Owen Hall renovations offer new opportunities to UNCA faculty and students

By Nicholas Cohen
News Writer
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Photo by Graham Dugliss
Ethan Davis, a student studying New Media, interacts with the projected presentation of Lecturer Ashe Cosette

After years of waiting, faculty and students alike were finally offered the opportunity to explore the improvements made to the newly renovated Owen Hall. 
Sophia Sherar is currently attending her fifth year at UNC Asheville. As someone who is familiar with the problems of the old Owen Hall, Sherar said it is fantastic to be able to create her art in such an updated and spacious facility. 
“My favorite part about the new building is honestly the lighting and, if you’re a BFA, you get your own private studio upstairs,” Sherar said.
The private studios provided to BFA students are located on the third floor of Owen Hall. While about the size of a walk-in closet, the studios provide plenty of room for easels and other supplies while still allowing students to work comfortably. Sherar’s remarkable artwork litters the walls of her private studio in Owen and depicts eerie scenes of fantastical creatures. 
Another student taking full advantage of the updated facilities in Owen is Kendal Poole, a ceramics student. 
“It’s nice to have some more light and space,” Poole said. “The old place was a little crowded and crammed in.”
According to Poole, most of her classes take place in Owen Hall and she spends a lot of her time at the throwing wheel in the pottery studio. 
“I practically live here now,” Poole said.
Lecturer of Art History Eva Hericks-Bares said the new building is much better than the old Owen Hall. She remembers how art and history students had experienced the cave-like darkness of the old Owen Hall. Ventilation was nonexistent and the lack of oxygen and light meant students would fall asleep within minutes of entering class.
“It was difficult to tell students how to get to certain classrooms or offices,” Bares said. “There is so much light in the hallways now, it never gets as disorienting as the old building.”
However, some students said they miss aspects of the old Owen Hall. According to Sherar, there is a balcony on the second floor that seems like it would be great for students to hang out and socialize on. While this would be a dream come true for students like Shrar, the door to the balcony stays locked with an unknown code.
“I do miss the old building sometimes just because there’s a lot of memories held in that,” Sherar said. “There used to be this outside area and we used to all hang out there.”
While many students and faculty said they are in favor of the changes made to Owen, they may not realize how much money and good will went into the project. 
According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Operations David Todd, the renovations to Owen Hall totaled approximately $22.6 million. This includes $15.1 million in funding from the Connect N.C. Bond and an additional $2.7 million acquired from state funding. Grants from the Windgate Foundation totaled $1.9 million and contributed to the purchase of art equipment. The remainder of the funding included generous grants, gifts and donations that were graciously provided through the UNC Asheville Foundation. 
To showcase where all of this money went, on Friday, Sept. 17 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., several departments on campus got together to host an open house at Owen Hall to unveil and celebrate the new building.

Photo by Graham Dugliss
A group of guests fully immerse themselves in a visual and auditory exhibit.

The event featured guided tours of the building as well as a data driven animation of United States COVID-19 infections, vaccines and deaths. Other exhibits included a machine learning animation concerning climate change, networked performance art, a virtual reality project that takes you back to 17th century Salem, Mass., a creative fabrication work utilizing UNC Asheville’s STEAM studio and a virtual President Abraham Lincoln project led by faculty and student researchers.
In addition, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Kirk Swenson, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Garikai Campbell and the Department Chair & Professor of Art Tamie Beldue gave speeches aimed to share their gratitude for how the changes to Owen have improved the ways that students and faculty create their artwork in the building.
According to Campbell, UNCA New Media Lecturer Ashe Cosette is utilizing Owen’s new equipment and facilities in an astounding way. Cosette is currently working on a beautiful series of animated paintings containing surreal adaptations from dreams that focus on alien and UFO encounters.
“The first piece in the series represents a close encounter of the first kind; a giant golden jellyfish-like structure floating in the sky above Mount Pisgah,” Campbell said. “Followed by pieces that express relationships between motherhood and alien entities.”
Bares said she loves that the university has an art collection in Owen Hall and that students and faculty can now showcase their artwork and continue to build up the collection.

Photo by Graham Dugliss
Explaining the intricacies of the studio’s workings, Professor Robert Dunning points
out a particular painting.

“Teaching art and art history classes without access to actual art is like learning to swim without water,” Bares said. “The availability of a steady rotation of exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection in the building, are crucial to our ability to teach.”
According to Bares, the department waited three years for workers to finish renovating the building. During that time, art students of all kinds were remanded to non-ideal teaching settings. Now, with the renovations finally completed, Bares and her students have been upgraded with moveable furniture, a new projector and much more. 
“I think my students actually really like the new building,” Bares said. “It is sparkly and new, what’s not to like?”