The first-year quad is nothing if not austere. The rows of trees that seem to trace an open-air cathedral are matched in the exactitude of their placement only by the stolid right angles of those Federalist bricks that ring the grassy expanse. College Row, on the quad’s west side, looks out over the valley like a monument: It’s permanent, a symbol of an unchanging and aloof college, committed only to learning. If no students ever walked across the lawns, it wouldn’t look all that different. The aesthetic of the college may be pristine, but that comes at the cost of failing to reflect student life.
That severe austerity is the trademark aesthetic of the rest of campus, too: The spaces students traverse are devoid of art except for the straight-laced design of the buildings. These spaces reflect a sincere desire for learning that is present in students and administration alike, but they are irrelevant to a large part of what living on campus means, in the dynamism of the present.
Supporting the proliferation of public art — especially works made by current students — is a simple way to fix this. Currently, visual art made by students is hard to find. It’s corralled into a few spaces: the Indicator gallery on Frost’s second floor is a great example, as well as the posters and advertisements put up by student organizations around campus. Val is looking for student artists to submit art for their own displays, too, and anyone interested should seek out their poster by the entranceway!
Nevertheless, these places are relatively isolated, and advertisements are relatively ephemeral compared to other types of student art. Apart from this, the highest concentration of student art on campus is in the art department’s own Fayerweather Hall, which has a rotating display of art produced in its classes. Student-produced visual art is thereby relegated to spaces that one has to seek out, making it more or less invisible around campus in general.
Making our shared spaces more available for experimental installations is an essential part of this work. The college should establish application procedures for interested students to install their sculptures on any of the many open spaces we have on campus, hang visual works from the walls in any number of academic or residential buildings, and perhaps even commission a rotating installation in some privileged spot on main campus. Departments like Architectural Studies and Art and the History of Art should be able to exhibit their student’s work in more social spaces on campus like Val and Keefe, and artists who want to create work should have access to the equipment managed by those departments.
There are other authorities on campus who can help to enhance student art: the AAS Arts Committee (which has just sent out a call for student applications!) is charged with advancing the creation and appreciation of art on campus; it currently organizes two concerts per semester and also maintains a “gallery” of student art in Schwemms. This work, while valuable, should be extended to include as much of campus as possible. Student artists should communicate with the Arts committee in order to gain funding and access to equipment for independent projects, and the committee should do all within its power to expand the presence of visual art beyond designated spaces to make it closer to ubiquitous on campus.
The restriction of art to a few privileged spots on campus cordons off student life from the timeless aesthetic of the buildings we walk past. A campus that truly reflects the students that call it home however, should be inseparable from the lives of those students. Campus grounds should be a canvas for student art: If it were, the vistas of the college’s grounds would become an austere backdrop for the lives and experiences of all those who live and work and play here.
Right now, some of the most beautiful spaces on campus are those practically painted with posters and advertisements. It is there that the diversity and vibrancy of student life is most genuinely and colorfully reflected. But student art should never be relegated to fleeting advertisements that may only last for a few days or weeks. Our lives should be obvious to anyone who walks by. Amherst shouldn’t look static. It is inhabited by living people, and its physical space should reflect that, its walls covered and re-covered in murals like an elementary school that centers its students’ experiences of learning, beyond the material itself. This is a campus populated by people, with plenty of painting supplies and a surplus of potential sculptors. Let us not only allow them to make their mark on campus, however impermanently; let us make it easy, and encourage and support them every step of the way.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 17; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0).