Holly Koons has at her fingertips what every artist in the world would love: 83,000 square feet of space to make art come alive.
Basically, Koons is in charge of a blank canvas, just waiting to shine brightly with creativity and beauty. Koons, 51, is executive director of the brand new Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center at Christopher Newport University (CNU), which is bursting with possibility and likely to become the centerpiece of the Virginia Peninsula’s art scene.
“There is boundless opportunity to do something really significant and meaningful for the visual arts,” says Koons, who was hired after a national search and started in October 2020.
“There’s a lot to admire here. I liked the culture on campus, the ambition expressed for the building and what it means for the larger community. It’s magnificent,” Koons says.
The building is fronted by three huge cascading glass domes, a designed inspired by the three ships commanded by Sir Christopher Newport. The design sets a tone of imagination and beauty and is the perfect showcase for the many different types of art the building will eventually display.
“It communicates a really bold vision for the importance of visual arts and architecture, which is a branch of fine arts,” Koons says of the building. “It’s inspiring and magical.”
The $60 million building opens to the public in October. It is home to CNU’s Department of Visual Arts and Art History. It has classrooms and studios for academic classes.
Not only will it serve students, the Torggler will also be a place for the community to have access to art and art education, with lectures and art classes for adults, seniors and children.
This summer, more than 300 young people enrolled in camp at the Torggler. “There is a hunger for this kind of programming that we are thrilled to provide,” says Koons, who has a master’s degree in art history from Notre Dame. In addition, there will be community outreach that will include programs both on and off campus. Five classrooms in the building are dedicated to community use, including a clay studio. “The footprint is larger than just this building,” Koons says. “We are going to go out into the community and offer programming.”
The building has a vast amount of space dedicated to showcasing art. It is equipped with a 150-seat auditorium, a community gallery and an Explorer’s Gallery for children that will open in 2022. The gem in its crown is an enormous main gallery of 8,000 square feet with an industrial-style ceiling to allow artwork to hang from it. “It’s amazing,” Koons says.
Torggler will have exhibits that will change about every three months. The first exhibit, however, will be on display for six months. Koons won’t yet divulge what the exhibit is, but she will say it’s going to be spectacular. She describes it as the intersection of design, technology and nature. It will be the work of an artist collaborative, and it will be free to the public. The work of five artists will be represented.
“It looks at the kind of magical way things harness technology to convey profound fundamentals about nature,” Koons says. “It’s not static. The art will surround you.”
The exhibit will bleed into different areas of the building, including the glass domes. An overriding theme of the exhibit is light, Koons says.
“This exhibit will have light at its core. It has been a dark period culturally,” she says. “This will be uplifting and inspiring. It’s very relatable, light and dark. Light provokes responses. Light can move us and connect us to nature.
“It’s going to be exquisitely beautiful,” Koons says. “When you walk in the door, what will greet you in the rotunda will be an amazing experience. It will surround you.”
Torggler is named for Mary M. Torggler, who along with her husband, George, are longtime supporters of CNU arts and education programs. The Torgglers live in Maryland and Florida and have a son who graduated from CNU in 2014 with a degree in music.
The arts center will further the community arts mission that started with the Peninsula Fine Arts Center (Pfac), which was located near the Mariners’ Museum and purchased by CNU.
“We are caretakers of the legacy that Pfac left in the community,” Koons says. “We are very respectful of that legacy and are eager to expand on it.”
The attention to detail and the emphasis on all kinds of artwork makes Torggler incredibly special, Koons says. It accentuates the importance art has on the world, the local community and the CNU campus.
“From my perspective, the resources the university put into this facility and this program convey unabashedly liberal arts,” Koons says. “It recognizes visual arts as an important aspect of liberal arts and education. I love that because I believe it is. As a community, we should be inspiring and engaging dialogue in art, connecting people. It’s an international language.”
TO THE POINT:
Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center
Christopher Newport University
Address: 1 Avenue of the Arts, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Holly Koons, executive director