it, all along the length of the structure.

The glass itself is a design element. Its built-in reflective component causes distinctive dancing blue tones, creating an immediate visual dialogue with the viewer. The glass is not just for effect; it actually lowers the thermal load of the building. At the far end, the blue glass arcs and flows as both the building itself, surrounding landscape, and sidewalk merge seamlessly, reaching out in all directions. In recent years the dream to consolidate the art program into a central location began to take shape and gain support from philanthropists, committed lovers of the arts, administration, former Chair Richard Young, and faculty.
Former University President Phillip Custer was enthusiastically instrumental in committing to the idea, and the architectural plans were drawn up.

The first renderings followed conventional university building interpretations, yet something was missing. As current Art Department Chair Dan Scott explained the early building concepts “didn’t tell a story.” The structure needed to be “in dialogue with art, make people curious, and invite the community in.” The site location at the front edge of the university campus next to Boise’s cultural heartbeat — The Morrison Center was a “threshold space between campus and community.” Something dynamic was needed and lead architect Steven Dwyer of HGA working together with local firm Lombard Conrad delivered in spades.

Print Making Presses

The building is beyond impressive, but so is the diverse creativity buzzing within its walls. Dan Scott joined the Boise State Art Department the previous year and became Department Chair as the transition to the new facility began. He recalls the joy when droves of eager art students moved into their spectacular new facility. “It felt like the very best week of your life,” Dan Scott said. “The students were smiling; they were so happy. It was very exciting to be here when we moved.”

Scott, a former operating room surgical tech before he followed the creative muse into the “the world of ideas” is insightful and passionate about the role of creativity in community. The art department is abundant in state-of-the-art technology, yet Scott points out the strength of the university’s art program is to “prioritize the conceptual.” This understanding is vital in the constant ever-evolving push and pull of technology. He stresses the importance of connecting technology to a concept. “Never learn a technique separate from an aesthetic idea,” he says citing a favorite design adage.

Dan Scott

The value of our program is that “we are leading with ideas,” Scott said. When technology becomes an end in itself and emphasized over concept there is imbalance, and the role of art / conceptual thinking is devalued or underappreciated. “There is a distinction between quality and kind … photography and capital P photography,” he notes.

On our tour throughout the four floors of the impressive facility I can readily sense Dan Scott is extremely proud of the facility, the faculty, its mission to the community, and the abundant creativity that flourishes among the various departments.

In the graphic design lab, focused students sit behind rows of silver Mac computers. e Mac is a graphic design power tool, but it is the foundation principles of design and concept that make for real communication.

Regardless of their chosen field of creativity, Boise State art students take a curriculum set with a common core. Foundation art principles develop a breath of knowledge and give them options to tailor their degree interests.

Successes in the art world are connected and they end with conceptual development. Scott wants students at the Center for the Visual Arts “to begin and end (projects) as artists and not just be connected to media.”

The expansive studios and labs often feature large windows and north light, and splendid views of the picturesque Boise State campus. Even the hallways and casual sitting areas are spacious. Ample gallery space is available for students to exhibit their works, and the Stein Luminary is a state-of-the-art high-tech gallery featuring 90 feet of touch screen walls allowing viewers to access an amazing variety of art, culture, and science through interactive and virtual media.

Art Room

As Scott continues to show me around the complex one impressive revelation follows another. This place is equipped! Drawing and painting in temperature-controlled classroom studios, fine art photography dark rooms, photo studio area, extensive fine art printmaking space for etchings, serigraphs and other formats. Among the fine art presses is a coveted Takach press model 4896HE nicknamed “Orange Crush.” Its press bed is 48” by 96” and is capable of printing relief and intaglio plates at an amazing size. It is so treasured that one of the elevator’s dimensions were specifically designed to transport the new press up to the printmaking area. The state-of-the-art line up continues with 3-D printing facilities, and impressive ceramic labs featuring beautiful contemporary kilns.

Metal Working Room

Boise State’s metalsmithing, jewelry, large 3-Dimensional studios, sculpture, and casting (including bronze) areas are particularly impressive. Once again, the areas are spacious with abundant room for students to work. Not only is this perfect for working in their disciplines, but it also reinforces the high safety priority of the programs. Dan Scott emphasizes the Visual Art Centre is a “purpose-built building designed for safety and the functions we do here.”

Sculpture Room

The Boise State Art Program is fully NASAD accredited representing the highest level of accreditation for art and design schools in the country. Boise State offers a wide spectrum of degrees in 15 areas as well as an MFA in Visual Art. Specific information on the various departments can be found at the following: www.boisestate.edu/art or artdepartment@boisestate.edu

The world of art and design has always been competitive, yet there is a certain drive built into creative people to succeed. The art program at BSU offers students an opportunity to find their niche. Art, technology, and culture are merging in exciting new ways. There are “avenues for success in the arts,” Scott points out, “and there is no down-side to doing what you love.”

The magnificent new Center for the Visual Arts at Boise State is indeed impressive as is the multi-dimensional program. The facilities, studios, and technology impact the viewer, as does the positive spirit of creativity among the students and staff. In today’s contemporary media environment there is a danger to create only technicians, but Dan Scott’s words that the art school prioritizes concept and “lead with ideas” are the key.