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Photo caption: Additions to the 1959 Griffith Fine Arts Building doubled its size and included multiple new performance venues and related spaces to accommodate growth in the Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts' academic programs. The exterior of the building features dynamic new facade panels, or "Dragon Scales," which represent movement, rhythm and drama directly relating to the programs within the college. The facade colors change from purple to orange to copper as you move around the building and with the time of day. The innovative design also added impressive entrances and a 3,000-square-foot, two-story lobby that can accommodate a wide variety of campus functions and an art gallery space to display student work and traveling exhibitions. Photo by Michael Tubbs '05, '10 & '11

Months after reopening, Griffith Fine Arts Building's architectural innovation remains a reflection of programs' excellence

Story by Robbie Goodrich '82

Throughout its history, SFA has embraced all arts disciplines as a way to enhance the educational experience of the university community and expand appreciation for art, music, theatre and dance for all of Nacogdoches.

In the months since last fall's well-attended grand reopening of the newly expanded and renovated Griffith Fine Arts Building, faculty, students and staff who now call the building a second home continue to admire its beauty and appreciate its functionality.

What was three and a half years of work is now a structural beauty with thriving programs. Students are reaping the benefits of specially designed laboratories, classrooms, theatres and other spaces with state-of-the-art technologies designed to put fine arts graduates at the top of their game in future job markets.

It's also a building that looks to the future while respecting the past. Beautifully carved stone reliefs on the original structure's exterior, along with a carefully laid original Stephen F. Austin State College seal in the terrazzo floor of the former entrance foyer, are now architectural highlights of an impressive second-floor lobby.

"There is a natural degree of anxiety that builds up as you wait for a building to be constructed," said Dr. Gary Wurtz, dean of the Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts, which is housed in the Griffith Fine Arts Building.

"It's impossible to truly know how a building will look and function by looking at drawings. But now that we've lived here for over six months, we're realizing that this new facility is better than we had hoped it would be and that its functionality equals its beauty."

The building is home to the School of Theatre and Dance, and its director, Cleo House-Keller, believes the building serves as another recruiting tool with its spaces that are "aspirational and inspirational regardless of what high school or junior college a student might come to us from," he said.

"The new and updated spaces support the standard we have set, but the building also asks all of us to raise the bar a little higher," House-Keller added. "As Dean Wurtz said, 'We now have a space that is reflective of the quality of the faculty, staff and students who are part of the Elliott College of Fine Arts.'"

At last fall's grand reopening, local and state dignitaries joined SFA administrators, faculty, staff, students and community patrons as part of SFA's 100th birthday weekend of events. Newly installed plaques honoring the contributions to SFA made by the Micky Elliott Family Foundation and Teresa Jill Adams were unveiled, along with a plaque naming the William E. Arscott Sound Stage in honor of the beloved filmmaking professor who will retire this year after 62 years of teaching at SFA.

The grand opening concluded with a sold-out Centennial Concert, which premiered the original composition, "How Proud the Pines," by Dr. Stephen Lias, SFA professor of composition. For the piece's lyrics, he used poems by the late Karle Wilson Baker, an original faculty member and one of Texas' most celebrated poets in the first half of the 20th century. The commissioned piece honors SFA's 100 years of educational excellence and service.

The construction project, titled Fine Arts Expansion Initiative, extended the original 1959 Griffith Fine Arts Building along North Street. In addition to the renovations to Turner Auditorium, the state-of-the-art building has two dance studios, two new theatres, a recording studio, a sound stage, audio and video editing rooms, an art gallery, multiple classrooms, rehearsal facilities, faculty offices, and the offices of the Elliott College of Fine Arts dean. These facilities house the college's sound recording technology, filmmaking, theatre, dance and musical theatre programs.

While the college welcomes the community to enjoy the new spaces by attending plays, art exhibitions, and music and dance concerts, it's the students who are the primary recipients of everything the performance center has to offer.

"The new building is triumphant and beautiful; it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something just by being in it," said Eric Sosa, junior theatre major from Houston.

Brad Maule, filmmaking professor, believes the new facilities offer valuable recruiting tools.

"The new classrooms for filmmaking are incredible. Giant screens, plush chairs for the students, phone and laptop chargers beneath each desk, elevated platforms for unobstructed viewing of films and lectures, soundproof walls between each room — it is a filmmaker's dream," he said.

The addition of the Flex and Black Box theatres in the building's new construction provide theatre students their own performance spaces aside from Turner Auditorium.

"Giving us a space of our own to perform, learn, study and even hang out in has given me a sense of community and involvement in the School of Theatre and Dance," said Ariana Cox, senior theatre major from Addison, Texas. "The building overall creates a warm and welcoming feeling, full of opportunity and collaboration."

Connor Molen, senior theatre major from Ponder, Texas, said the building was created with students in mind, "and you can tell," providing an encouraging environment for "student life and creativity."

A dance student uses the newly installed aerial hoops to deliver an unforgettable athletic and acrobatic performance. Photo by Michael Tubbs '05, '10 & '11
A dance student uses the newly installed aerial hoops to deliver an unforgettable athletic and acrobatic performance. Photo by Michael Tubbs '05, '10 & '11

"I love holing up in a study room or stopping to chat with friends in 'The Treehouse' (third-floor student gathering area)," Molen said. "On my morning walk to the Movement Studio, I pass the Lighting Lab. It is thrilling to have these specialized locations in our facility. While one class learns rapier and dagger technique, the other is programming right down the hall."

House-Keller believes the Griffith Fine Arts Building's facilities "rival any in the state." "All of this means that our students can be confident that they are working in spaces that will fully support their education, no matter their level," he said. "This will aid us in recruiting competitive students who are serious about their education in theatre, dance, film and sound recording technology."