Changing the Paradigm: The State of the Arts at Colgate

The arts are hardly appreciated here.

People don’t know where to find them. Typically, students always associate this abstract notion of “art” with the “ugliest building on campus,” more formally known as the Dana Arts Center.

Where? Case in point.

For the most part, students don’t know where art is, nor do they ever make a fully conscious decision to seek it out. Colgate provides us amazing artwork, musical and dramatic performances by award-winning professionals, and we aren’t made aware of them unless we’re registered in a CORE class with an art history or film & media studies professor, at which point we are mandated to attend them. The psychological effect this induces doesn’t warrant stimulating conversation, nor does it encourage students to be more invested in what the arts have to offer. As a result, the arts become synonymous with a class, which is thereby associated with a grade, and stress.

Art is not supposed to stress students out. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak. When you’re present in the current moment. When you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive. That is not stress.

It doesn’t matter, though. Colgate students, apart from those involved in some way – either as part of an organization or team, as a major or as friends of students who are involved – generally do not concern themselves with the arts. Or athletics, for that matter. Besides Dancefest, a Homecoming football game or an event sponsored by numerous groups trying to make a statement, attendance at these events is low.

As a solution to attract more students to come to more events, Colgate will spend millions of dollars on “state-of-the-art” arts and athletics complexes that could go to make Colgate need-blind, or enhance the individual departments that need the funding. That means nothing if the space is going to be empty; we need an audience. Colgate’s overwhelming desire to follow other great institutions almost contradicts the statement on the heading of the website that proudly declares that Colgate is a leading liberal arts university.

That problem takes root at two levels: the individual and the systemic. There seems to be relatively little transparency between the administration’s desires and the students’ wants, as made evident by the current stirring controversy about the event registration process. This doesn’t strictly apply to this one incident. Colgate prides itself on its community, on the people who care so much about this place that they are willing to converse on these sorts of subjects together. To become a leading liberal arts university instead of a following one, we’re going to need to have more candid dialogue, having every voice heard and, above all, considered.

Just like in theater, which is a collaborative art where the director, cast and crew (to generalize) are a team who work with each other to create something worth viewing. My main outlet throughout my time here has been theater – student-produced theater, more particularly. Masque & Triangle has presented me with numerous opportunities for stage performances, albeit on a much smaller scale than some others have done, as well as be mentored by other students and professors to have these performances “hit home.” I have learned an incredible amount from working with them independently, and I do wish I had had the chance to take more classes.

However, if Colgate’s theater department is to grow and compete with other liberal arts colleges of equal or greater caliber, dialogue must take place. What strengthens departments is a willingness to cast aside the need to be artistic and not merely to the great tradition of Western theater, because heralding that sort of heritage prohibits any sort of telos. We run the risk of becoming too narrow-minded, and that bars students from investing more of their energies into producing amazing shows – and greater learning on everyone’s part, which is, after all, the goal of an education at Colgate.

For example, this semester was the first in a while that University Theater produced a musical. And the number of students from Masque & Triangle who were involved was at a record high. That says something. We are more than willing to work with University Theater. But, in the end, what I feel University Theater needs to do is find out what the students want to do with theater, and vice-versa.

Facilitation. Conversation. Dedication. These three elements, I feel, will help build bridges in at least one department of one branch at Colgate that is seriously lacking dynamism. As for the others? Substitute “theatre” for “fine arts.” Or “music.” This is what I mean by changing the paradigm.

Perhaps, though, that is merely na??ve optimism that I share on my way off this stage I call Colgate.

Contact Denny Gonzalez at [email protected].