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Completed art school expansion, renovation draws in more students

BY KAYLAN THOMPSON kthompson@paducahsun.com

O

nce an old factory in disrepair, the Paducah School of Art & Design's newest building, the 2D and Graphic Design building, now embodies the mission of Paducah's creative community: to build on centuries-old tradition, legacy and talent toward a visionary future.

Renovations of the former kitchen cabinet factory finished in December and opened for students in January, further paving the path for creative growth and innovation in Paducah.

"Facilities and faculties are the things that make an art school successful," Paducah School of Art and Design Dean Paul Aho said.

"We have good faculty and now we have really good facilities, so hopefully that will be an attractor to convince more students looking for arts education and careers that we're a good first start for them. That's along our motto, 'Education begins here.'"

Aho added that the renovations have helped draw in even more students, with enrollment growing from 513 students in the spring to 616 this fall.

The renovation marks the completion of a three-phase, $14 million expansion for the school, a division of West Kentucky Technical and Community College (WKCTC).

Since 2013, PSAD has also renovated a 6,700-square-foot ceramics building within Madison Hall in Lower Town and a 7,000-square-foot sculpture facility.

The 29,400-square-foot 2D and Graphic Design building is now a pride and joy of the entire Lower Town Arts District and Paducah community, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, spaces and technology melded into the historic structure.

The building was donated to the college by the city in 2007 and now features digital photography studios, graphic design classrooms, drawing and painting studios, faculty offices, a student lounge and outside veranda.

As the new location opens its amenities to new and growing audiences, the school has expanded its community offerings, including the new Kitchens Cafe adjacent to the school via the veranda. The cafe is open to the public during lunch hours, which are weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this fall, and serves as a catering service, rental space and community workshop destination.

The building is also home to an exhibition gallery recently named in honor of a local resident, author and artist Bill Ford. The Bill Ford Gallery was officially designated as such during a community celebration on Feb. 4.

Connected to the two-story open gallery, the rest of the building's open floor plan is "really smart engineering," as Aho puts it.

Aged brick and restored hardwood serve as the backdrop for white walls and silver appliances, seamlessly blending an aesthetic of old and new.

"The building, in its raw state, was pretty wild. It was such a crazy, broken-down mess that was just beautiful. The beauty of the building now is that we've left everything as much as possible in its historic fashion," he said. "The design is so beautifully in-keeping with the original design of the 100-year-old industrial building."

Officials with WKCTC hope the building will become much more than a school.

"It all goes back to that initial vision for this building, which at the time was decrepit and the perfect candidate for adaptive reuse," said Brian Heller, WKCTC Clemens Fine Arts director, said during a tour of the new building. "There's almost no limit to what you could do here.

"We're continually trying as a city to find ways to provide an amenity for the community, and from that point of view it goes toward the larger vision of making this area a place where people will want to go and want to be in. I think all of your cities need to have an active downtown, and this is another step toward that for us."

For Dr. Barbara Veazey, former WKCTC president and original visionary for the art school, the completion of the school with each of its three buildings served as the capstone for her long, respected career in higher education when she retired in June.

"I certainly am very, very proud of this," Veazey said. "It's the culmination of my career with the college and serving the community, trying to lead the community and economic development. I believe that's what the community college's role is and that of education. I believe this is certainly a wonderful example of that. This will have a lasting impact."

With its location, amenities and budding programs and offerings, the school has further positioned itself as a community epicenter for arts and connection.The expansion, with all three of its phases now complete, is expected to further reshape and bolster the Lower Town community as a regional, national and global arts hub.

"We're a significant piece of the larger picture," Aho said. "We've already fueled economic development for Paducah, but we also add a level of sustainability to the Lower Town project and the Artist Relocation Program and add value and attraction to that formula to position Paducah more concretely as a cultural destination."

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