UCI arts center overcomes hurdles

The Contemporary Arts Center will open Nov. 9 after years of construction and stalling out due to the poor economy.

September 08, 2011|By Imran Vittachi
  • Juli Carson talks about the gallery space at the Contemporary Arts Center at UC Irvine.
Juli Carson talks about the gallery space at the Contemporary… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

The Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine will formally open its newly completed Contemporary Arts Center on Nov. 9.

The long-awaited, $42.35-million building — equipped with state-of-the-art studios and spaces for displaying, staging and producing art — will be the new anchor for the art school complex. Faculty members and school and campus administrators say the center will allow the school's departments to leap ahead with early 21st century artmaking, exhibitions and research.

"The basic concept was to envision a space flexible enough that would take the school to the next level," said Joseph Lewis III, the school's dean. "The building really gives us the ability to put together all the cutting-edge stuff."

For example, the building houses a 2,000-square-foot Performance Capture Studio, which combines motion-capture technology used for 3-D productions with a green screen stage for making high-definition video.

The combination is rare for a university art school, UCI officials and faculty members said.


Such technology, and special effects created by it, has appeared in "Avatar" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The center's completion, however, was stalled for six months in mid-construction. First started in December 2007, and originally scheduled to be finished in August or September 2010, the project stopped cold back in January 2009, another casualty of the reeling economy, UCI officials said.

UCI suspended the project only a month after construction workers fit the last girder in place atop the structure's frame. The state had halted the selling of voter-approved bonds to finance University of California building projects.

Faculty members, administrators and students at UCI's Claire Trevor School of the Arts, had to wait it out for 180 days until the spigot of dollars for state school building projects reopened.

"It was completely out of our control…," said Toby Weiner, the school's director of space planning and facilities. "We had to wait for the state to say there was enough money to start the project back up."

Lewis, who came to the school as its new dean in March 2010, praised UCI Chancellor Michael Drake for keeping the pressure on UC system and state officials to fast-track funding for the building's completion as soon as bond money became available again.

"I just wanted to make sure that this was the highest priority for the university, and I'm glad that they listened," Drake said.

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