Community’s effort keeps Art Barn open

Connie Cheng | Photo Editor Master of Fine Arts student Cynthia Saathoff positions donated sweaters around the Visual Arts Building in preparation for Arms around the Barn on July 11.

After two months of conjecture and debating, UTD has decided to keep its Visual Arts Building open for now.

The decision was conveyed to Greg Metz, senior lecturer in arts and humanities, during a meeting with Dean of Arts and Humanities Dennis Kratz on July 1.

In late April, Facilities Management boarded up the mezzanine without prior notification to students and faculty using the studio and office space there, and students speculated that the building would be torn down, or at least shut down to be used as storage.

The administration cited the lack of safety provisions in the building as the primary reason behind the decision to board up the mezzanine.

The mezzanine will remain closed and some of the more pressing safety issues will be addressed as soon as possible. The building will be available to students and faculty for their art season in the fall, and the 3D fabrication lab will be moved to the building, Metz said. However, it is unclear how long this decision will stay in effect.

“We’re excited about hanging on for the meantime and seeing how we can really make use of this space,” he said. “It’s exciting, but it’s not a done deal.”

When the news of the impending closure of the building, commonly known as the Art Barn was first made public, students, faculty and alumni from UTD’s art community were enraged at the sudden announcement.

“When I heard it first, I was very emotional,” said Lori Robertson-Snyder, a master of fine arts alumna. “I thought ‘they can’t do that.’ It was like taking a home away from me. I thought about the new facility and how much character it didn’t have and how much character this place has, how long it’s been here.”

Soon after, Cynthia Saathoff, a master of fine arts student, spearheaded the campaign with Arms around the Barn, a visual installation using sweaters to convey the message loud and clear to administrators: Artists wanted the building saved.

The project was inspired by Carol Zou’s Yarn Bombing Los Angeles, or YBLA, movement. Zou, a Los Angeles-based artist, has been encouraging artists to take up yarn bombing as a method of activism by “putting a ring” on any loved object by crocheting or knitting the yarn together.

Saathoff, Metz, Robertson-Snyder and others involved with saving the building decided to use Zou’s concept for the cause and started asking students, faculty and alumni for sweaters with the donor’s name printed on them to be hung in a ring around the Art Barn.

The cause drew a positive response from the campus community and has received 119 sweaters that have been knit cuff-to-cuff with red yarn hung around the Art Barn.

The first attempt to host an opening for Arms around the Barn in June was cancelled because the administration perceived the launch, that would also feature a band, as a show and less like an art opening, Saathoff and Robertson-Snyder said. According to university rules only official student organizations can host a show in any building. It was a setback, Saathoff said.

After exploring several avenues, including registering Arms around the Barn as an official organization, Saathoff and her team decided to approach RadioUTD to sponsor the show.

“I don’t think anyone ever thought of giving up,” Robertson-Snyder said.

Arms around the Barn will open on July 11, featuring Dallas-based band Totally Butchered, Denton’s Nite and DJ Colly T. Several alumni and students will contribute their art for the opening including Robertson-Snyder, Saathoff and Steph Hargrove, whose art uses statistical information on social matters displayed in a unique manner.

There will be free food and drinks served at the event and Arms around the Barn T-shirts will also be printed on spot. Hargrove will also sell handmade necklaces made out of bottle-caps, which can be customized at $15 a piece including shipping. Saathoff herself will have a henna booth.

The efforts behind Arms around the Barn have paid off, and the sweaters hanging around the building have made a strong impact in convincing President David Daniel and others in the administration of the students’ serious intent to save the building from destruction, Metz said.

Moving forward, they are considering plans to draw in monetary donations from alumni to the university for the specific purpose of renovating and upgrading the Art Barn, Robertson-Snyder said.

One of the first steps toward permanency would be to renovate the mezzanine and equip it with fire escapes and reopen it, said Jennifer Burrhus, a Bachelor of Arts student.

The space needs to be used to its full potential, with more musical events, art openings and promoting it as a hub similar to The Plinth, only closer to on-campus housing, she said.

All options are open, including developing the lawns as a sculpture garden where students can sit and study or socialize, as well as searching for possible donors who might want naming rights to the building, Saathoff said.

While Saathoff agreed that the building definitely needed massive renovations and modernization, she cautioned that it could be done without necessarily tearing the building down.

“We need to have some sort of a touch with our past,” she said.

They are hoping to ensure that no matter which way they choose to use the space, it will need to be inclusive of students in all majors, and not just as an art hub alone, Saathoff said.

However, with no time frame on how long the building will continue to remain open, Saathoff, Robertson-Snyder, Metz and their team views the news as temporary respite.

“I think we’ll remain forever vigilant,” Robertson-Snyder said.

As long as the building remains, there is hope for an alternative to keep it open permanently, although students will have to actively come forth to ensure that the building remains available to them, Metz said.

The building remains an integral part of UTD’s art culture, and for many alumni, it is the focal point where ideas are created and exchanged, even after they’ve graduated, Robertson-Snyder said.

“I thought if I ever come back to UTD or donate any money to UTD I want to be able to return to the building that meant the most to me” she said. “If I couldn’t come back to some of the places that meant so much to me there wouldn’t be any impetus for me to return and I wanted to be able to come back and see (the Art Barn) thriving and flourishing and progressing into the future.”

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