Updating the campus scene through arts at the ISB

By Nick Milano

Last week, I began looking into different ways the University of Massachusetts may be able to reinvigorate its campus community. Of course, there is much school spirit already, but it is just as obvious that more could be done.

In talking with a few readers after writing last week’s column, I received some criticism about the idea that the University needs to improve its community feel; many students are quite happy with UMass the way it is now. While some may feel this way, I base my thinking on the fact that it is impossible to ever be completely satisfied with something. What determines mine and I am sure many people’s outlook is that what is good can be made great, what is bad can be made good. This is not selfishness or ingratitude towards what we have, but merely a desire to improve the world around us.

As a UMass student, my world most often involves the University campus, decisions by the University’s administration and ways that the University can become a top-flight, nationally revered institution.

It seems the University, in its effort to ease the transition from high school to freshman year, may have lost its grasp on the University-wide community. In trying to make Southwest a quieter and more friendly living area, it has sent thousands of freshmen into Southwest’s freshmen only dormitories. These freshmen halls, in every part of campus, promote a singular community, not one of UMass as a whole. The Isenberg School of Management (SOM) seems to be an entity all to itself. There are strong relationships within SOM, but business students often seem a distant part of the UMass community. It is with this point of view that I felt new ideas could form, breaking down these barriers and creating a more vibrant UMass campus from which all students and faculty would benefit.

My second idea for an alternative way to push community sprung from daily walks from Worcester Dining Commons to class after breakfast. For those who have not yet checked out the new Integrated Sciences Building (ISB), they are missing out on one of the nicest and newest academic buildings the campus has to offer. Clean, brightly lit and modern, ISB is an impressive addition for science majors. The most striking feature of ISB, for me however, is outside the building. Between where the building forms an elbow, there are two rows of cement cut into the side of the hill. Looking up onto a small slope as Orchard Hill beckons in the background, one cannot help but feel it would be a great stage for a musical performance, or any kind of performance. Once the weather gets warmer, why not hold performances or concerts by either school groups or independent groups?

The school’s offerings of such events are tightly constrained to regular plays and concerts held in the Fine Arts Center or the Mullins Center. Sure, the University offers its spring concert and brings other acts to the Mullins Center during the year, notably Jay-Z this year, but these are either catered to a small minority on campus or to such a large audience that the concert could just as well be at a regular venue, not in a University gym.

Why not seek out groups who want to perform and host them outside the ISB in its mini and natural amphitheater?

Make it a fundraiser, advertise it, just do something new and different. Showcase a movie outside against the giant backdrop of ISB with students allowed to relax on the hill. Granted, this would not work except for a few months in the spring and fall, but it would be something new and refreshing.

As a college town right next door to Northampton, Amherst must be surrounded by plenty of bands that would want to hang out and play some music on random nights. Tucked into the corner of the ISB, acoustics would form naturally, students could grab a seat on the grass and just relax. For an event to be successful, it does not need to attract throngs of students, but I know UMass-grown cover bands like the Sticky Bandits would appreciate any chance to play.

One might ask what the point of trying to have concerts or performances outside the ISB is, when they are held in the FAC or on certain parts of campus like Bowl Weekend up on Orchard Hill. These events are either badly marketed or put on distinctly for one particular part of the campus. A series of performances tied with a serious attempt at spreading the news, even just cards in the DCs, might do wonders for bringing students from all parts of campus to one central location for some music, a theatrical performance or a fundraiser. Again, the logistics might be out of hand; preventing drinking, getting the administration to go along with it, but it is just another of those out-of-the-ordinary events which might mix things up for the UMass community.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].