McMaster University’s fine arts program has been given three million dollars—the largest donation ever made to the program—to renovate and expand existing studio space.

The benefactor is Robert Fitzhenry, a McMaster alumnus and philanthropist, who made the donation in honour of his late wife Andrée, who was a painter specializing in landscapes.

The announcement was made at an emotional ceremony, on Wednesday-the same day of Andrée's birthday-with administrators and art students in attendance.

“I believe that art is an essential component of a complete life. My wife Andrée’s devotion to art was a beacon for us, and continues to be an inspiration for sharing with others the value of art in all its forms,” said Fitzhenry.

Livia Tsang, a fourth-year honours art student, was at the celebration ceremony.

"He dedicated it to his wife and it was her birthday today. It was super emotional," said Tsang.

She continued, "It's just so generous the fact that he's donating so much money. We heard that he was giving something, but we weren't thinking anything so big. It is so exciting."

The gift will establish the Dr. Robert and Andrée Rhéaume Fitzhenry Studios and Atrium, an open space filled with natural light, set aside for painting, sculpting and other media.

The atrium will face Stearn Drive near the David Braley Athletic Centre and will act as a reception area allowing visitors, students, faculty and staff to view completed art as well as works in progress.

McMaster’s fine arts studios were first built in the 1960s in Togo Salmon Hall and were originally intended to house only 15 artists at a time. Since then, the program has expanded and the need for space has grown.

"The space does get cramped. Having an expansion will be helpful," said Lydia Santia, a second-year studio art student."

"The studio here has its own charm, and the tight quarters mean that we do often get close to each other, but at the same time, having not enough space can cause tensions," said Tsang.

In her first year, Tsang was one of 22 artists who entered the program. Current first-years entered into a class of 30.

Tsang said that, due to the cramped space, many artists have to work from home.

"The people who do work in the studio, they take over certain areas and other people get irritated when their space is impeded or when people use their things without permission,” she said.

The new atrium will cover a courtyard workspace, adding 1,700 square feet to the lower level of Togo Salmon Hall.

"They're going to bring in a lot of light. We're all stuck in a basement [now] all day and in the winter it gets kind of drab. Obviously natural light is optimal for when you're working with paintings and drawings and colour," she said. "Being in a basement can be tough. Especially in the winter when it's dark and it's cold."

Nikkie To, a fourth-year fine arts student, said she feels that space is integral to the artistic process.

“It allows us to present art properly and express our ideas. We can talk to one another, receive feedback and get help from our peers,” To said.

Second-year studio art student Mary Duncan could only think of "dingy" when asked to describe fourth-year studios upstairs.

"Most of them don't have indies and only have of them has a sink. They're essentially closets," she said. "There's no light up there. Having some natural light up there will be amazing."

McMaster president Patrick Deane expressed gratitude for Fitzhenry’s donation to the program.

“This critical investment will have an impact on the entire campus, altering the way our students learn and creating an environment that can support all their artistic endeavours,” Deane generic viagra price said.

Robert Fitzhenry grew up in West Hamilton and graduated McMaster in 1954 with an honours B.A. in political economy. As a student, he played football and served on the Board of Publications.

He holds an honourary doctorate from McMaster and has been a member of the McMaster Alumni Association board of directors.

Construction on the site will begin in 2014.

This article was originally published online Nov. 13 and was updated for Nov. 14.

Photo: An artistic rendering of new studio space planned for the fine arts program. C/O McMaster University.

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