When senior and theatre major Shannon Mindlin was a freshman, the Learning Commons in the Center for Fine Arts (CFA) was one of the primary locations where she made friends. As a theatre major, she spent a lot of time in the commons studying or resting in between theatre productions. She feels that students are losing a valuable study space with the renovation of the learning commons into a gallery.
“It was a really good space,” she said. “I remember during a lot of my shows, or before rehearsals, I would just go to the commons and take a nap on the bean bags or do homework because it was an open space and I can plug in my laptop and know I was right by Harbach, where I was rehearsing, without having to be in the Green Room and go up and down a lot of steps.”
Mindlin is thankful that the theatre students still have the Green Room in the basement of CFA to rest and gather with the theatre community, however she feels that non-theatre students are having a valuable study space taken from them with the renovations. According to Vice President of Advancement Beverly Holmes, the gallery is set to open next Friday, Oct. 19. It will be named the Borzello Gallery after alum Bob Borzello ‘58, the same donor who funded Borzello Hall.
Borzello, Holmes mentioned, had developed a close friendship with Professor and Director of the Art History Program Greg Gilbert upon his visits back to Knox. As a lover of the arts, Borzello jumped at the opportunity to fund the gallery space — a facility that will benefit the art department as well as Gilbert’s new museum studies minor.
“When he heard from us that Greg was planning to do a minor for museum studies, then we talked about the need for a gallery that would in essence be the classroom for the students who are taking the museum studies minor,” Holmes said. “It would provide them with that venue where they can put their work up [and] curate an exhibit.”
The gallery provides students and outside artists the opportunity to display their work in a secure location. Prior to this, Holmes said, the college was limited in the value of the art exhibits they could bring to Knox. Exhibits on display in locations that aren’t secure have been at risk of being damaged or disrespected.
Mindlin wishes the gallery had not taken a space away from students, but recognizes its value to the college as a whole. She and Associate Professor of Theatre Craig Choma are sympathetic and understanding of the need for an art gallery and a space for it that is more central.
“I think the thought of having a more professionally run art gallery — something that might be able to have some touring shows of different kinds, different artists and things like that — I think it’s a great idea to have on campus,” Choma said.
Choma, however, feels that the administration was too quick to accept a donation for a needed facility, despite the fact that it might take away from other departments. He feels that the administration should think about what they want the academics of Knox to look like before accepting donations.
“If what we are as a college and if the mission of that college is to deliver education, then we might want to be thinking about the academic programs before taking large chunks of money just because we have to,” he said.
He noted that CFA is already one of a few academic buildings with little study space, and that students now have no place to use for studying or group work. He said that, while the learning commons was a home for theatre students, it also brought together students from other departments in CFA as well as students who just wanted to work with others in a comfortable space.
“To have a space that sort of brought students together from disciplines and in a space in an academic building where they can share ideas … it fostered collaborations and things like that,” he said.
Despite the importance of the gallery, Choma and other students are frustrated with its location, senior and Theatre Advisory Board (TAB) member Olivia Lemke noted that the Whitcomb Art Center (WAC) had just been built and could have included a gallery space.
“I see the value of both things and I understand why the art gallery was a more pressing issue,” she said. “I guess I’m just confused why we didn’t put it in WAC.
The Borzello Gallery will be opening on Friday, Oct. 19. (Rendering courtesy of Beverly Holmes)
Choma understands that the CFA is a more central location on campus, and that WAC may be too much on the periphery to attract many passing visitors. Holmes mentioned that President Teresa Amott intended for the gallery to bring a wide variety of students and visitors to the site, and that placing it in WAC would not gain as much traffic as CFA would.
“Her feeling was that if you want to expose people to art, you don’t stick the gallery in the art building because then you’re really limiting the amount of people that get exposure to it,” Holmes said.
She noted that choir concerts, dance performances and theatre performances will all bring crowds that can view the art exhibits before and after the show, as well as during intermissions.
For Lemke and Choma, this issue speaks to a larger trend of lack of space for students and faculty. Lemke feels that many of the dorm buildings are not conducive to studying, and that having ample spaces on campus for students to work is imperative to their education.
“Especially for younger students who live in the quads, I don’t think our dorm buildings are very designed to have good study spaces in them,” Lemke said. “A lot of younger students live in suites where the suite area is for sure not being used for studying.”
Choma addressed the lack of space from a faculty perspective, mentioning that the departments native to CFA have been looking forward to being able to use some of the newly freed up space to strengthen and expand their department offerings.
“Now you’re asking departments that are already strapped for space to take on more students, to maybe offer more classes,” Choma said. “So the fact that — as space became available in this building — the fact that it just went to the art department which just got a brand new building … felt like a bit of a slight.”