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Xavier University of Louisiana dedicates Art Village

   No longer do Xavier University art students have to maneuver a dark, gravel road to walk from building to building or have to call a security guard to get inside the Art Village.

    On Oct. 14, the university unveiled a renovated Art Village in Gert Town, across Washington Avenue from the main campus, which  literally turned industrial, age-worn buildings into works of art.

    The renovation of the 26,500-square-foot space, designed by Manning

Architects and built by Landis Construction, consists of three buildings set in a more aesthetically appealing outdoor space.
    The Art Village houses ceramics and sculpture; drawing, painting, photography and printmaking; departmental offices and two electronically equipped computer classrooms.
    Improvements abound in each of the three structures. The ceramics and sculpture building now has air conditioning, nonskid floors and a repaired roof that will now allow classes to be held during the summer. New office space, a conference room and two electronically equipped classrooms with electronic podiums and projection screens were carved out of another building.
    A fresh coat of paint, an enhanced air conditioning system, improved ventilation, lighting and non-skid floors were added in the drawing, painting, photography building. In this same space, a larger area for photo developing was created with a warning system that alerts someone from entering the darkroom if in use. It also has added exits for safety, a display space for student artwork, student tables and chairs, and a temperature-controlled gallery.
Environment, attitude change
    Ron Bechet, who has taught painting and drawing at Xavier for 14 years, said the improvements have created a more effective learning environment. He already has noticed a difference in students.
    “You can see it in their faces, the attitude toward learning,” Bechet said. “They are far more active than they ever were. It’s a different mindset, the level of expectations. ... What they see around them aesthetically, they can say they can create something just as beautiful.”
    Drawing and print-making teacher Augus Jenkins said his classes are safer since a new ventilation system and a larger eye-wash station have been installed in his classroom.
    “There’s also a new tank with added overhead lighting for students to use to power wash screens and be able to see what part of the screen is exposed properly,” he said.
    The outdoor space surrounding the buildings is more aesthetically appealing. An iron fence with electronic access replaces barbed wire. That gravel road has been turned into a plaza between the buildings that  is lined with multi-colored stone pavers appointed with  planters with benches, gardens and cylindrical-shaped pedestal lighting.
    This outdoor area is enhanced by the installation of one of the last sculptures – “Women’s House” – created by the late John Scott, an art professor at Xavier for 39 years.
    “Now it’s popular,” art department associate professor Nora Olgyay said of the outdoor space. “Students are brought out here on sunny days to draw” and enjoy congregating, she said.
Room to expand
    Olgyay laughed when she mentioned that during the year-long renovations that began in 2010, the entire art department was housed at nearby Rockafella Night Club. The space was dark and cramped as compared to the newly transformed buildings that are home to 27 students who are majoring in art, 13 who are pursuing art as an minor and more than 300 students a semester who take courses.
    While the curriculum has not changed, Olgyay hopes to expand the digital photography courses and work toward accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
     She thinks Xavier’s Art Village also will attract more teachers-in-residence on a regular basis and pique the interest of students outside of art.
    “Now there are sculptures around the building,” Olgyay said. “Students who are non-majors will have more interest in what’s going on here. Now we have artwork around the place, and once they are inside they will see more and have more appreciation for what we do.”
    The renovations were made possible by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Olgyay said. Three of the four buildings qualified for funding, while the fourth didn’t due to habitual flooding.
    With one fewer building at the site, there is room for future expansion.
    “We will add another building on this site at some point,” Bechet added.
    The Art Village also offers a community arts program in which community groups have access to lecture and conference rooms, and members of the Gert Town Senior Center attend ceramics classes.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion