Most regulars are hesitant to discuss the hidden gem, the Visual Art Center (VAC), because part of the building’s appeal is its serenity and relative obscurity. The students who frequent the space are well acquainted with one another, as there is a small but devoted group that studies regularly between the glass walls, bookshelves and quirky posters that line the inside.
From the outside, the VAC has the same brick siding as other buildings on campus but the nuances that make it notable become clearer upon a closer look. Built in 1975 by Edward Larrabee Barnes, the building houses a number of classrooms, offices and the William Pierce Art Library, which contains a collection of art books and study carrels.
The fish-bowl-like second floor, defined by one wall made entirely of glass that overlooks the quad, invites you to explore the building. When sitting in the space, visitors can see outside but are also the object of viewing for those walking on the quad. This panoptic experience adds an oddity to the building’s architectural design.
“It’s eerie how people can see into here so quickly and the opposite,” said Amber Orosco ’19.
The variety of study spots in the VAC offer something for everyone. The second floor offers two options, either carrels surrounded by books in the library or the fishbowl area with comfortable chairs and one large table. The third floor is comprised of two classrooms that border a large open space with a few tables for studying.
Today, I seem to have found myself in the art library again. As I glance up from studying, my gaze is met by lush green plants which neighbor stacks of books on the carrels with titles ranging from “Michelangelo’s Drawings” to “The Surrealist Revolution in Art.” These tall piles tell a lot about current students’ projects in the Department of Art History.
There is a firm consensus that the natural light that comes from the numerous windows is the best part of the VAC.
Warm light shines down on the shelves and carrels, only adding to the seclusion that comes with being surrounded by books.
“I like studying in the VAC because it’s very light and I like the big windows a lot. It’s one of the few places on campus where you can be in a quiet area but you can also see outside and you can see the trees,” said Jill Galloway ’21.
Another perk of studying in the VAC is the amount of desk space at each carrel.
“I think the carrels are much bigger than the ones in HL and I’m definitely a big fan of that and getting to spread myself out,” said Kinaya Hassane ’19.
When procrastinating, students can pick up a book off the shelves and look through the pages of mind-trapping art. A certain comfort comes from being surrounded by art books in such a cozy bright space. There is also a sense of community in the art library, which adds to this tranquility.
“When people are sick, others will leave stuff on their desk like tissues or cough drops,” said Orosco.
Many began studying in the VAC on accident. Lianna Harrington ’21 stumbled upon the library while looking for books for a photography presentation in one of her English classes.
“I used to study in the VAC a lot last year and I always talk about how it’s a good study spot on my tours but I never make it over here. I didn’t even know the library was accessible to students but now that I know this space is here I want to use it more,” Harrington said.
Others, such as art history major Grace Clipson ’21, had a more gradual appreciation for the space after having to work there because the books can’t leave the library.
“When I took my first art history class I didn’t really want to work there but it slowly grew on me,” Clipson said. “It was a slow-burning love story.”
Perhaps the best part of the VAC is that it serves a different purpose for each person who uses it. For some, the convenience of the space is attractive. Others find the building’s tunnel an amusing place to ride their bike. One secret function of the building is that the awning keeps your bike dry when it rains.
Similar to those devoted to Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (HL) or David Saul Smith Union, people who study in the VAC usually have a strong sense of loyalty to the building.
“[The VAC] is whacky and a bit odd but it’s more cozy than HL for that reason,” said Hassane.
Beatrice Cabrera ’20 is more assertive when asked why she prefers the VAC to other study spots.
“Because HL is as dark as the pits of hell,” she said. “There are no windows there.”