UTEP grads make marks in the arts

By on October 19, 2014

Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating the University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s foundation may be in mining, yet an array of UTEP graduates have made their mark within the visual arts, entertainment industry and other creative realms.

The Fox Fine Arts Center has been the epicenter of student achievements in the arts since it opened 40 years ago this month.

“The Fox Fine Arts Center is the home of outstanding faculty in art, music, theater and dance, most of whom have national and international reputations and teach students who also are performing or exhibiting their work at venues across the country. The totality of these talents makes Fox Fine Arts a vibrant and innovative place of learning and presentation,” said Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Liberal Arts.

The Fox Fine Arts Center was a project 10 years in the making and the collaborative work of four presidents. As the school approached its 50th anniversary in 1964, enrollment projections anticipated the doubling of enrollment by 1980.

A 10-year building planning process led by President Joseph Ray identified that in addition to dormitory space, the school’s highest priority was for a fine arts complex to house theater, music and arts classes.

In 1969, former president and head of the theatre program Milton Leech led a subcommittee that finalized plans for the center. In January 1970, the University of Texas System Board of Regents, at the request of UTEP President Joseph R. Smiley, approved construction of the building using the Permanent University Funds, but only if federal funds could cover a portion of the structure’s cost. This partial funding eventually came from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Higher Education Facilities Act. Construction on the building began in 1971.

In December 1972, with construction well underway, newly installed president Arleigh Templeton discovered that the budget appropriated to construct the Fine Arts Complex did not include funding to furnish and equip the building’s studios and performance spaces. Templeton immediately set out to raise more than $400,000 to make the space a first-class fine arts facility.

Despite a few construction challenges and delays, the 190,000-square-foot facility — which is actually three buildings connected by hallways and walkways — was completed in April 1974 and officially opened in October 1974.

The complex was first named The Fine Arts Complex upon its completion. Its final cost was $6,452,482, and at the time The Prospector student newspaper called it the “biggest, most modern building on campus.”

On Oct. 11, 1978, by an act of the UT System Board of Regents, the complex was renamed the Fox Fine Arts Center after local arts patron Josephine Clardy Fox, who passed away in 1970 and bequeathed her entire estate, estimated at more than $3 million ($18 million in 2013 dollars), to UTEP.

A more recent addition to the building’s grounds and campus transformation is Esfera Cuantica Tlahtolli, a sculpture by esteemed Mexican artist Sebastián presented to UTEP as a gift from the people of Mexico in honor of UTEP’s Centennial. The 13-foot-tall orange sphere now rests on the Centennial Plaza entrance to the Fox Fine Arts Center.

“Tlahtolli” is a word that represents the act of speaking in early written documents from the Aztec, Toltec and Mayan cultures. The interplay of geometric figures in the piece emphasizes the fraternity between UTEP and Mexico. The sculpture’s surface resembles a volute, a swirl shape symbolizing the activities of communicating and transmitting knowledge, thoughts and ideas that define quintessential university work.

Inside the bustling Fox Fine Arts facility is a world-class digital keyboard lab, soundproof music practice rooms, band rehearsal spaces, the Wise Family and Studio theatres, Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall, the Glass Gallery exhibition space, state-of-the-art computer labs for graphic and web design and illustration, two 3-D printers, indoor and outdoor kilns, and studios specially designed for painting, drawing, printmaking, steel fabrication, woodworking, bronze casting and alternative media.

“The building itself is a liaison to the Paso del Norte region, where we entertain and inspire children, high school students, and members of the public at large through concerts, recitals, theatrical and dance performances, and exhibitions of various forms of art,” Witherspoon said. “Fox Fine Arts is a magical corner of the campus.”

Lisa Y. Garibay is a writer with UTEP’s University Communications office.

Lisa Garibay is a writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.