The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston on Friday began its relocation process into the new Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts. The official opening date of the Cato is Oct. 23.
The move from the Simons Center for the Arts to 161 Calhoun St. will offer heightened visibility and public access as well as greatly enlarged and improved facilities, said Mark Sloan, director and senior curator of the HICA.
An expanded Halsey Gallery will anchor the first floor of this five-story School of the Arts building, including three inter-linked galleries as well as a library/resource center.
"The building itself has been in the planning stages for at least 12 years," said Sloan, who came to the college in 1994.
"Shortly after my arrival, we discussed the need for a new building. The Simons Center was designed for a time when expectations were for a college population that would hover around the 5,000 mark. We have double that now. We have been quite literally limping along with inadequate space for a very long time."
Sloan cited the example of the photography department whose darkrooms consisted of two converted restrooms and a janitor's closet.
The advantages of the new venue are legion, Sloan said.
"It is purpose-built. The fifth floor houses photography and digital imaging, the fourth floor is reserved for painting, the third mostly for theater and dance, and the second primarily for music, with a beautiful rehearsal space for the choir.
"The architects have done a lot. But these kinds of projects have a long gestation period with lots of meetings, changes and setbacks. While I can't say we're on time and on budget, (the Cato Center) is now finally in place."
The goal has been to expand existing programs rather than create new ones, Sloan said.
"We don't have in mind any new programs per se. We have suffered in many ways by the limitations imposed on us by our older facilities, and with them being rather hidden in the Simons Center. We are moving absolutely everything out."
For the time being, the college will utilize space in the Simons Center for overflow classroom space and storage.
The gallery space on the first floor will continue to reflect the Halsey's commitment to contemporary art and to education.
"Ours is the only college gallery within the area and one of few nonprofit facilities dedicated to contemporary art," Sloan said.
"We are also a little bit of a unique unit within the college in that we are one of the few programs on campus that also looks outward in a big way. We do take (artistic) chances and are not afraid of risks on difficult work.
"Apart from our yearly exhibition of student work, our task is to bring in works that are challenging."