Rising profile of arts on Grounds
Vice Provost Elizabeth Turner discusses the changing role of the arts at the University
Walking past the unassuming Booker House on University Avenue, it's easy to discount the small brick building's impact on the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds just down the street. The University's cultural hub has undergone radical transformations as part of Virginia 2020, a long-term plan which includes arts emphasis at the University. Behind these buildings lies a quieter transformation at the University, in the office of Elizabeth Hutton Turner, the vice provost for the arts.
Turner became the first person to hold the position when she began her tenure in 2008. Indeed, the creation of her office represented the growing importance of art at the University by creating a space where "the arts are the No. 1 priority," Turner explained. "We're committed to the idea that the arts should be for everyone, and should be represented everywhere at the University."
The most evident changes are the new buildings: Ruffin Hall, which houses studio art, and, most recently, the new Hunter Smith Band Building. The presence of these buildings - as well as the planned additions to the Drama and Bayly buildings - have begun to revitalize the landscape of Carr's Hill.
Additionally, one effort to increase the visibility of the arts on Grounds is the Arts in Action Initiative. Through the promotion of public arts projects, this initiative will, among other goals, bring world-renowned pieces of sculpture to diverse locations on Grounds and enhance the visiting artist-in-residence program. This year alone, Turner's office has restored the Alexander Calder sculpture "Tripes" in front of Peabody Hall, installed Henry Moore's bronze sculpture "Seated Woman" on the U.Va. Art Museum Terrace and sponsored renowned choreographer Bill T. Jones' residency on Grounds.
Indeed, such projects highlight Turner's vision that "the arts are all about access" - a vision that stems from a commitment to the belief that art can enhance the lives of every member of the University community.
"The Arts in Action Initiative is more than just added funding for the arts," she said. "It is also about added awareness of the shared spaces of the University, and a growing sense of community that inevitably arises around art."
Turner is intimately aware of the University art community: born in Charlottesville and raised in Virginia, she was part of the wave of the first women to graduate from the University, eventually completing her graduate work in art history. For two decades, she worked as a senior curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. before returning to her hometown. Her long history with the University instilled within her a love for the school, as well as an appreciation for its core values. For Turner, one of the these core values is a commitment to art, stemming back to its esteemed founder.
"Thomas Jefferson's vision for the University was so radically different that he had to design a new aesthetic space in order to achieve his ideal of the Academical Village," Turner said. "The Rotunda - which was originally conceived as a planetarium - was in part about launching the student's mind into the universe and beyond. It was a totally different model for learning."
For Turner, this model cannot be complete without the arts, and the new Arts Grounds is part of the "final piece for the University to come into its own and continue its tradition as a top public university, a world heritage site and an institution that empowers its students to be leaders."
Ultimately, though Booker House may stand physically apart from the main precinct of the Arts Grounds, it represents many of the dynamic transformations taking place at the University. Indeed, I will never again pass that unassuming brick house without thinking of Turner's office on the second floor.
"Every conversation that takes place in this office is about searching for a place for the arts," Turner said. "This is the place that advocates for the arts, garners resources across the University, and gets the attention of all the units that need to participate. Our office is a mechanism for all of that. We're here for you, and we're here to address your big concerns"