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Sacramento State breaks ground on new art building that will replace the aging Art Sculpture Lab

Art students at Sacramento State are looking forward to having a brand-new space to imagine, design, craft, and display their works.

Attendees sit in share under a shade tree while a speaker talks at a groundbreaking event.
California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty speaks to the around 70 members of the campus community who attended a groundbreaking June 28 for the new art building that will replace the Art Sculpture Lab. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The College of Arts and Letters on June 28 broke ground on a new facility that will replace the aging Art Sculpture Lab (ASL). The new building is expected to open for the Fall 2024 semester and will be between the existing ASL and the ASI Children’s Center.

“We are digging into a future where the children in that child care center, who are now playing with Play-Doh and coloring with Crayons, can get their education as artists,” Arts and Letters Dean Sheree Meyer said during the groundbreaking.

About 70 members of the campus community, along with dignitaries and media, attended the event, which featured jazz music, a guided campus art tour, and a virtual reality experience where attendees could explore the new building in 3D.

“ASL is loved by faculty and students alike. It has an important history, and so much has been created there,” Art Department Chair Rachel Clarke said. “We are sad to say goodbye, but it is time to move to a new space, which is actually a huge opportunity for the future. It's a new chapter, where we’ll be able to build on what we’ve already accomplished.”

Built in 1951, the Art Sculpture Lab was originally a warehouse operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sac State acquired the building in 1971 and used it for the Art department’s undergraduate and graduate Studio Art programs. The department evolved and developed the space over the next several decades, but as curriculum advanced, the building became increasingly inadequate.

By 2016, while seeking re-accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, the building was found to need major renovations to meet seismic, accessibility, and other requirements, as well as modernization to correct the lack of amenities such as proper heating and air conditioning.

“When we presented (the cost of renovating the ASL) to the Chancellor's Office, they essentially said, take a look at the cost of a replacement instead of doing that because if they're close, it doesn't make sense to put money into this 60-year-old warehouse,” said Raymond Keck, project manager in Facilities Planning.

Designed by HGA architects with feedback and input from members of the Art department, the new building was approved by the Chancellor’s Office in 2019 and funded by state revenue bonds. The cost is approximately $17 million, and the 20,377-square-foot facility will be built by Sacramento-based Otto Construction, which has a long history with the CSU and Sac State.

“I think it's a fairly exciting building, just in the fact that it's a little different,” Keck said. “It's been a long road to get here.”

The new building will include painting, drawing, and sculpture studios, wood and metal shops, a dedicated covered outdoor space for ceramics kilns and other large equipment, an outdoor sculpture yard, a lobby common area that doubles as a gallery, and 12 individual studios for graduate students. It will also meet LEED Silver standards and feature several large windows to allow for more natural light.

"I look forward to coming back when we actually cut the ribbon and open this beautiful building for students.” -- California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty

Additional funding is needed to replace aging equipment such as ceramics kilns, welders, a furnace, lockers, and more. An endowment campaign aims to “support the future needs of our programs,” Clarke said, with donors sought to name studios and exterior spaces as well as the building itself.

The existing Art Sculpture Lab will be torn down, and the space converted to parking. Until that happens, there are plans to use it for Engineering during the construction of the new Tschannen Engineering building, which will replace Santa Clara Hall.

In addition to Meyer and Clarke, speakers at the groundbreaking event included Vice President of Administration and Business Affairs Jonathan Bowman, representatives for the construction and architecture companies, recent Studio Art graduates, and California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.

“I know prior students had amazing experiences in this quaint former state Fish and Wildlife building next door, but the future is very bright,” McCarty said. “Hats off to the University for cobbling resources together to make this a reality. I look forward to coming back when we actually cut the ribbon and open this beautiful building for students.”

Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen, who will retire in July, said one of his goals when he was hired in 2015 was to replace the Art Sculpture Lab.

“I said that we would have, before I left, an art sculpture lab, a new one, one that we could all be proud of, one where our students could make great art, one where we could live up to the legacy of the Royal Chicano Air Force” Nelsen said, referring to the 1970 collective that advocated for the Latinx community through art. “And we will have that new building, and we will continue to be the heart of this University.”

Meyer called the breaking of ground symbolic of the recent embrace of public art and art in general, especially in California and the local region.

“It represents a commitment to the arts, and to the future of the arts, not just at Sac State, but to Sacramento as a community,” Meyer said. “It's one piece of that larger dream, but I'm more than happy to take it and I have a great deal of pride in what the Art department has come together to do.”

Renderings of Sacramento State's new art building are displayed at a groundbreaking event.
Renderings show Sacramento State's forthcoming new art building, which will feature indoor and outdoor gallery spaces, individual studios for graduate students, lots of natural light, and modern amenities and upgrades. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price) 

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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