STORY BY SARAH MONDELLO
It would be difficult for current Drake students to imagine a campus without the music, theatre and art hub. But most probably do not know that it was a $6.1 million project built in the early 1970s as Phase I of Drake University’s Centennial Development Program. It is known to students as FAC but originally named the Henry G. Harmon Fine Arts Center.
Final construction of the 130,000 square foot building in 1972 boasted 22 major teaching areas for art, music, speech and theatre, 28 music studios and 58 practice rooms.
The building was named in memory of Drake’s seventh president Henry Gadd Harmon. The Board of Trustees cited Harmon’s “ability and contribution to development of Drake University as well as to his many cultural and service achievements in this city.”
According to a article from the Des Moines Register dated 1972, the president of Drake, at the time, Wilbur C. Miller, called the project “truly one of the most exciting events in the history of Drake and of Des Moines.” The Dean of the College of Fine Arts of the same year, Dr. Paul J. Jackson, referred to the sheer size of the project as one of its “remarkable features” which were also “creative and satisfying.”
FAC’s legacy of a welcoming environment for the visual and performing arts has lived on. It is home to various events from art exhibits on the first floor Anderson Gallery to theatre productions and musical performances in the Performing Arts Hall (PAH).
First year Tali Eisenstadt often finds herself in the halls of FAC, which she says have “attitude.”
“You can tell that there’s a community for each fine art in the building,” Eisenstadt said. “The theatre community is very close. I’ve gone to a few meetings for Drake Theatre people, and the kids in that program are all incredibly close, as are the kids in the music program and the students in the art program. They kind of make that part of the building their own.”
The 1972 Register article boasted that 15 perecnt of Drake students were majoring in the arts, “a percentage reached by few U.S. schools with fine arts colleges.” Today the number of visual arts majors is closer to seven percent, and the dwindling number is a concern to musical theatre major Evan Benjamin.
“Home to visual arts, be that graphic design, sculpture or fine arts and music programs including vocal, acting and dance, the only thing this ‘maze’ is missing is a pottery class,” said Benjamin.
He would like to see FAC expanded through a portion of the STEM Education Program – a topic he has developed strong feelings about.
“Today, my acting class got booted out by a band practice and they had to cancel class,” Benjamin said. “I’m paying $40,000 a year to go to acting classes, but they got cancelled because we don’t have enough spaces. Performing arts is based on facilities and if you don’t have good facilities, you can improve in your craft, but you can’t truly excel and be in the forefront of your field.”
And if space is a problem, perhaps funds could be contributed to the confusing structure as well. In a talk given by President Maxwell to First-Year Herriott Residence Hall, Eisenstadt said Maxwell stated that if he had more time he would like to level the building. This response later received a standing ovation.
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Mary Beth Holtey’s office is housed in FAC, which doubles as the office of the College of Arts and Sciences. “One of the things that’s challenging about the building’s structure is that you can’t walk the length of the first floor,” Holtey said. “The building has basically stop and end points.”
Eisenstadt also feels the floor plan is challenging to navigate.
“I’ve had to have my friends show me around,” Eisenstadt agreed. “There’s definitely certain places I’ve never explored.”