Dear Chancellor: UMass arts facilities are highly inadequate

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(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

Dear Chancellor,

I’m writing you today on behalf of the “What the FAC?” campaign here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. As a sophomore theater major here at the University, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the passionate, motivated and kind faculty as well as the immense amount of talent that is busting from the seams of this amazing education program. I say “busting from the seams” because, unfortunately, our facilities do not have the means of holding all of the arts students along with their talent and creative ideas. As a member of this University, we are told “UMatter at UMass” but as an arts major looking at the current facilities, it is hard to feel that this statement is true.

As a freshman coming from a high school that had a well-respected arts department, my expectations were fairly high. I never considered them too high because I went to a university that was boasting state-of-the-art facilities for every discipline. Although I never expected “state-of-the-art,” I expected that my major and its corresponding facilities would be taken just as seriously and held to the same standards as my other science and math counterparts. Sadly, this is not the case.

I was shocked to find that there were no places designed for solo practicing within the Theater Department. The only physical places you could potentially practice are classroom 04, the Upper Rand and Cabaret 204. These spaces are always double-booked with Cabaret 204 productions and independent project rehearsals, leaving no place for students to practice a monologue, scene or song for an upcoming audition. In class, a legitimate suggestion for a place to practice was the stairwell or hallway. This is no way to practice. It is distracting, uncomfortable and not conducive to exploring our work. Another aspect of the FAC I found discouraging was the isolation of each department. This separation and lack of practice space throughout all the arts departments causes unneeded tension instead of fostering potential collaborative projects.

Now that I am a sophomore and newly a wheelchair user, the things that were once small problems that I just accepted have turned into daily nuisances. The entrance to the Purple Lobby and theater office has no automatic door opener and is paired with a ramp that is much too steep and a door that has a significant lip. Just getting into the building can be upwards of a 10 minute ordeal.

I have figured out how to get in the doorway, but it takes a lot of work. First, I have to get up the steep ramp. Then, I have to somehow hold myself at the top of the steep ramp without rolling backwards to open the door. Once the door is open I then have to attempt to bunny-hop my front wheels over the lip (which is very difficult to do at such a steep incline) while keeping the door open. This is a process that really needs three hands to accomplish gracefully. I cannot help but fear this process in the ice and snow of the coming winter months.

Another issue I have faced is the Upper Rand, one of the primary classroom spaces and the location of two of my three theater courses this semester. Because there is no accessible route to this classroom, both of my classes have been moved to the lower Rand lobby. Notice that I said “lobby” and not a classroom or a room number.

The most disheartening issue, however, is the lack of accessibility to our only laboratory to mount original work: Cabaret 204. Not only are there many works presented here, but many auditions are held there as well. Whenever I need to use this space I have to be carried up the stairs. This is not only embarrassing but unacceptable. Cabaret 204 is a place to showcase new works to students, family and other community members. Unfortunately, in its current condition, not everyone can enjoy these marvelous productions.

Even for those who are not disabled, it is blatantly obvious that the FAC needs some attention. The state of its few classrooms and restroom facilities are in such disarray that it often feels as if the arts are just on the back burner of the priorities. The arts are an important part of building communities and fostering student growth, therefore it is imperative that these issues of accessibility and upkeep are dealt with as soon as possible.

I hope this letter finds you well and that together we can create a safe, clean and accessible space that fosters and inspires creative ideas and collaboration as state-the-art as the faculty and students that fill it.

Meredith Aleigha Wells

Meredith Wells is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]