New building to be a place where arts, research, education intersect

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Young singers and dancers participated in a special groundbreaking Tuesday at the University of Utah as a crowd gathered to celebrate a vision-turned-reality in arts education.

The new $24 million Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex at the University of Utah will serve as a hub for arts education research and training unlike any other facility in the United States.

Beverley Taylor Sorenson was present and prominent at the event. Sorenson, a community leader known for her arts advocacy founded the Sorenson Legacy Foundation with her late husband LeVoy. The Foundation donated $12 million for the new complex, a record amount for the University of Utah.

Center a realization of dreams

Beverley Sorenson's vision for arts education, speakers at the groundbreaking said, has already influenced the lives of more than 100,000 Utah children. The new complex will add many more.

This will be a place where various organizations, professors, teachers and children can come to celebrate the crucial role the arts play in providing children with the best education.

–Beverley Sorenson

"Back in 1994, when I sat on the Fine Arts board at the University of Utah, I wanted so many wonderful things to happen," Sorenson said at the groundbreaking. "I said, ‘What do you have in the arts for the elementary schools?' And they said, ‘The Legislature won't give us the funding.' And I said, ‘Well, do it anyway.'"

"I realize now that was not a very good remark to have made," she continued. "They were doing a very fine job, but I did set a goal. I wanted to see something happen."

Sorenson spent years meeting with arts leaders, then school superintendents and legislators.

"That was a challenge," she said, "Some of them thought it was just a bunch of fluff, but they don't feel that way anymore."

Sixteen years later, her goal has been realized and the complex is a reality.

"It is the thrill of my lifetime," Sorenson said. "It's beyond what I ever dreamed would happen, and I'm grateful to so many who have participated."

Raymond Tymas-Jones, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, said, "I sat on the podium and watched people who had been part of a ‘what if' conversation… and look what's happened? It is so thrilling to be part of a dream and then to see it actually come to reality. What more can one ask?"

At the groundbreaking, President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sang the U. fight song, giving his support of the university and his friend, Beverley Sorenson.

"In the mid-90s, Beverley became concerned about the lack of arts education in our schools," he said. "Beverley dedicated much time and substantial resources to launching art works for kids. She's truly an angel here upon the earth who shares with others gladly -- that's the point -- and generously."

Sorenson's influence has been felt in more than 50 elementary schools in the state ever since the state Legislature began funding the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which provides funding for arts specialists. The pilot program received $4 million for its final year, and officials hope it will be funded on an ongoing basis.

Arts complex unique among universities

Michael Hardman, dean of the College of Education, said the new building will combine disciplines in ways no other university has.

An artist's rendering of the lobby of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex.
An artist's rendering of the lobby of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex.

"The complex is really like no other university facility in the United States," he said.

Hardman said undergraduate and graduate students will be able to work with children as well as researchers to better understand how the arts intersect other subjects. Specialists will also be able to receive hands-on training.

"Our students will be able to work directly with those children on campus," he said. "Their goal is to collaborate to really improve the lives of k-12 students."

At the new complex, educators will train arts specialists for Utah schools and teach how to integrate arts education with core subjects.

For decades an old annex building on campus has been home to Tanner Dance and Children's Dance Theatre. To say that they're excited about the new arts complex is an understatement.

Mary Ann Lee, Director of the Tanner Dance Program, said, "Since I became the director in '79, it was Virginia's dream before that -- Virginia Tanner, who began the program. And it's so very exciting to finally be here with this amazing place."

Nine-year-old Alison Larsen with Children's Dance Theatre said, "I'm really excited to be dancing in a new building."

"It's going to be brand new and it's going to be feeling better," said Julia Strong, age 11, also a dancer with Children's Dance Theatre.

The complex will be built next to Milton-Bennion Hall, where the College of Education is housed. The interdisciplinary facility will serve as a research center for integrating arts education into traditional core subjects like math, science, history and language arts.

The new arts and education complex was designed by EDA Architects and HGA Architects and will be built by Okland Construction. There is not a firm completion date set for the project.

Construction on the new complex is expected to take from two to three years.


Story written by Carole Mikita and Molly Farmer.


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