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UNM scraps plan to convert Art Annex to space for Honors College

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico is scrapping a controversial plan to uproot its graduate art studios as part of a larger campus realignment after an architect’s review raised issues about the financial feasibility.

The University of New Mexico is no longer planning to relocate graduate art studios from the Art Annex to make way for the Honors College. (Jessica Dyer/Albuquerque Journal)

Master’s of fine arts students currently use a historic UNM building along Central Avenue as studio space for their painting, photography and printmaking.

But a plan to convert what is known as the “Art Annex” into space for the Honors College – which will be displaced when the Student Health and Counseling center expands in its building – would have meant relocating the art programs to the currently vacant Biology Annex.

Some UNM regents defended the domino series of moves as the best use of available space, but it provoked strong opposition from the department of art and others on campus.

After students and faculty voiced their concern during the Board of Regents’ August meeting, administrators assembled a task force to evaluate the situation. They also asked an outside architect to review the plan.

The architect determined that repurposing the 91-year-old Art Annex for the Honors College was cost-prohibitive, given the budget and age of the building, interim Provost Craig White said.

The university will look elsewhere for the Honors College’s new home, allowing the art studios to stay in place.

“It’s a great relief for everyone,” art department Chairwoman Justine Andrews said, adding that she was “grateful” to UNM’s leadership.

“Students are thrilled, and I think it means that we get to continue a really rigorous national program in a space that people both love and find to be an inspiring place for art-making.”

Art students, art faculty and Honors College students spoke against the move at the August meeting, arguing that the plan did not meet their respective needs.

Art representatives have hailed the Art Annex – with its high ceilings and natural light – as one of their department’s chief recruiting tools; they also bemoaned moving to a building that would cut their available space by nearly half. Honors students, meanwhile, expressed desire for a building closer to campus dormitories.

MFA printmaking student Robbie Sugg said the Art Annex was key to his choosing UNM and that he had lost sleep fearing he would have to relocate his studio. He said he was “elated and relieved” to learn that would not happen.

“This building is a legacy building for our department; major figures of 20th century and contemporary art have worked in this building, including artistic heroes of mine: Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, and Elaine de Kooning to name a few,” Sugg said in an email to the Journal. “It means so much to me to be working alongside their footsteps.”

Regent Marron Lee said talks are underway about possibly moving the Honors College to the first floor of the Anderson School of Management building, which she called ideal given its proximity to residence halls.

“We needed solutions, and one was found that did not include the building that graduate art students use,” Lee said in a written statement.

The task force will explore other potential uses for the Biology Annex, a building designed by renowned architect John Gaw Meem but that was facing demolition a few years ago.

Lee said it is “an amazing and historic space that whomever ends up there will be lucky to have.”

UNM’s budget office had projected spending $6.1 million to renovate the Art Annex and Biology Annex under the initial plan, and UNM procured the funding as part of a larger regent- and New Mexico Board of Finance-approved bond sale.

Changing the plan to bypass the Art Annex and instead incorporate Anderson is not expected to have any financial implications, Lee said, though the regents would have to “reauthorize” the use of the bonds for that purpose.

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