Image arts renovation: not so picture perfect


About 100 people gathered at the School of Image Arts last Tuesday for the new building’s official opening, with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres such as stuffed tomatoes and sliders. The renovation changed the exterior brick to glass and added LED lights to the outside walls. President Sheldon Levy and vice-president academic Alan Shepard gave speeches, hinting at the delays that displaced image arts students around campus for about a year longer than expected.  People were smiling, laughing and enjoying the night, most of them glad the project is finally nearing its end.

Some students, however, are unhappy with their new academic home. They see little difference inside the building after the renovation. Some image arts (IMA) students are disappointed with the changes and don’t feel it was worth the time they spent displaced around campus.

“I expected a lot more to be changed given the time they took,” said Emily Goode, a fourth-year IMA student in an email. “The first floor is the only one that they fully renovated.”

The $71-million building project took about three years to complete.  During that time, students used alternative facilities off-campus, and in Kerr Hall, the Victoria Building and the Rogers Communications Centre.

Although Goode said it was inconvenient, she didn’t mind using the other facilities.  Still, she felt that the building improvements could have been more suited to the needs of students.

She’s not the only one. “The move out wasn’t that bad because we were all expecting this wicked building,” said Lukas Sluzar, a fourth-year IMA student. “But when we got back, we found that it was pretty much the exact same building. So a lot of us were pretty disappointed.”

The building project was a part of Ryerson’s Master Plan, an initiative to re-utilize campus space. The plan included construction of a gallery and research centre. The first exhibition to be showcased is Ryerson’s Black Star

Historical Black & White Photography Collection. The collection of 250,000 photographs, anonymously donated in 2005, was given to the school on the understanding that Ryerson would build a professional gallery to house it.

The gallery is still incomplete but is expected to open in September 2012.

“The building was really about the gallery,” said Alex Anderson, chair of image arts. “The focus of the design was how to add a world-class gallery . . . in an already built construction.”

Just under half of the funding for the project came from grants and the rest came from internal sources and donations.

Even with all the planning and announcements from the school, the lack of upgrades and improved facilities disappointed students. The fourth-year students are the only current students who have used the old building.

“The hallways were the exact same so I knew how to navigate around,” said Sluzar.

Some students felt the money could have been better spent.

“There are things image arts needs and a new coat of paint with some green tile and a glowing building are not on that list,” said Goode. “I would much rather have another studio space or spend the renovation money on new equipment.”

Anderson said that Ryerson didn’t dip into the equipment budget to fund the renovation.

Julia Hanigsberg, vice-president of administration and finance, said that the $32.9 million grant money went directly to fund improvements for the image arts program, not the gallery. “A major part of (the renovation) was the re-cladding of the building, bringing light into the building,” she said. She also said that renovations made the building more wheelchair accessible.

Even though the outside of the building was improved, the interior of the building only saw an increase in windows, study spaces and the addition of a gallery.

The new building,  which is 14,000 square feet bigger, will have a new coffee shop — Balzac’s — scheduled to open next week.

However, Anderson said she understands IMA students’ disappointment with the lack of upgraded facilities.

“I appreciate their frustrations,” said Anderson. “There were limitations to the renovations . . . we didn’t get to upgrade to the top facilities, so we’re still dealing with the older production facilities. . . We’re working on that. We’re working around it.”

IMA students were told by administration that the value of their degrees would go up as a result of the building.  However, as an academic investment, the building did not change the quality of education students received, according to some faculty.

“Certainly the money would have been better spent on things that would better equip the students for entry into the professional world.  But it was never about improving IMA standards. It was about publicity, optics and appearances,” said one IMA faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous. “The basis of the school’s reputation is a lot more complex than impressions of a building.”

Anderson clarified. “It’s not the building. It’s the attention the building attracts and the opportunities the building offers to the school that would ultimately make it a more highprofile degree.”

Students can use the building facilities, but much of it is still blocked off. Signs placed on several doors read, “No Access. Construction Zone. Please keep out.” Men in hard hats work throughout the building, fixing rooms still inaccessible to students.  By the time construction is complete, all of those who remember the old image arts building will have graduated, and incoming students will be none the wiser to how the building used to be.

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