UT Dallas places greater emphasis on arts and culture with new $300 million district

Despite being a science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, school, the University of Texas at Dallas is committing nearly $300 million to a new arts and culture district.

Covering approximately 12 acres, the new neighborhood is called the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr. Athenaeum. It is expected to serve as the campus’s new cultural district, according to UT Dallas officials. The athenaeum will include a performing arts theater, two museums, and parking located in a central plaza in the southeast area of ​​campus.

The first phase of the project currently under construction includes the Crow Museum of Asian Art and a parking structure, and it is expected to be completed by 2024. Enrichment of the arts is one of the key themes in the strategic plan of the university, UT Dallas President Richard Benson said at the dedication of the athenaeum on May 11.

“We are widely known as a university strong in STEM and management disciplines, but we look forward to making an equally strong impact in the arts,” Benson said.

A destination museum

The Crow Museum of Asian Art is located in Dallas and includes more than 1,000 works from Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam as well as a library of more than 12,000 books, catalogs and journals.

“This opportunity can be the catalyst for further expansion of the Crow Museum,” said museum director Amy Hofland. “We are working on a major acquisition that could double our size.”

Once opened on the UT Dallas campus, the expanded Crow Museum is expected to become the fourth largest Asian art museum in the country. The Downtown Dallas Museum will continue to operate, but no details have been decided on whether it will continue once the UT Dallas Museum opens, according to Hofland.

“It will be the first major art museum north of I-635 designed by a Pulitzer Prize-winning architect,” she said.

In addition to the Crow Collection, UT Dallas will feature three collections of Latin American folk art as part of a 50,000 square foot museum project for the traditional arts of the Americas. This museum will include three donated collections: the Roger Horchow Collection; the Laura and Dan Boeckman Collection of Latin American Folk Art; and the Bryan J. Stevens Collection of masks from the Sierra de Puebla.

“Bringing culture to a physical space on the UT Dallas campus is a great opportunity for students and the community,” Hofland said.

Nils Roemer, dean of the school of arts, humanities and technology, said the athenaeum, which is a Greek term for a place dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athena, is designed for use at both as an educational tool for students and as a cultural meeting place for Richardson.

The athenaeum is supported by a $32 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation, which has given more than $900 million to UT Dallas since its inception in 1957, according to campus officials.

Scenic arts

Another addition to the athenaeum is a 53,000 square foot performance hall, according to university officials. The performance space, which would be the largest on campus, is expected to include a 600-seat concert hall, practice rooms, and choir and orchestra rehearsal rooms. The performance hall is expected to open by 2026.

Jonathan Palant, associate dean of the arts at AHT’s school, said the new venue will allow the school to expand its events, which operate from a 200-seat concert hall and the University Theater at 280 places.

“Our performing groups are getting better,” Palant said. “This will allow us to scale with our growth and have a prominent place in the community, both on campus and off campus, to showcase the talent of our students.”

Palant said making the arts easily accessible on campus is important to provide a cultural perspective for the community, especially with UT Dallas’ population of nearly 25 percent international students.

“Being a well-rounded student allows you to be a well-rounded citizen,” he said. “When we expose ourselves to arts from around the world, it makes us more open to others. Richardson being diverse himself, he will benefit from that global perspective.

One of the biggest challenges UT Dallas has had in promoting arts education on campus is expressing to students the benefits of the program, Palant said.

“I think we were held back in a lot of ways,” he said. “The campus has grown exponentially over the past two years, growing from 14,000 in 2006 to now over 30,000 students. We talk a lot about how [spread the idea of art] on the campus.”

Roemer said he discussed ways to make the arts more visible on campus, including exhibits in all arts buildings.

Develop arts education

UT Dallas officials have confirmed a major step toward engaging in arts education this fall by combining the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication in one larger school. AHT’s new school, which debuted this school year, is expected to expand the previously offered curriculum centered on arts education.

“The idea behind this move is to have a strong and unique academic presence for the arts at UT Dallas,” Inga Musselman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said in a statement.

Roemer, who has held various positions at UT Dallas since joining the university in 2006, was named the new school’s inaugural dean.

UT Dallas’ School of Arts and Humanities was established in 1975. After the technology boom of the late 1990s, technology-focused courses began to be added to the Art Department’s curriculum in 2002, before being separated in their own school in 2015. .

The vision for the merged school has been discussed by UT Dallas officials since 2019, with Musselman hosting meetings on how best to merge these schools.

“For example, we have a large and growing film studies program, but [the program] was more about studying filmmaking than making films,” Roemer said. “We also have a large animation games program, which means that many of our classrooms are equipped with high-performance computers that can also handle film editing. We have the opportunity… to educate in a new area of ​​filmmaking.

According to Roemer, professors will work together to determine the best ways to improve university programs.

“We have the opportunity over the next few semesters to add courses that really benefit our students,” Roemer said.

Roemer said combining the schools will provide stronger support for students by adding staff and programs. Last fall, the combined arts and technology schools had a total of about 2,100 students enrolled in their degree programs, including 103 master’s students and nearly 200 doctoral students. candidates, according to UT Dallas officials.

Under this listing, the school would become the fourth largest school at UT Dallas. Roemer said the new department plans to hire between 8 and 10 new faculty members for the program.

“There are so many new course combinations we can offer,” he said. “It will be fun to see how [the] the faculty responds.

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