Art springs from many sources: mind, heart, soul. At George Mason University, it comes from mudholes.

There is a lot of mud these days on the Fairfax County campus of Virginia's fastest-growing state-supported university as the first phase of a $27.6 million red-brick humanities complex nears completion.

Called Humanities I, it is expected to be ready in January and will bring under one roof the school's fine arts and performing arts programs. The $9.5 million structure includes a 150-seat theater, practice studios, classrooms and offices.

Humanities II, now just a steel skeleton, is scheduled to open next fall and will provide additional offices and arts space at a cost of $10.1 million. And Humanities III, now just a hole in the ground on the Fairfax County campus, will house an $8 million, 2,000-seat concert hall/theater and art gallery when it opens in 1989.

George Mason's plans are not limited to brick and mortar, either. The school, which has 18,100 full-time and part-time students, hopes to use its new humanities complex to attract top dancers, artists, writers and theater people.

That day may not be far off. In January, Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes will inaugurate a professorial Heritage Chair in Arts and Cultural Criticism at the school, and university officials are hoping to link George Mason to area institutions such as the Phillips Collection and the Smithsonian Institution for cultural exchanges and seminars.

The officials also have been raising money for arts on campus, including nearly $400,000 from a gala last November.

The humanities complex, which has been on the drawing board for about a decade, is being funded with $21 million from the university's general fund and the remainder from a bond.

"We wanted to find a way to make arts a real presence on campus," university President George W. Johnson said. "I think everyone in the arts departments was a little surprised about how much we ended up doing."

Since arriving at George Mason in 1979, Johnson has spearheaded the school's effort to raise its stature locally and nationwide. A centerpiece of that effort has been new construction on the campus, a focus on high technology and public policy disciplines, a push to attract prominent professors and an improved athletics program.

As the university has expanded from its modest beginnings of four buildings in 1964 to more than 50 today, officials have looked for ways to broaden its agenda. A 1977 study recommended construction of a performing arts center.

An early important move was bringing in Col. Arnold Gabriel, former conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band, in 1985 as head of the performing arts department.

"I came to George Mason because I could see its entrepreneurial spirit in becoming a center for arts in the community," he said recently. The new humanities complex has him "very excited," Gabriel said, adding, "Universities usually move slowly on things like this."

The ribbon-cutting for the new complex will relieve a tremendous space crunch now gripping the university's arts departments, which have had to squeeze into the 500-seat Harris Theatre and share other space. "Harris did everything, plus we conducted classes there," Gabriel said. "With hundreds of events a month, it was a scheduling nightmare."

The new center -- with its two large rehearsal halls, 300-seat recital hall, 250-seat small theater, 2,000-seat concert hall and improved acoustical system -- is welcome.

For Gabriel, the most important aspect is that the new complex will bring all the arts elements on campus together. Currently, faculty, students and staff are scattered around the campus, some in mobile units.

"This will bind us all together," said Gabriel. "We can organize festivals, offer a multitude of programs at once. There's no question it will strengthen us and the community.

"There's a tremendous amount of talent in the area that just needs to be tapped," he said. "The quality of music education in the public schools, for example, is outstanding, and we're in a position to respond to it for all of Northern Virginia."

Gabriel and Johnson think the new center will be a lightning rod for the local arts. The Patriot Center, a 10,000-seat arena on campus, and the humanities building "will be the twin showcases at the entrance of the school," said Johnson, adding that their importance will grow as the university expands. Enrollment at George Mason is expected to reach 32,000 in the next decade.

Johnson's excitement shows when he talks about arts on campus. "I was just thrilled," he said of a recent concert at the Patriot Center organized by the university orchestra. "The improvement incredible, the potential amazing."

Johnson sees that potential everywhere. He envisions the new arts facility as constantly changing artistically. An amphitheater here, a sculpture garden there. Music in the halls.

"I wanted to make the plans not too programmed, so things could just spring up," he said, talking of possibilities. "The whole place on a grand scale will be for arts -- we're groping in our ignorance as to what is the right mix."