The Arts Need Real Support


This weekend was the first Nocturne, a late-night, student-run arts festival. From Saturday night at 9:00 until 2:00 a.m. the following morning, Middlebury’s lawns and buildings transformed into outdoor art galleries, performance spaces and screening rooms.

A projector issued a wall-length projection of a fish tank onto Painter Hall, glowing a deep, underwater blue against the gray stone. A variety of student musicians invited dance party after dance party outside of McCullough. Beyond mere unconventional fun, Nocturne’s success also seems cause for two important considerations: first, the student body wants (and is eager to participate in) more inclusive arts programming; and second, the school ought to commit more funding to the arts.

Those who attended Saturday night’s festivities were struck not only by the scale of the event, but also the diversity of performers and participants. Spectators flowed in from all corners of campus, be they artists, athletes, physics majors, or all of the above. This was due in large part to the event’s open nature; since anyone could submit work, artists beyond those enrolled in studio art, music or theatre classes could display or perform pieces, and their friends came in support. Not only that, but the event was entirely free, inviting students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to participate.

As it stands, Middlebury offers a number of spaces for performance and studio art. That said, these spaces can be extraordinarily isolating. The CFA is located in the far corner of campus, and aside from classes and the occasional performance receives little traffic. While Johnson is relatively central, the classrooms within are isolated and barred by heavy, locked doors. Not only that, but Johnson’s very infrastructure is failing. The building is plagued by leaky ceilings and inaccessible freight elevators. The physical abandonment of Johnson is reflective of our community’s general apathy toward the arts on campus, at both a physical and fiscal level.

The problem isn’t just Johnson: it is the lack of modern, innovative spaces in general for the arts. The arts community at Middlebury needs more than the lukewarm support it currently receives. The reality is that we simply don’t have a space for all students to share in communal art. The current college museum has collections that far outnumber the gallery spaces, meaning that many pieces of art in storage never actually see the light of day.

Seniors in the architecture department dedicated their thesis studio to solving this problem. Over the course of J-term, 15 students developed designs comprehensive plans for a new art museum. If Middlebury committed serious funding to the arts, perhaps donors would be encouraged to fund bold projects like this new museum. If on the other hand the arts are not made a priority here, Middlebury will continue to fall behind peer schools like Colby and Williams that are quickly becoming leaders in the arts.

There are some ongoing spaces on campus that, like Nocturne, strive to offer opportunities for collaborative artwork that strengthen community bonds. The Anderson Freeman Center (AFC) is decorated with student-made art. Members of the community were allowed to help memorialize and decorate the building. Last year, the artist Will “KASSO” Condry, along with senior studio art major Zarai Zaragoza, collaborated to design and complete a large mural.

Since its inception three years ago, the AFC has been a space for the underrepresented communities at Middlebury. The new mural in McCullough, for example, was part of an initiative to bring the voices of POC artists to Middlebury. Spaces like the AFC and the new mural in McCullough are a part of the initiative to showcase art representative of the minority voices here. Through art, these students are given a platform for illustrating and validating their experiences.

The administration has voiced its desire to build community, and arts initiatives like murals and Nocturne contribute to this process. Nocturne was expansive enough to provide a space for cultural groups dance performances to hand controlled kaleidoscope projections to poetry readings.

Nocturne is what a vibrant student life looks like. As that event showed, the arts are a mode through which we can all share our lived experiences, build community, form identity and examine ourselves. This cannot happen without dedicated support for students’ artistic endeavors. In short, the arts at Middlebury deserve serious funding, not just token acknowledgment.