The center is the cornerstone of a comprehensive arts initiative that was launched here in 2005, and that came from [President Charles W.] Steger's vision for the arts on campus. The phrase he has used is "educating the whole person," so when we think about the educational benefits …[it's] our hope that all students have exposure to new opportunities and experiences through the Center for the Arts and the programs we're doing.
Beyond the more targeted educational aspects, the incredible new facility will house a professional presenting program. We now have the ability to bring to campus very diverse performing arts companies and artists of all kinds, and we can support them in this space in a way that we cannot in the existing venues here in the region. We will be connecting their work with other areas and departments on campus and tapping into the community.
Given the broad goals we have for enhancing student learning, being a bridge to the community, and helping to lift up Virginia Tech's stature as a comprehensive research university, one of the starting points … has been to look at the programming at other institutions that have very strong arts programs. We wanted to have a diverse breadth of programs so there would be an opportunity for everyone to find something of interest. At the same time, we want to find opportunities to go deeper with those artists and projects, so we will have pre- and post-performance talks, master's classes, and different workshops. … We want students to come in and be curious and ask questions.
The center is such a wonderful bridge between the town and the university, strategically located on the edge of campus. It is a chance for the community and students to come together and have these shared experiences, and I think that is a very rich opportunity for both [groups]. It serves as a gathering place and an arts destination for the region.
As we look at companies we want to locate here and [at] existing companies recruiting employees, place matters a lot. Studies recently show that people are making choices on place first, and then they figure out what they want to do there. It's really important to think about the overall offerings of a community. Likewise for retirees, more and more people are looking to retire in a place like this. College towns have a lot of activity, so you attract all phases of life with this kind of amenity.
There is a very active presence of the arts in Blacksburg, with the establishment of an arts and cultural district and the work to expand College Avenue, all of which are part of trying to create a vibrant downtown. The Center for the Arts and its programming lend a tremendous amount to that vibrancy. We're expanding the kinds of arts experiences people can have here. There is a lot going on already, with contemporary theater, chamber music programs, heritage music, and bluegrass music, things that are indigenous to Southwest Virginia. I think we have an opportunity to bring slightly different kinds of cultural expressions that enhance and complement all of that.
[The overall arts initiative] encompasses all the academic, curricular, and co-curricular efforts happening on campus. We have the Center for the Arts, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), academic programs, and programs in Student Affairs that are arts-related. My job is largely facilitating and advocating arts programs on campus and trying to find resources to support those.
The center will work closely with the colleges and the schools in the arts. The center is enhancing what we have in Squires [Student Center], Burruss [Hall], and various galleries, not replacing them. Those spaces will continue to be vital for academic programs. The center is complementary, and we want to bring in programming that is also complementary and [offers] different ways of connecting and engaging with campus.
Housed within the center is a research institute, ICAT, exploring the intersections among engineering, science, art, and design, with a very strong commitment to K-12 education. [ICAT] brings these areas together for different types of projects, including those that can impact new learning environments, as we work with educators and students.
Another venue in the building is what we call "The Cube." It's a four-story room, like a black box theater, only it's taller and has catwalks around all four levels. It has full theatrical capabilities with a lighting grid and sound systems, but also has an incredible amount of infrastructure and networking to serve as an experimental space as well. Sometimes it will be an intimate performance space, sometimes we'll have video installations in there, and other times it will be a research and experimental space for ICAT.
We have outdoor spaces, too—the west wall outside The Cube serves as an informal amphitheater. We will be able to project onto that wall, so we could have video or art installation projects; and we can have small live performances out there or in the courtyard outside the center.
We are also a part of national organizations, one of which is the Alliance for Arts at Research Universities. We are one of about 20 founding universities, all seriously looking at how to embed the arts more deeply into curricula on campus, and also how to measure the impact and assess the value of the arts.
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