Illinois State University took a major step toward fulfilling a dream two decades in the making when Governor Pat Quinn announced last Thursday that the state will release $54 million for a new fine arts complex.

The news was music to the ears of students and alums who have long awaited a new facility to replace the College of Fine Arts’ three main, aging buildings: Centennial East and West, both of which were built in 1959, and the Center for the Visual Arts, which opened in 1973.

Fine arts map

A map of the fine arts buildings.

“I’m pumped,” said Colleen McGarry, a freshman theatre and production major. “I’m so ready for Centennial to be gone.”

“They say they value the arts. Prove it. Now they are.”

Quinn’s announcement on Founders Day came about three years after the money was first appropriated by the state, but the new complex, along with other state capital projects, had been held up as state officials debated funding sources, according to The Pantagraph.

“It’s long overdue,” said Jared Wittenmyer, M.F.A. ’11, who studied printmaking.I think it will be a real shot in the arm for the program.”

Brian Wohl ’07 said the new fine arts complex will give potential students a great impression of Illinois State and help bring in top talent.

“Once they see what type of facilities they will have to work with at ISU, potential students will clamor to become part of an already prestigious College of Fine Arts,” said Wohl, who co-owns and performs for Octavarius, a comedy-based production company in Chicago.

College of Fine Arts Dean James Major said talk of a new fine arts complex dates to the 1990s under former President David Strand. No timeline has been set on when the old buildings will be replaced or renovated to make way for the new complex. Major said he could see it opening in about four years if design and construction take two years each.

What the new complex will look like is unclear since the planning and design phase has yet to begin. Major said a standing committee will be formed to make recommendations about the project, and faculty, students, and the University community will have plenty of opportunity to offer their ideas.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Major said. “We’re not going to blow it.”

Students and alums say there’s plenty of room for improvement in the college’s buildings. Photography graduate student Alex Hogan said yellow foam falls from the ceilings of some rooms.

“Every time it rains, floods come out of the ceiling,” he said.

One problem with the buildings is that they were intended to be used for teacher education classrooms, not as art studios, according to Major.

“There’s no ventilation in here, and the ceilings leak,” said Hailey Thoma, a senior painting major whose studio is in the Center for the Visual Arts.

But patching up the rough spots isn’t the only issue alums and students would like addressed.

Melissa Cook, M.F.A.’12, would like to see a common area in the new complex, similar to Airport Lounge, which is used mostly by theatre students. The area would be a place where students from all the college’s programs could come together to network, exchange ideas, and share meals.

“It builds a really good community,” she said. “(Now) there is no place to congregate.”

Alums, like former ceramics student Tim Kowalczyk, M.F.A. ’11, would like the college to consolidate its far-flung programs. For example, now the Glass House is located on the opposite side of campus near Hancock Stadium, the graduate art studios are housed in a building near downtown Bloomington, and the School of Music’s programs are separated into several different buildings on campus.

“Our hope is that that we have everything in the college at this end of campus,” Major said. “Right now we are scattered all over creation.”

Friend of the Arts Board member Alex Skorpinski ’04, M.S. ’06, said it will be nice to have a building that the college is proud show off to prospective students and faculty.

He isn’t sure how the complex will look in the end but he wants one thing to be clear: “You are in a place where the arts are valued.”


Kevin Bersett can be reached at


One thought on “Students, alums: New fine arts complex proves university values arts

  1. Marie Dawson says:

    It sure will be great having another neighbor here in the south quad in fancy new digs! Congratulations CFA! Can’t wait to see the designs. Gosh, I had my first college class with Joe Grabill in CVA 147. Didn’t have a clue that it was brand new at aathe time..
    OK, everybody go do the happy dance in the quad… And somebody help Pete Guither and the dream trance he’s in!
    From all of us at the State Farm Hall of Business, CONGRATS!