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Fifty Years of Art at PCAC

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
November 17, 2010


When the Paul Creative Arts Center was built 50 years ago, there was nowhere to hang works of art. The brand new walls were made of brick. The space was “one huge airplane factory space” according to Christopher Cook, who used that description during the Museum of Art’s first Sunday Salon Series, held in October.

Cook was director of the PCAC art gallery from 1958 to 1964. The five-part Sunday Salon Series is one of many events taking place as part of the yearlong celebration of the PCAC’s 50th anniversary. The first Sunday Salon, “Embracing the Past: The Birth of the Art Department, UNH,” featured a discussion with Cook, Arthur Balderacchi, Daniel Valenza, and Melvin Zabarsky, all former faculty members of the department of art and art history.

“They took us back 50 years to the early days of the Paul Creative Arts Center and the arts within,” says Wes LaFountain, interim director of the Museum of Art.

During the 1950s and into the 1960s, the core of the art program at UNH was centered around occupational therapy. After WWII, colleges and universities around the country had been encouraged to work with returning war veterans, teaching them woodworking, weaving, ceramics and other usable skills.

Balderacchi came to UNH to launch a sculpture program.  Zabarsky was hired to replace George Thomas, credited with founding the art department. Daniel Valenza, who worked at UNH for 40 years teaching woodworking and furniture making, was called upon by Thomas to make the furniture for the new museum.

With the opening of the PCAC in 1960, art programs and faculty members scattered around campus were brought together under one roof. The building has since become a center for study and enjoyment of the arts, housing the art and art history, music, and theatre and dance departments, in addition to the Museum of Art. The Celebrity Series takes place at the Paul Creative Arts Center as well.

An $800,000 gift from Newfields residents Isabel and Harriet Paul helped create the university’s first arts center. Today the PCAC has a 688-seat proscenium theater, a flexible seating black box theater, a recital room, a 4,500-square-foot art museum, practice rooms, art studios, and faculty and program offices.

One of the hopes had been that the new facility would lead to an increase in students but its location on the outside edge of campus was a deterrent simply because there was little else there except for Kingsbury Hall. What’s more, in 1960, the exhibition budget was $1,200. For two shows a year.

Building the PCAC was considered an important step to elevating the art department, and it has succeeded.  It also made it possible to exhibit the university’s own works of art and to borrow important pieces from other museums.  

“In the 50 years of the PCAC, the Museum of Art’s permanent collection has grown from a handful of pieces to about 1,600 art objects. We, along with the other departments in the PCAC, have been successful to the point where we have outgrown this great building; thus, the president’s exciting call in the new UNH Strategic Plan for a new center for the arts, to include a new art museum, with adequate exhibition and storage space along with the other necessities for a state-of-the-art museum,” LaFountain says.

“Arts for Life” is a yearlong celebration of the Paul Creative Arts Center’s 50th anniversary. Events include art exhibitions, plays, operas, concerts, and readings. For a list, visit http://www.unh.edu/pcac/index.cfm?id=8436F982-FF75-50AD-15708A5FF66E95FA

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