Arts get a space to shine

HCC welcomes center that adds needed amenities to booming campus


In the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College, pianos are tuned in soundproof practice rooms, dance studio floors are newly laid on cushions of foam and northern light streams through the windows of visual arts classrooms.

All the new building needs is students, who will return to campus Monday to find a building that has been designed with all the amenities for artistic pursuits.

Enrollment in arts disciplines has "grown just tremendously with substandard facilities," said Valerie Lash, chairwoman of the arts and humanities division, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.

Despite makeshift art studios, low-ceilinged dance spaces and music rehearsals halls that lacked sound proofing, the college this spring reported a 44 percent increase in arts enrollment over eight years and an 108 percent increase in enrollment for performing arts in the same period.

"Just imagine what's going to happen now," Lash said.

The $20 million building - plus $6 million for furniture and equipment - received 50 percent of its funding from the state and 25 percent from Howard County. The remaining 25 percent was funded by student fees and donations, including a $1 million donation by Columbia business entrepreneurs Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz, and nearly 60 large donations made in exchange for naming rights of specific rooms.

It took just over two years to build the 78,090-square-foot structure, which features a two-tiered atrium that runs through the center with a multistory bank of windows at either end. The open space serves as a lobby for the black box theater and a recital hall, and will be the new entrance to the existing Smith Theatre, which will be renovated in the coming months.

An art gallery in the new space will be used for traveling museum-quality exhibits while a gallery in the Administration Building is moved across a hallway and renovated to display work by students, faculty and community members.

A two-story wing of the Horowitz Center provides rehearsal and instructional rooms, sculpting and ceramics studios, large-group rehearsal rooms with soundproof ceilings to protect the floor above and a graphics arts laboratory .

The expanded space will allow the college to offer several new areas of study, including sculpture, potter's wheel throwing, digital photography, interior design and gallery management.

The building also is intended to serve as an arts center for the larger community, said Patrick L. Huddie, president of the college board of trustees.

"This space is one of the most striking spaces in our town," he said. "Everyone is welcome."

Diana Ponce of Columbia, president of the college's Student Government Association, said additions including the arts building are enhancing the reputation of HCC among potential students.

"It's a great building," she said, "It brings more life to the campus."

Less celebrated but still eagerly anticipated by students is a new 500-space parking garage that opened Monday as well. The $8.6 million structure was funded with $450,000 in state money and the rest from student fees.

Construction is continuing on campus for the $29 million Student Services Building, which is scheduled to open in February. That building will include a welcome center, bookstore and dining hall along with offices for admissions, financial aid, registration and finance departments.

In 2003, the college completed a 105,000-square-foot instructional building.

Even with the building boom on campus, administrators say a growing enrollment and a previous 10-year lull in building have caused the college to remain well short of state recommendations for space based on enrollment.

According to its annual report, in fall 2004 HCC had nearly 7,000 students in credit programs and more than 14,000 in noncredit classes.

So this week, the college community was eager to celebrate the latest addition.

Lash said the building will be a place to educate, entertain and inspire the future. "We can achieve no more than we can dream," she said. "The arts teach us how to dream."

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