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   A BEACON IN THE DESERT Center for the Arts
2011 - Volume 1 Issue 1
Vida Fronteriza
Academic Architecture
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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The Center for the Arts planned for the campus of New Mexico State University will be like a “beacon in the desert for attracting students to NMSU and businesses to Las Cruces,” states Ammu Devasthali, an NMSU alumna and Chair of the Center for the Arts Leadership Advisory Committee. “Prospective businesses want their employees and families to have access to a variety of quality opportunities, such as the arts and education, but the options for talented university and regional patrons of the arts are currently limited.”


ASA Architects / Holzman Moss Architecture
  Photo Captions

1.) Leadership Advisory Committee Chair Ammu Devasthali

2.) Leadership Advisory Committee Ammu Devasthali, Sally Cutter
and Connie Hines

Jill Grammer

  Ground breaking will take place during the summer of 2010 and there will be special events scheduled throughout the year to provide a continuing focus on the Center. The project provides an excellent opportunity to educate people on what the arts can accomplish.
At the university, a strong focal point, of course, is important for attracting arts majors to NMSU. At this point in time, programs are scattered across the campus, making it difficult for serious collaborations to occur among the various art programs. A stronger arts appeal would also benefit other majors. Ammu comments that the arts not only provide a mental and physical diversion for any university curriculum, but can also contribute to the ability of an engineer, for instance, to manage a small personal project like a sculpture. The same attention to planning details, coordination, expenditure tracking and completion on a timely basis is required for a work of art as for a major design or construction project.

Ammu notes that another important factor of the Center will be its educational outreach programs. Area high school seniors will be targeted to enhance their commitment to stay in school and to provide intriguing reasons for pursuing higher education. Residents of all ages will continue to be involved in various programs at the center, giving them an additional venue for participation and plenty of encouragement for taking advantage of continuing education programs. “The arts are about building complete human beings and about utilizing creativity to solve problems,” continues Ammu. “The center will provide a meaningful intellectual interface for the entire region.”

As one might expect, the creation of a Center for the Arts requires a massive effort by the university, political leadership and the community. The need for the center has been recognized since the early 1980s. As university leaders and staff took a strong supportive stand and members of the community joined forces to pass a general obligation bond, the legislature also stepped up to help finance the project. With the growing arts presence in downtown Las Cruces coupled with Mesilla arts venues and those of other regions in Southern New Mexico, the Center will strengthen the draw of Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico as an arts destination. The design of the building will not only be functional, it is intended to make a strong statement about the importance of the arts to Southern New Mexico. “That’s why my husband and I, as well as a number of other local supporters, have made strong financial and physical commitments to the project. We know that it will make a difference in the lives of many people for years to come.”

Determining the needs and priorities of the Center, which will be built in three phases, was the focus of intense research and debate. Faculty, students and community members participated in interviews regarding the requirements for the Center, what could be shared and what needs were immediate or long term. Since there is no stage on campus with a fly tower, it became apparent that the 500-seat auditorium with a fly stage was the most pressing need. The facility, of course, can be utilized for a variety of functions and the building will include rehearsal space and classrooms.

The design of performing arts theaters is a specialized field and the university was intent on utilizing architects capable of achieving its goals, as well as preventing runaway costs. For its bid on the complex, locally owned ASA Architects teamed up with Holzman Moss Architecture out of New York. ASA, of course, was familiar with New Mexico law and local practices and Holzman Moss is one of the premier designers of similar facilities worldwide. It handled the remodeling of Radio City Music Hall in New York as well as the Globe News Center in Amarillo, Texas.

Design of the Phase I building will meet green LEED standards, including utilizing native rock (a first on campus) and low water usage landscaping. Transparency was requested by the advisory board and so the abundant use of glass allows classroom sessions to be viewed by passers-by. The building will be truly interactive –“Even a loner tends to be out going when there is an audience present,” adds Ammu. Obviously, sound containment is important and so the use of structural concrete and other sound barriers were employed. Every seat in the auditorium is carefully designed to be “intimate with the stage.” There will be artwork displayed wherever appropriate in the Center and a later phase of the project will include a gallery.

McCarthy is the building contractor selected after a lengthy process to insure the contractor could meet university requirements for quality workmanship, green building standards, cost control, etc. Among the top ten commercial builders in the United States, McCarthy has built numerous performing arts complexes, including the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. In New Mexico, it constructed the Sandia Casino Resort.

Layers of specialists are utilized in this type of construction for lighting, sound systems – even air conditioning will utilize natural flow patterns and large plenums to minimize noise and operating costs. The only comparable theater in Southern New Mexico is perhaps the Spencer Theatre in Alto, and even though it supports a somewhat different mission, those involved with the Phase I, 500-seat theater at NMSU expect it to be an impressive accomplishment of architectural and mechanical detail.

Cost of Phase 1 will be around $37.5 million total for construction, furnishings, landscaping, etc. A critical funding source is area donors. There have been several large individual contributions, but the smaller ones are equally important for purchasing furnishings, landscape items and so on that are not covered by the major funding sources. Individuals can even specify the use of donations. ///
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