The Campaign: A Sweet Sound
$7M for the Fine Arts Center

Lis Beal has been playing violin for 15 years. She loves it. Four or so years ago, when they were all high school students, Beal formed a string quartet with fellow violinist Elle Talsma, violist Mallory Scholten and cellist Christina Vanden Bosch. Performing with this ensemble, she loves it even more.

The group is booked year-round for a variety of occasions. "We just kind of get hired for whatever people want," Beal said. "Weddings, graduations, Christmas parties, random parties." It's not the money that keeps them playing as a group but the sheer enjoyment of the music, Beal said.

Lis Beal

Lis Beal

As the four, at various times, came to Calvin, they continued as a quartet. The music was still enjoyable. What was less of a pleasure was the constant search for practice space in the Fine Arts Center (FAC).

"It's hard enough to get time and space to practice solo, let alone with a group," Beal said. "When we want to get together as a group, we've come to the FAC and searched for half an hour for someplace to set up in hallways, dressing rooms. The stairwells have empty space, so we'll play in those."

The dilemma of Beal and her group is common these days, both for students and faculty members.

The FAC is a popular place for Calvin students and visitors. So many sweet sounds have been performed and heard within its walls, yet little has been done to renew the structure in its 41-year history. The multicolored seats and starry lighting are all still the originals.

Since it's opening in 1966, an estimated 18,000 events have been hosted in the building. The FAC auditorium is the site for many of the major events on the college's annual calendar: the January Series, the Artist Series, the Festival of Faith and Writing, the extensive series of concerts sponsored by the Student Activities Office.

And there's the competition for space.

The band and orchestra contain more members than in previous eras. In fact, there are now 13 student ensembles that regularly rehearse and perform in the FAC, not counting those in groups such as the one that includes Lis Beal and her friends-not one of them, by the way, music majors.

Beal's group is representative of a larger phenomenon, said music department chair Bert Polman. "We get 500 Calvin students in this building every year," he said, of the throng of musicians who sing in Calvin's choirs and play in band, orchestras and other groups. "Only 60 of them are music majors."

To accommodate that many music-loving students, the Fine Arts Center will have to become roomier, Polman said. Added space will free faculty offices from serving as alternative teaching space, free up the stairwells and hallways, and perhaps even free up space for the sheet music library that lives in several music department offices. Polman would also like to see more gathering spaces in the FAC for after-performance receptions.

Seven million dollars from the Campaign for Calvin has been designated for renovating the FAC: upgrading the furnishings, replacing the lighting and the HVAC and sprinkler systems, and bringing the building up to code. Polman hopes to do much more, not only for Calvin's musical students but for the larger community that fills the FAC for events. "What does this building need to work well for the next 50 years?" he asked. "It's worked well for the last 50 years."