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Visual Arts expands into new space

Fine Arts Complex

The first stage of renovations is wrapping up on property acquired last summer to provide studio space for the Department of Visual Arts, but the University of North Georgia has even bigger plans for the city block that formerly housed the Buisson Arts Center.

The area is adjacent to the Dahlonega Campus and is the block bounded by South Chestatee Street, South Park Street, Maple Street, and Choice Avenue. The property includes the historic Dahlonega Baptist Church, originally built in the 1890s, an education wing added decades later, the former brick parsonage and a wooden building used for church offices. In 2012, the University of North Georgia Real Estate Foundation, a non-profit entity that handles real estate transactions and the financing of certain construction projects on behalf of UNG, purchased the property and is leasing it to the university.

Renovations to two existing structures should be complete by July, creating work space for students and faculty in weaving, film and ceramics who previously had to work in the Fine Arts Annex located across town from the UNG campus. A newly constructed covered pavilion will shelter the gas-powered kilns used by the department. The new space is a timely addition for the department, as a full-time ceramics instructor will be joining the faculty this fall, said Dr. Pamela Sachant, head of the visual arts department.

"We will be able to provide additional program offerings in the areas that our students have long been requesting," Sachant said. "The Department of Visual Arts is pleased to be able to expand in areas we have always been known for, and proud of the level of confidence and support the administration has in the university's art programs."

The Department of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, a nationally accredited graduate program in UNG's College of Health Sciences & Professions, will be moving into the former parsonage this fall. The space is being turned into a clinic, with areas for individual and group counseling sessions. The clinic will begin seeing clients from the community in 2014, something the department hasn't been able to offer before, said Dr. Clay Rowell, head of the department.

"It's going to be a tremendous training lab for our students, as they'll have an environment that is pretty much identical to what they'll experience in the field. It is going to mean a lot more hands-on training and supervision and much more immediate feedback," Rowell said. "Eventually, it will serve the community as well, so it's a great opportunity for our students and the community."

Additionally, counseling rooms will be equipped with recording equipment and observation mirrors so that students can be critiqued and get feedback. The department plans to hire a full-time director for the clinic, who will also teach classes.

Additional renovations for the property depend upon financial resources. The university has plans to restore the historic church sanctuary, which had been turned into a music hall by the former owner, for use as a chapel. Discussions about the property also have included construction of a dedicated visual arts center. Each project, which still could be some five or 10 years away from becoming reality, would need as much as $5 million in funding, said Mac McConnell, UNG's senior vice president for business and finance.

"If we're able to raise money and put in a visual arts center, such a beautiful new structure would support the academic mission and provide another great public extension of the university for the downtown area," McConnell said, touting the success of the 2-year-old Chestatee Building across the street from the Choice Street Arts Complex. "The center could showcase the talents of our students, and I think would really draw people to downtown and to the university, so we're really excited about those opportunities."

Lord Aeck & Sargent, the architectural firm that designed several recent UNG projects, has been hired to develop a master plan for the property. The firm had previously created a master plan for the property's former owner that is similar in scope to what UNG would like to do with the property. The idea, McConnell said, is to have a site plan ready to go when, or if, funding becomes available to proceed with the chapel and visual arts center.

"Our hope is that a potential philanthropist will be impressed with the talent of our students, the strength of our programs and the work we've done to restore the property and will want to put a signature building on that block," he said. "If that happens, we'll have a master plan to show potential donors and we'll be ready to get started."

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