Bowdoin announced Monday that it will name its new art and dance facility in honor of former college president Robert Edwards and his wife, Blythe Bickel Edwards, both of whom were instrumental in launching a resurgence of the arts that continues today at the 219-year old college. The Bowdoin Board of Trustees approved the naming in May.
A $6.5 million renovation and an interior expansion of the 38,129-square-foot school building (designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. and constructed by Warren Construction Group, LLC) will result in a facility of nearly 45,000 square feet that will consolidate in one location visual arts and dance programs now housed in six different locations. When completed, the Edwards Center will provide space for modern art studios, classrooms, critique space, and student exhibitions in the visual arts and dance, including a state-of-the art digital media lab. The single location will, for the first time, enable faculty and students engaged in dance, painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, woodworking, and digital media and design to work together under a single roof, creating a cohesive arts community and numerous new opportunities for artistic synergy.
“The arts have an undeniably important role in undergraduate education, and they are a strong and enduring part of the curriculum and the life of the college here at Bowdoin,” said Bowdoin President Barry Mills. “Bob and Blythe Edwards made many significant contributions in their time here but none more important than their work to raise our aspirations in the arts, as well as our ambition for these programs and their facilities. As we prepare to open this center devoted to visual art and dance, we are delighted to be able to honor their legacy and to celebrate the progress begun on their watch.”
During the Edwards administration (1990-2001), Bowdoin completed an extensive renovation of Memorial Hall, the 1882 Gothic-style granite and stained glass memorial to Bowdoin’s Civil War veterans that today houses both Pickard and Wish theaters. The renovation marked the beginning of an ambitious campaign advanced during the Mills administration to revitalize arts venues at the College, including a $20.8 million renovation and expansion of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (2007) and the repurposing of the Curtis Pool building into the state-of-the art Studzinski Recital Hall and Kanbar Auditorium (2007). In addition to new and renovated facilities, Bowdoin also created a number of new faculty positions in the arts and added a requirement that every student take at least one course in the visual and performing arts.
“Bob and Blythe Edwards made many significant contributions in their time here but none more important than their work to raise our aspirations in the arts, as well as our ambition for these programs and their facilities.”
— Bowdoin President Barry Mills
The original Longfellow Elementary School building, named for Bowdoin graduate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Class of 1825), was built in 1924 on land once owned by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852). It was expanded and renovated in the 1940s and 1980s. Bowdoin’s adaptive reuse of the building conserves and retains period features of the original 1920s structure by restoring the original height of the ceilings, preserving the red-brick façade, and reclaiming and refurbishing floors and windows. Care has been taken to peel back layers of material to reveal the essential character and structure of the building and to retain its footprint. Additional interior program space has been made possible by inserting a new second floor in the former school gymnasium, and then creating vaulted spaces for the dance program on this new level by removing ceiling and exposing the roof structure. Where possible, original wooden floors long covered by carpeting have been fully restored.
Bowdoin’s strong track record in creative repurposing of historical properties, coupled with its choice of the architectural firm Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., to assist with the planning and development of the site, ensures a thoughtful reimagining of a space that has itself been added to and reconfigured over time. The project follows the College’s renovation and design guidelines that focus on sustainable design and strengthening Bowdoin’s commitment to environmental stewardship, including updated and more energy efficient mechanical and electrical systems and sustainable landscaping.
The Edwards Center will be dedicated in October during Homecoming Weekend. A public open house, including tours of the facility, will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2013, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.