SFA’s Griffith Fine Arts Building readies for fall classes, performances

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – The expansion and renovation of the L.E. Griffith Fine Arts Building on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus is nearing completion, and faculty and staff will spend much of the summer moving into the building and preparing to welcome students on Aug. 28 as the 2023-24 academic year begins.

From the exterior, the building has looked completed for several weeks, leading many to believe it had already been occupied. Landscaping is in place, adding to the facility’s outward welcoming charm. But interior punch lists will be addressed this summer as the “big move” takes place, leading up to the excitement of fall classes getting underway and an opening reception that will coincide with SFA’s centennial celebration weekend in September.

The building was vacated in spring 2020 to allow for demolition followed by renovation and new construction over the following three years. Today, all indications are that Griffith Fine Arts Building will be fully operational when fall classes begin on Monday, Aug. 28, according to Dr. Gary Wurtz, dean of the Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts.

“After being out of our building for so long, the prospect of getting back in is getting very exciting,” Wurtz said. “The project is getting to the point where equipment and furniture are about to be installed, so we know that moving in is right around the corner.

“I just can’t wait to see those classrooms, studios, rehearsal halls and performance venues filled with students doing what they came here to do,” he added. “It’s going to be terrific!”

The Fine Arts Expansion Initiative extended the Griffith building along North Street. The project involved renovations to W.M. Turner Auditorium. The state-of-the-art building also has two dance studios, two new theatres, recording studio, sound stage, audio and video editing rooms, an art gallery, multiple classrooms, rehearsal facilities, faculty offices and the offices of the College of Fine Arts dean. The facilities will house the ECFA’s sound recording technology, filmmaking, theatre, dance and musical theatre programs.

According to Jessica DeWitt, Griffith construction project manager with Project Control, despite early delays pertaining to weather and worldwide supply chain issues, the project remained on track for its original opening date.

“The building construction will be complete and through all of its testing and inspections in June,” DeWitt said. “June, July and August will be a phased move-in for the College of Fine Arts and the facilities department, to include both new and existing furniture and equipment.”

It’s not just students and campus community members who are eager to see the new facilities.

“It’s fun to experience the excitement I sense throughout the community about the new fine arts building,” Wurtz said. “No matter where I go in town, folks ask me when it is going to open, and tell me how eager they are to see it – and for good cause! The exterior of the building is even more striking and intriguing than we could have imagined, but the inside is where all of the magic will take place.

“We are so eager to see SFA students working in the two sound recording studios that rival venues in L.A. or Nashville, or creating films on the soundstage,” he said. “Theatre students will have more and better opportunities than ever, thanks to the addition of the new flexible and black box theatres. Dance students will finally have a performance venue and a bevy of support facilities, tailored to their specific needs. We want our new building to serve as the cultural hub for the city, and we look forward to our new future.”

The official “grand opening” will coincide with SFA’s centennial celebration that will take place Sept. 15-18 and will feature the choral and orchestral premiere performance of an original composition by Dr. Stephen Lias, professor of composition, honoring SFA’s 100 years of educational contributions and service.