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‘The memories aren’t being demolished’: BYU bids adieu to the Harris Fine Arts Center

The Harris Fine Arts Center with gates surrounding the building as crews prepare to demolish the facility, Jan. 18, 2023.
Curtis Booker
The Harris Fine Arts Center with gates surrounding the building as crews prepare to demolish the facility, Jan. 18, 2023.

Current and former students are saying goodbye to a long-standing symbol of Brigham Young University.

The nearly six-decade-old Harris Fine Arts Center will be demolished in February. The BYU Board of Trustees approved plans to build a new arts center in its place last June. The new facility is slated to open in 2025.

"It quickly became a place I spend most of my time [at]," said arts major Gabriella Warnick.

At first, she was devastated by the news. Warnick is set to graduate in the summer, and compares the loss of the building to moving away from the family home and knowing it won't exist anymore.

"But it's also like logically, there are quirks about the building that we all grew to love to complain about," she said.

Last fall, Warnick took on an art project that she said would help her reconcile her feelings about the center. "Requiem for a Stage" pays homage to the de Jong Concert hall, where she spent a great amount of time. The self-described passion project recounts her feelings as the building was being emptied out.

"I just kind of felt like I could think about all the memories that were like living there still, and they kind of felt like ghosts. And so I recorded things myself,” she said. “I also collected a lot of things that had been previously recorded and kind of organized them and in a way, in the space that felt more organic than staged."

The Harris Fine Arts Center also holds special memories for alumni as well. Kara Brandt said the building is partly responsible for connecting her with the man she would eventually marry.

"I met my husband there in C-130, which is the green room of the Dean Concert Hall. First day I met him was in that room, and we were in three classes together in the opera, the voice performance program."

In December, Brandt took her sons to the center for a trip down memory lane.

"My oldest was, I was pregnant with him the last year I was finishing my degree. And so I said, ‘you were in my belly when I was singing on the stage’ or ‘I was having these lessons here, doing these classes here.’"

Brandt said she has mixed feelings about the center being torn down, but is excited for the new opportunities that students and faculty will have in the new arts center.

Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University campus, courtesy
Nate Edwards
An aerial view of the Harris Fine Art Center on the campus of Brigham Young University.

The BYU administration understands how much the Harris Fine Arts Center means to past and present students, staff and faculty. The idea is the new building will provide proximity and more opportunities for collaboration and student mentoring. Ultimately, creating more magical memories.

"When we look at space, I think we look at our experience with people and the memories that are created around people, not just physical structure," said Ed Adams, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications.

When the Harris Fine Arts Center opened in 1965, Adams said they only offered speech, drama and music classes. But times have changed.

"Programs today are more toward commercial arts design, film, animation. And the building was not built for those arts and to try to retrofit and was just a really big challenge to do that.

Another factor is growth. Adams said there were about 250 students and 50 faculty in 1965. As of about a year ago, more than 100 faculty and 2,500 students were utilizing the space.

During construction of the new arts center, Adams said students and faculty will take over the former Provo High School location on UniversityAvenue.

While this transition marks the end of an era, Brandt said it doesn't mean the memories of the Harris Fine Art Center will disappear.

"You know, but don't be angry because they're not demolishing our memories. They can't take that away from us."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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