Last week, I wrote about the value of the arts at Knox – a value I consider intrinsic to the campus environment and is well – demonstrated, for the most part, in the allocation of funding by the college. Key phrase: for the most part.
Not a lot of Knox students spend time in the Auxiliary Gym, and those who do so for only a short time (i.e. one term of one dance class) don’t necessarily relate to the space with the same weird ambivalence as do those who spend upwards of 10 hours a week there. I cannot and will not attempt to speak for the studio art students who endure our perpetual stomping from the basement, but as a Knox dancer, the running joke of “experiencing all four seasons indoors” is bitter with truth. The temperature is finicky at best, the consistent moans and groans of an old building interrupts professors’ instructions; it is sometimes necessary to stop dancing and place buckets under new leaks in the ceiling. When Knox announced that it would be building a new arts building, the Whitcomb building, rumors abounded that the dance department would be allowed to move into some vacated space in CFA. Fingers crossed. It’s tedious to rehearse in the rain.
What’s difficult to remember in those times when our building seems to be rebelling against us is that our run–down space is not the fault of the other departments. There is no reason whatsoever to harbor resentment toward the visual arts for the fact that one of the performing arts is presently disadvantaged. Yet we do it. We forget that, even segregated as we are within individual departments, our departments are clustered under broader umbrella terms: creative writing, dance, theatre, music, film and visual art are all, in fact, the arts. And, because we are all liberal arts students ostensibly drawn to this campus by the promise of an interdisciplinary education, we are all, as the brochures promised, Knox.
My intention is to remind us that the nature of progress in the form of the Whitcomb building lends itself to optimism for the rest of the arts. But what does a department need to do to qualify for support? The Whitcomb building is being primarily funded by the generous donation of alumni, which, while a beautiful thing, raises a daunting question: Without outside support from those who remember their time here fondly enough to give back financially, are smaller departments like Film and Dance always going to be relegated to peripheral spaces?
And this question raises a still greater concern: given that money is finite but that facilities are constantly deteriorating due to use, if a department is not supported by external donors, will the college ever choose to rectify its setbacks? What criteria of destitution must the Auxiliary Gym have met before Knox would have deemed its renovation necessary to the continued success of the Dance program? At a liberal arts institution that claims to value diversity of interests in academia, are individual departments always going to be dependent on churning out high-earning grads in the hopes of maintaining their facilities?
In the meantime, for departments without a firmly scheduled improvement, the key is collaboration. Especially in the arts, it’s crucial to reach across lines to maintain the knowledge that when one gains, the others have not lost. If we’re really all Knox, we have to band together in hard times as well as prosperous ones. Here’s to the Art department as they anticipate the completion of the Whitcomb building, which marks a victory for the arts here on campus, for the arts in general, for progress.