Art Department facilities lead to fractured community

The dilapidated remains of the condemned art building are sequestered from campus by a fence and a “No Trespassing” sign. The school must petition the Historic Board to receive permission to tear it down. LISA TRUCCIO // HURRICANE STAFF

After World War II, the University of Miami, like many other universities, received as many as 30 portable, wood buildings from army surplus to handle the educational needs of returning veterans.

“These wood buildings were to come play their role and then disappear,” said Janet Gavarrete, the assistant vice-president of Planning.

All except three of these buildings were removed from campus. The art department stayed in these remaining structures.

In 2002, one of the wood buildings was partially condemned. The Miami Hurricane printed a front-page story on this closing and shortly after university president Donna E. Shalala toured the school.

“We know we need to seriously improve the space,” Shalala told The Hurricane in 2003.

The next year the full building was deemed unsafe, and the other buildings’ structure left something to be desired.

Carsten Meier, an assistant professor in photo and digital imaging, says he can poke his finger through the brittle wood on his window pane in his L1 office.

L1 is one of the two remaining wood buildings used by the art department.

Carlos Llerena Aguirre, an associate professor, also has problems with this building.

“From far away this building looks like a horse stable,” he said. “Give me a simple public school looking building that can house the whole art program.”

Betsi Poti, a senior and former lab monitor in the L1 building, has seen a rat in the building along with lots of geckos.

UM’s approach to these buildings is to provide limited maintenance. Buildings made of wood have a life span of about 50 years in Miami where they face hurricanes, humidity and termites, compared to 100 years for concrete structures.

Major construction on wood buildings can be done to improve these buildings but this would be comparable to just replacing it. This investment would be short-lived as a 1982 ordinance decreed the destruction of these buildings in 1992.

According to Gavarrete, Coral Gables does not want wood buildings as it is a quality city and, consequently, wants more permanent buildings.

Relief is scheduled in the Coral Gables Campus Master Plan. However, it is not scheduled until the five year period between 2015 to 2020. This plans calls for a reunification of the art program near the BankUnited Center.

This date can be moved according to a variety of factors, such as funding.

Long Walks
This means at least six or more years of a divided art school.

The painting classes were moved to the Rainbow Building when the wood building was condemned. The Rainbow Building is located near Alex Rodriquez Park, behind the Circle K and Dominos.

The printmaking classes had already been located there for several years before the building was condemned.

“We talk to professors and tell them we are going to be five to 10 minutes late because we have to journey across campus,” said Jon Turner, a junior art major, about the walk between classes some art students face going between the Rainbow Building and the wooden art buildings.

Other problems include a lack of community caused by this separation.

“With a more unified art department there would be a much more collegial feel. We are utterly separate. I never see the sculpture people unless we have a faculty meeting,” Darby Bannard, an art professor, said. The sculpture studio is by Ponce Garage.

Bottom Feeders
Bannard, who was the chair of the art department from 1989 to 1998, says that the art department is profitable for the university.

“Expenditures are relatively low,” he said. “If you take all the money that it takes to run the art department and compare it to the money made from credits, it is defiantly disproportionate.”

The money the art department makes, according to Bannard, goes into a big pot and is distributed throughout the university.

“I think there is a number one department and a number two department,” he said. “We are kind of at the bottom of the barrel. I think art departments are, usually. We are not a first priority.”

This lack of support is seen in more than just fiscal matters.

“You see Shalala at sport events, but you never see her at an art opening,” said Jeff Larson, a photography teaching assistant.

Greener Grass
Bannard does not mind the lack of support.

“It means they leave us alone,” he said.

Meier also likes some aspects of the building.

“On one hand we are special because we are in the oldest building,” he said. “On the other hand we are neglected.”