Now that the $70 million Nobel project is finished and Lund’s renovation is in the works, many students are wondering what’s next. According to the Gustavus website, the next project includes improving accessibility, meeting spaces and the overall structure of Christ Chapel. After that, the Schaefer Fine Arts music building will be getting a much-needed renovation for performance space, practice rooms, teaching studios and rehearsal spaces.
Although many of the buildings on campus are in need of renovations, it still surprises me that the Schaefer Fine Arts art building, constructed in 1971, has yet to see much improvement. If any student has taken a drawing or painting class on a rainy day, they’d know that the building could use some TLC.
“We definitely have a leaky roof and our students know when it rains because we’ll have buckets located in the painting and drawing studio,” Associate Professor and Chair in Art and Art History Betsy Byers said.
Despite the leaky roof, the biggest problem Byers sees with the art building is accessibility.
“We do not have a handicap-accessible door or bathroom,” Byers said.
The heavy wooden doors at the entrance do not have an automated handicap button, which is a big problem. Additionally, the bathrooms are incredibly small and narrow with no wheelchair accessibility whatsoever. The closest bathroom with accessibility is in Björling recital hall in a completely different building.
In addition to updating their bathrooms and doors to be handicap accessible, Byers also says they want to include a gender-neutral bathroom for non-binary students, visitors and staff.
“Accessibility in terms of equity is hands down [the most important issue] for us,” Byers said.
Another problem of the building is its windows. During the infamous 1998 tornado that devastated much of the St. Peter community, dirt and dust collected between the two panes of glass in the windows of the building. This dirt is still trapped in the glass which has affected visibility, lighting, and appearance inside the studios.
According to Byers, replacing the glass has been a 20-year request ever since the tornado occurred.
“It is quite problematic for the aesthetic of the building,” Byers said.
This has created problems for prospective art students when they come to tour the building. The interior hallway is already very dark, so stepping into a studio with bright floor-to-ceiling windows should act as a wow-factor, but instead, they appear dirty and cloudy.
The Art and Art History faculty have been trying to address these issues for years now but have been met with little luck, and it’s even more unlikely now with COVID-19 disrupting everything.
“I think with the reality of the world that we’re living in right now we will likely not see [a renovation], so we kind of have to call on our creative abilities and our creative ideas to continue to figure out ways to be innovative,” Byers said.
According to Byers, the Art and Art History department has to come up with some extremely creative and unusual ideas to create more space for art students.
“We think it would be fantastic to have something like a shipping container on campus that can become an exhibition space or a studio workspace,” Byers said.
Being a studio art minor myself, I would love to see this happen.
Despite the many problems that need to be addressed with the building, it is still loved by many.
“The view that you get walking from the Chapel towards the building at night when the Schaefer Gallery is lit up is one of the greatest views on campus,” Byers said.
I have to agree. The architecture of the building is definitely a unique staple of Gustavus, and there’s always something new to discover when you walk through those terribly heavy wooden doors.
Because I love the building with all its quirks and charm, I want everyone to be able to enjoy it just as much. Providing accessibility to all students, faculty and visitors regardless of identity or ability is an absolute must. As much as I love New Nobel and am excited about a Lund renovation, a revamp of the Schaefer Fine Arts art wing is far overdue. Gustavus prides itself on being inclusive and accessible to all walks of life, so that should remain true for its buildings as well.