Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

By Joy Silvey

(Collegian file photo)
(Collegian file photo)

Dear Chancellor,

I am writing on behalf of the “What the FAC?” movement at the University of Massachusetts because support for the Humanities and Fine Arts is essential for my community. I am the Chairperson of the UMass Theatre Guild, which is one of the oldest student organizations on campus. Founded in 1906 and formally incorporated as a Registered Student Organization (RSO) in 1920, the Theatre Guild has been a critical creative outlet for students here for over a century. Although we have some wonderful supporters on campus—our advisors in Student Activities & Involvement, for example, have always worked hard on our behalf—we have keenly felt the disparity in University funding that negatively affects Humanities and Fine Arts programs and facilities.

The UMass Theatre Guild produces a full play and musical every semester without the adequate facilities to do so. We have an arrangement to use Bowker Auditorium for only one of our productions, leaving us scrambling to find an alternate space for our other show. We often end up performing in a lecture hall that was not designed to showcase theatrical works. Although both of our production teams are extraordinarily hard-working, only one team can work and perform in a real theater. The other team may work in a space that has seats held together with duct tape, such as Marks Meadow auditorium. These alternate spaces are always challenging to light correctly, present difficulties for sound projection and are frequently too cramped to accommodate sets and actors. It is demoralizing for many performers, directors and tech crew members to present their hard work in such ill-equipped spaces.

The Fine Arts Center (FAC) and Theater Department have limited resources for their own programs and little to spare for us, which has contributed to unnecessary tension over the resources we share. My freshman year, the FAC revoked our privileges to use the loft in Stockbridge Hall as our storage space—a place we had used to keep costumes, props and set pieces for half a century. The Guild no longer has any place to store our materials for future use besides the cramped office in the Student Union that we share with four to five other RSOs. Every year, we throw out useable materials because we simply have no place to keep them. Although we are able to use the FAC’s scene shop to build our sets, we are unable to store our set pieces there because they need the space for other projects.

Why is there not greater support for the arts on campus? Are our student activities worth less to this community than the work of our athletic teams? The football team has a newly renovated multi-million dollar stadium for their home games. The basketball team will soon have a new training facility across from the Recreation Center. The Theatre Guild, in contrast, rehearses five nights a week in Bartlett classrooms that have boarded-over windows, broken blinds, burned-out lights, malfunctioning heating systems and floors thickly coated with dust.

One frequently hears phrases that illuminate how students feel, such as “We’re rehearsing in Fartlett,” or “Let me brush you off; you’ve got Bartlett on you.” Humanities buildings remain in shocking disrepair as science and engineering buildings receive expensive renovations and wonderfully upgraded facilities. Please do not misunderstand–I fully support upgrades to our STEM facilities and am proud of the research that occurs daily at this university. I am also proud of the accomplishments of our athletes and enjoy the excitement that sporting events bring to campus. But the disparity in funding and treatment by the Administration is blatant and needs to stop now.

This is a question of respect. Our University forms a nexus that produces top-notch artistic work and innovative academic projects within the Humanities and Fine Arts. As educators and students, we are fortunate to study at the University, but the University is also fortunate to have us. If our education and extracurricular activities do in fact matter to the UMass community, then the spaces in which we live, work, create and play ought to be treated with more respect.

Joy Silvey is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]