UWS fine arts center celebrates 50 years

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UWS fine arts center celebrates 50 years

SUPERIOR — The University of Wisconsin-Superior is hosting an anniversary celebration, and the community is invited. The guest of honor is the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center, which opened in April 1973.

“We just wanted to do something to mark that — to open up Holden to the community and invite people in,” said Brett Jones, professor of percussion and chair of the Music Department at UWS.

Construction of the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. Construction began in 1972, and the building opened in 1973.

Contributed / UW-Superior Archives

It’s a chance to celebrate the center’s importance as an artistic hub for Superior, he said. The building has been home to more than 1,000 theater performances, more than 800 gallery exhibits of visual arts and more than 1,000 recitals.

The April 28 open house kicks off with a reception at 5 pm, a program on the history of the building at 5:30 pm by former faculty member Jim Grittner followed by an open house from 6-7 pm featuring art displays, musical performances, video showings, interviews, times for tours and more.

The building represented a $4.5 million investment in UWS at the time it was built, the equivalent of $30 million today, said David Potter, assistant professor of music and coordinator of music education at UWS, who has been diving into the history behind the bricks. A 200-plus page plan document for the building, written in 1969, emphasized that it should be designed with attention to detail, not sacrificing artistic design to cost, with an eye toward future expansion needs.

“And that is the level of commitment that the state was making in the support of this and the approval of this building,” Potter said. “Simultaneously, this level of support has historically just been so immense from the community, the service to the community here.”

The building opened to a week of fine arts—a faculty art exhibit and orchestra concert as well as concerts from a 98-bell carillon, gifted by Paul E. Holden in the name of his wife, Lucille. The famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington, an original valued at $300,000, was loaned to the university for display during the week.

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The Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center pictured on Monday, April 17 on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus.

Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The spring musical of 1973 was “Bye, Bye Birdie.” Directed by John Munsell, it boasted the largest cast and crew in the history of the university, according to The Peptomist, the student paper that was precursor to The Promethean. Cast members were drawn locally “from as far away as Wentworth, Wisconsin and Two Harbors, Minnesota, the latter being the home of Steve Stark, who plays Birdie,” according to an article in the April 19, 1973 Peptomist.

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A sign on the front of the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center on Monday, April 17.

Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The building was named after Holden, who started the Holden Insurance Company and, with his wife, Lucille, established the first endowed scholarship for the UW-Superior Foundation. The 237-seat Manion Theater derives its name from Professor Emeritus O. Gayle Manion, who taught at UWS from 1952–1983. John Webb, whose name graces the recital hall, was a music professor at UWS from 1945 until he retired in 1973.

“They knew he was retiring and dedicated (the building) in his name,” said Potter.

In addition to learning more about the history of the fine arts building, visitors to the event will be invited to share their memories of the space.

“The radio station is hoping to get stories by alumni who come,” Jones said. “So there will be student workers from KUWS who will be going around with Zoom recorders and trying to get some of that history that we don’t want to lose.”

The Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center is located at 1805 Catlin Ave. Visit the

online event link

at uwsuper.edu for more information on the celebration.

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Construction of the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center, lower right, on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus.

Contributed / UW-Superior Archives

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A sign rests outside the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus on Monday, April 17.

Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.

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