For more than three decades, faculty at the college had worked with student groups and the College Activities office to raise funds for the acquisition of art. Faculty also actively sought space and promoted the need for dedicated space to hang the works. However, releasing much-needed classroom space for a gallery was not feasible. In late 1997, just a few words of encouragement from a private donor prompted Foundation staff to believe that this gift to the community was a real possibility.
That enthusiasm was shared with then Art Professor Dale Threlkeld, who had teamed with the Foundation and private donors to introduce sculpture to the Belleville Campus. Threlkeld had the location and a general concept of what a gallery should include. He shared those ideas with Foundation Executive Director Kathy O’Dell. In a few days a conceptual model of the center was completed by Adjunct Art Instructor and Architect Brad Eilering.
That small model was shown to donors and others interested in the visual arts.
By the end of 1998, the Foundation, with support from the college and its trustees, publicly announced it had already received more than $400,000 in private gift commitments. During this initial stage, the Foundation, with the college’s endorsement, retained the firm of Woolpert, LLP, as its architectural firm and Holland-Hinrichs Construction, Inc. as its construction manager.
Early in the planning stage, college President Elmer H. Kirchoff, Ph.D., formulated a working team that included representatives of the Board of Trustees, the Foundation Board of Directors, college administrators, art faculty representatives and members of the construction team. All members kept their respective groups informed of progress on the project, and Foundation Executive Director Kathy O’Dell served as chair of that team.
Ground was broken in February 2001 and shortly after, the structure had taken on its uniquely identifiable shape. During that time Libby Reuter was selected as the executive director/curator and the exciting, yet challenging task of scheduling exhibits and events that unite form, function and creativity began.