Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Arts, Cultures, and the Strategic Plan

by Mary Moran

Professor of Anthropology and Africana and Latin American Studies

What was striking about the comments at the faculty meeting last Monday was how many faculty noted that a facility for the performing arts, which was a prominent feature of the previous strategic plan that was never realized, is completely absent from the current plan. Many faculty believe that such a priority would help toward the goal of increasing Colgate's academic profile, and it has been recognized as an unmet need for a very long time now. Given all we have heard about changing the profile of students we attract through an increased focus on meeting financial need, it also seems like we should have facilities here that will attract an broader range of students.

At the same time, we are pushing forward with a plan to put a very controversial new Center for Arts and Culture downtown in the village. This is controversial because many village residents are worried about this intrusion into the business district and are concerned about the historic character of the village. It is controversial with many faculty, myself included, due to concerns about having access to the collections of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology and the Picker Gallery for teaching purposes. I use Longyear materials in my classes and would like to use them much, much more, if we had the kind of facility that would serve the pedagogical purpose. I protested quite strongly during two consultations with the siting committee, that it was impossible to get students up and down the hill in the space between classes to see and use the materials, and was told this was not a concern and students would "work it out." This to me is not an adequate response.

Furthermore, I and others have grave concerns that the footprint of the downtown site does not allow for adequate storage space and space for expansion of the Longyear collection. Anthropologists have different goals in constructing a teaching collection which are not shared by art historians, who more frequently want to "cull" a collection for its "masterworks." There was only one anthropologist on the museum siting and building committee and he was consistently outvoted on every issue. There was no representative of the SOAN Department on the hiring committee that hired the new director. The Longyear Museum of Anthropology has effectively been taken from the SOAN department without our participation. On the other hand, we very much need a new museum facility because the Longyear has been undersupported for years and the collections are not being preserved in the way they should. A really famous architect has been engaged, and there is trustee and donor enthusiasm for having a "statement" building.

The situation as I see it is this:

  • We have a lot of faculty who are are angry that a performing arts center, which was a focus of the last strategic plan, is now off the table due apparently to lack of donor interest (as we were told last Monday).
  •  We have faculty and village residents who are very upset about a building planned for the village that directly impacts the faculty's ability to teach.
  • We have a famous architect engaged to build a building in a place where many people don't want it, and faculty who want a building they are told they can't have.

My proposed solution: Could we not explore with the trustees and donors the possibility of engaging with David Adjaye (the famous architect) to build on our campus a "statement" building housing an integrated arts center, with space for both performing arts and the two museums? Might it be possible to raise donor enthusiasm for such a project? Has anyone even tried? We now have the space gained from the purchase of the Hoteling property to build such a structure. Also, such a plan would be so much more in keeping with the actual language of the framing document, which talks on pp. 9 about "A Campus for Colgate's Third Century" (emphasis in the original) and how "we must develop a more compact campus in order to enhance student life." In a complete contradiction, the document then turns in the next few paragraphs to discuss the building of the Center for Arts and Culture off campus. in order to "strengthen the role of the arts and culture in Colgate's educational enterprise." This building is projected to cost $15 million dollars; does it make sense to invest in this and still push the unmet need for space for the performing arts off into the future, when another building will have to be constructed at even higher costs?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is such a great set of ideas, Mary! Are you going to talk to any administrators about this? Or is it too late to alter the plan to building a new museum?