Tacoma church becomes university’s arts center

TACOMA — Fifteen years after the last service, a historic Methodist church soon will celebrate its new life as the arts center for the University of Washington Tacoma.

The school spent $600,000 on upgrades to the 1929 brick church building at 1901 S. Fawcett Ave., which it bought in 1999. It has a new roof. It has new electrical wiring. For the first time, the building is heated. The choir loft is now a computer lab. The basement fellowship hall and the sanctuary are now studio art classrooms.

“Churches are sacred,” arts professor Beverly Naidus said Wednesday, “and art is sacred. Art has always been a spiritual act.”

The school will host a grand opening ceremony Jan. 16 at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited, but the school requests RSVPs through its online event calendar.

The last congregation to worship at the church, once called the Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, was organized in 1907 as a mission society for Japanese immigrants. The members learned English and studied the Bible. The group met in three houses before the church building was constructed.

During World War II, when the U.S. government sent Japanese Americans and immigrants to relocation camps, the church was closed and held the belongings of some who were sent away.

The congregation, now down to about 15 or so members, meets at the Puyallup United Methodist Church.

“Everyone is happy the building is being used and put to a good purpose,” said Greg Mizukami, the congregation’s council president, who was baptized at the church on Fawcett Avenue.

Naidus said the Whitney building’s renovation is another step in her vision of creating an undergraduate major of “arts in community.” Such a course of study would be unique, she said, because it is typically done on a post-graduate level.

The degree will be offered either in the fall of 2014 or 2015, school spokesman Mike Wark said.

The UWT estimates about 750 students a year take arts classes, including some in glass art that are held at the Museum of Glass’s hot shop. The Whitney building will be home to all other studio arts.

Whitney is the latest in the continued expansion of the downtown campus. Last year the school opened its new library and broke ground on a YMCA.

The next big project is the $40 million renovation of the “Tacoma Paper &Stationery” building on Jefferson Avenue, now home to the Old Spaghetti Factory. Wark said the Legislature will consider $16.4 million in construction funding during the 2015-2017 biennium, so work wouldn’t begin until after that.

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