ROCK ISLAND -- After spending more than $40 million for upgrades to Old Main, a new student center and athletic complex improvements, Augustana College is poised to invest $8 million to $12 million on an addition for a new art gallery, theater and music practice space.
An architect has been hired to draw up conceptual plans for an expansion on the west side of Centennial Hall, which currently houses three art galleries in 4,846 square feet of space. There are no estimates yet for square footage for the addition.
"We have been blessed by significant donations of art over the last few years, and throughout our history, and to hold these pieces of art without exhibiting them, to me, is not the ideal situation," college president Steven Bahls said. "We're not a warehouse. We're an active, living, learning environment.
"We don't have a display space that shows our art well," he said of the college's collection of 4,400 items. "We can't have a classroom here, an art museum to have room for a class of 30 or 40 to sit down."
The expansion is part of a capital plan approved by the college board eight years ago for the general upgrade of the campus, and this is the next phase, Mr. Bahls said. "I believe there will be considerable interest in the community to donate to something like this, because the Quad-Cities loves theater, art, and music. It'll be great.
"One of the distinctions of Augustana has been its fine and performing arts programs," he said. "Historically, Lutheran colleges have had strong art, theater and music programs. It's part of our mission. It's a jewel in the crown of Augustana College. My job is to keep that jewel sparkling."
Lynn Jackson, vice president of advancement, said they are talking with potential donors about funding for the project. "and we will be visiting with a number of people who are very interested in supporting the arts at Augustana."
The college has hired a museum director, Preston Thayer, to start Oct. 1 and help achieve these long-range goals. He received his Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania, and his master's and museum studies certificate from the University of Delaware.
He has been museum director at New Mexico State University and Radford University (Va.), director of exhibitions for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Center for the Creative Arts, and most recently was curator of the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Dr. Thayer, in my visits with him, indicated there's a treasure trove of art owned by Augustana College. Much of it has never been displayed for our students or the public," said Mr. Bahls, who is chairman of the Putnam Museum board.
"I was also impressed with his commitment to display more art throughout campus," he said, noting the college will show more art at the library and new Center for Student Life (including more student art). "He's a great visionary. He'll be a great partner for raising money."
As part of planning, the art museum underwent a peer assessment review, where directors of similar-sized college museums looked at Augie's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats -- concluding it should do more to serve students and faculty, and partner with other organizations to present thematic exhibits, Mr. Bahls said.
"This museum has always operated well. The question isn't, what didn't we do -- it's how can we improve it," he said.
The museum is currently showing "Rosebud Sioux: A Lakota People in Transition" by Swedish pioneer photographer John Anderson, a traveling exhibit to honor Augie's Swedish heritage and complement its interest in Native Americans.
But Mr. Bahls wants the museum to show more local art and more of its own collection.
"The beauty of art for students -- art is a nonthreatening way to talk about difficult issues," he said. "Art is not going to attack your views. We want to really get our students enthusiastic about art. Many come to us without formal exposure to art. Art is a good way to talk about social issues, about religion."
Augustana's addition will replace Potter Theatre in Bergendoff Hall, which has a 150-seat capacity. A new theater will hold a similar amount, but the planning is not far enough along to estimate the size, college spokeswoman Keri Rursch said.
Mr. Bahls said the new "black box" theater will be a flexible space, and not a traditional theater.
"We want to sparkle when it comes to our arts programs."