What the FAC? campaign pushes for better, safer learning spaces

By Stuart Foster

(Daily Collegian File Photo)
(Daily Collegian File Photo)

A group of performing arts majors at the University of Massachusetts saw their movement, “What the FAC?,” gain significant support as a result of online campaigning.

“What the FAC?” seeks to raise awareness about problems with safety, accessibility and convenience within the Fine Arts Center, which is home to the music, theater and art departments. It also focuses on problems in Totman Gymnasium, which contains practice rooms for dance majors.

“I’ve always been incredibly grateful for the faculty and staff, but there is an amazing discrepancy between the education and space it is in,” said Emma Ayres, a senior theater major who helped found “What the FAC?.”

The conditions in the Fine Arts Center make practice difficult for theater majors, as Ayres said she has had to “go into the class and bang nails into the floor” to prevent injuries from tripping.

“Sometimes it gets so hot in the classrooms you can’t breathe,” she added. “The practice rooms were not created to serve the needs of the people using it.”

Savanna Murray, who represents the dance department in “What the FAC?,” said she is also concerned with the safety of the facility.

“Dancers get injured just through daily practice, but when we don’t have adequate facilities it’s even worse,” Murray said.

Because the floors in the Totman practice rooms are not sprung properly, there is no shock absorption, and when dancers land, all of their force is redirected to their knees, often causing injuries.

According to Murray, because the larger dance floor is in Totman’s basement, there are “square pillars to hold up the foundation,” which impedes practice by forcing dancers to move around them. There are also leakage problems, which necessitate buckets on the floor to catch water, and problems with asbestos as a result of improper ventilation.

One of the chairs of the dance department, Billbob Brown, had “developed a cough” as a result of the ventilation, Murray said.

There have been further issues with the accessibility of the buildings housing the arts’ facilities, which were demonstrated in a video released by “What the FAC?.” In the video, Meredith Wells, a disabled performing arts and theater major, navigates the Fine Arts Center in a wheelchair and has to be carried up a flight of stairs by another student on her way to class.

“What the FAC?” has seen demonstrations of support and gained much assistance as a result of social media campaigns.

One such campaign, “The Arts Matter to Me Because:” features photographs of UMass students studying a variety of fields holding whiteboards explaining why they value the arts.

“We wanted to use this campaign as a more human way of showing our argument,” Ayres said. “Every student has been so supportive in endorsing this campaign.”

Ayres said she was optimistic about the potential change “What the FAC?” could create, saying that meetings with the administration have begun and that “there’s no way they can give us a five-year plan on these issues, because there’s so much urgency on these issues.”

“UMass could get in trouble if they don’t collaborate with us because they will have a legal case on their hands,” Ayres said. “The arts need a space where we can have inter-disciplinary collaboration and where we can have spaces that don’t break health codes.”

Ayers views mere renovation of the Fine Arts Center as less desirable than the construction of a new space for arts majors, asking, “At what point are you just going to be wasting money by investing in a building that has so many issues?”

Murray also said she thought that renovations alone would not be sufficient, stressing that the separation of dance majors from those whose majors are based in the Fine Arts Center is a problem. She said that “half of the music majors didn’t know their department was music and dance,” and thought the construction of a new space would be necessary.

“What the FAC?” is currently advocating for a few different possibilities to obtain funding for such construction, including the potential expansion of the UMass Rising campaign, which was responsible for renovations to buildings across campus. “What the FAC?” is also requesting funds from the State House.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected].