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Showroom doors open

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL When Stephen Fiola first walked into the little room on the third floor of Fox Hall, which was nearly unused and covered with piles of debris, he didn't lose his vision of what the place could become.

"I ripped down the curtains and I said, 'Oh, that's just bad.' But I tried to look past that and see what the space would offer for the university," said the UMass Lowell senior.

Yesterday, the completed project, the Visual and Performing Arts Center, opened freshly painted, with a new sound system and lighting, ready for its first act.

The student-proposed, student-built and student-managed center will provide an arts and entertainment home for a campus that has long been a burgeoning music scene but provided little in the way of visual and performing arts.

And it's a tribute to the dedication and determination of students that the space was developed at all, said Dean of Student Life Larry Siegel.

"It was a vision of the students, supported by the faculty and staff, but implemented solely by students," he said. "I can't begin to tell you how exciting this is, not only for the administration and faculty here, but for the students, to have achieved this next level of activities on campus."

The center held its grand opening last night with performances by an a-cappella group and a Boston comedian. Fiola said the acts were the first of many to come.

"The primary function is for the weekends, to keep students on campus," he said. "We hope it will bring more culture to the campus."

Fiola first came up with the idea just over a year ago, while discussing leadership opportunities with Siegel. He developed a business plan for one of his classes, then turned that into reality by tackling the project head-on, with support from the administration, faculty and Student Government Association.

The unused space provided the perfect venue for a new cultural center on campus, Fiola said.

"I know that once students see the space, they're going to say, 'I want to be here,' " he said.

The center will continue to be student-run, with students booking and promoting the acts and taking care of finances and business. They've developed an operations manual to make sure the organization lives on long after the original students graduate.

They are also looking toward the future, with plans for permanent seating and a projector for film festivals.

And the fact that the center came into being because of the vision and hard work of students made yesterday's opening special for all involved.

"This is not about how much I did, or how much other people did, but how much the students did for this campus," Fiola said.