The Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC) is named for former BYU president Franklin Stewart Harris. Born in Benjamin, Utah Territory, in 1884, he began his studies at BYU and finished with a doctorate in agronomy from Cornell University. In 1921, while teaching at Utah State University, Harris was offered the position of BYU president. He was thirty-six years old at the time.
Franklin was president from July 1921 to June 1945—the longest administration in BYU history. His mission as president was to expand the school and its legacy. From the beginning to the end of his term, enrollment rose from 438 students to over 4,000. Franklin also helped establish BYU as an accredited four-year university. The list of his accomplishments also includes creating the College of Fine Arts with Garrit de Jong as its first dean. Harris believed art and music to be the center of a rich life. After years of dedicated service, Franklin S. Harris died on April 18, 1960.
In October 1962, the BYU Board of Trustees announced that a new building would be built and named after the former BYU president. The president at the time, Ernest L. Wilkinson, attributed the growth of the arts at BYU to President Harris. Wilkinson said, “His administration was responsible for the acquirement of hundreds of important paintings and art objects . . . The distinguished position enjoyed by the University as a music center both for the study and enjoyment of music is largely the result of the support he gave to the fine arts.” Construction began on June 18, 1962, and the Harris Fine Arts Center was dedicated on April 3, 1965.
The completion of the HFAC brought together the five departments of the College of Fine Arts and Communications: Arts, Communications, Dramatic Arts, Speech, and Music. The sixty-four classrooms, fifty-seven music practice rooms, five performance halls, TV production rooms, and main foyer (that was also a gallery where students could display their work) made the HFAC the largest academic building at the time. The unique letter and numbering system for classrooms also gained the HFAC the reputation of being the most confusing. In 2015, the Student Theatre Association used that reputation to institute a yearly “DisOrientation” to help new students find their way around the building and the academic options inside.
In addition to traditional classes and performances, the HFAC hosts other colleges and events. On August 27, 1973, the Pardoe Drama Theatre held the first class of the J. Reuben Clark Law School. In 1974, the HFAC hosted the Mormon Arts Ball. The main foyer was transformed into a ballroom and the halls and theaters were full of performances: the Philharmonic Orchestra, the A Cappella Choir, violinists, pianists, and vocalists, one-act plays, readers theaters, and multi-media presentations.
The HFAC also uses connections with the community to promote the arts. In 2005, the Provo City Library collaborated with BYU to start a program called ProvoReads. Children are encouraged to read and finish a book by being rewarded with two free tickets to a BYU performance of each year’s book, such as Sara, Plain and Tall and Holes. The HFAC also helped the Food and Care Coalition with a unique fundraising idea in 2007. Art students were encouraged to make a piece to be put in a vending machine in the HFAC to be sold for the price already in the machine. The project helped art students work with a focus on service and helped the community interact with art in a new way while raising money for a local charity.
The HFAC student community often exhibits art work on the foyer halls, but music students also use the area to show off their hard work. On Fridays at 12:00 p.m., anyone passing through the HFAC can listen to the Concerts at Noon. In 2012, the program was started to give performance majors a chance to present their pieces in a low pressure environment before taking to the stage. Students gather to hear the music and support their classmates every Friday, except on holidays and during finals. Every December, the Concert at Noon is turned into a Christmas sing-along.
The HFAC now houses the School of Music, the Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Department of Art, Department of Design, the Dean’s office, Arts Production, and the CFAC Advisement Center. With over three hundred performances a year, the HFAC continues to honor Harris and create a center to enrich the lives of students and the community.