Opinion | Staff Editorials

Fund the arts

Right before the darkness of finals, we are graced with a little light in our lives. This weekend is one of the premier times for campus performing arts during the semester. Over the next few days we have two of Columbia’s greatest theatrical traditions—the Varsity Show and King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s outdoor Shakespeare performance—along with a number of other great shows, including the story of Jesus Christ told only in Britney Spears songs, NOMADS’ SPEARS.

When we see a student performance, though, we don’t see the immense amount of work that goes into creating the production. Just as a daily newspaper doesn’t just magically appear in newsstands every morning—no matter how much we keep hoping that will happen each night—performances require intense preparation that few people fully understand.

In a perfect world, each group would only have to worry about the creative process, and not stress over more routine concerns that impede a smooth rehearsal schedule. At Columbia this is rarely the case. Instead of only having to concentrate on making sure each note or line sounds perfect, many groups need to worry about whether they will have the equipment to be heard at all, or whether they will even have a place to practice in the first place. Space and funding issues are a real problem for Columbia performing arts.

Many performing arts groups have specific requirements when it comes to practice space—sprung floors, mirrors, pianos—but those needs are not adequately considered when space is allocated. Before the semester begins, during the precalendaring process, most space is scheduled for use during the semester—but without student input. While student group advisers purportedly act on behalf of their respective advisees during precalendaring, the process is closed to the students they represent, and, as a result, priorities for space allocation are not well aligned with student groups’ needs. It is essential that students are present during the precalendaring process.

More than precalendaring, performance groups are suffering from a lack of space in general—even more acutely than the rest of us. The conversion of Wien Lounge into a performance arts space with renovated, hardwood floors is a step in the right direction—but more needs to be done. Performing arts groups need more space, and existing spaces need to be open for longer periods of time.

Even more pressing than space is the issue of funding. Despite initiatives such as CUArts’ Gatsby Grants, groups still don’t have enough funding. Andrew Wright, CC ’14, told us about budgeting issues he encountered as the musical director for a recent performance: “For ‘Bright Lights, Big City,’ we didn’t have enough funding to give every cast member microphones. Instead, we could only give four people mics, and because of that our lead and a number of supporting actors couldn’t be miked. It was hard for the audience to hear the show. It’s ridiculous that a musical theater society can’t put on a musical with sufficient equipment, because it really detracts from the finished product.”

Equipment and funding issues for performing arts are a serious concern. During the election cycle, The 212 proposed to make use of some of CCSC’s roughly $80,000 surplus—which, when you include past years’ surpluses, could be thousands more—to support the student groups’ need for equipment. While the editorial board was skeptical about specific details of its plan, we hope that CCSC will explore productive methods to spend a portion of this money to support the performing arts community.

When we sit down for the Varsity Show this weekend, we’ll expect to be dazzled by the creative abilities of our fellow Columbians. What we won’t recognize are the countless hours that they devoted to putting on the show, and the bureaucratic barriers they had to hurdle to secure practice space.

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Anonymous posted on

Columbia is buidling an enire performing arts facility in Manhattanville as part of the first phase.

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Anonymous posted on

That space is intended to be for the School of the Arts, which is seriously in need of more rehearsal and performance space. That being said, none of the new facilities are at least meant to be for undergraduate use. 

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Anonymous posted on

That's like saying undergrads do not have use of Avery.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm not totally certain what you mean by that. I don't mean to imply that undergraduates won't have access to the buildings or even various rooms in the buildings. What I'm saying is that there are graduate performance and rehearsal spaces now, particularly the black box in the basement of Shapiro, that cannot be used by undergraduate performing arts groups for any of the myriad rehearsals needed before a show opens. I don't totally disagree with that policy as the Theater dept in the School of Arts has essentially no space to begin with. But, come the opening of the new School of the Arts building in Manhattanville, I cannot imagine that the current policy will change, as much as I'd hope it would. I would assume that precious rehearsal and performance time in the new building (which is the smallest building being built in the first phase Manhattanville I might add) will be reserved for graduate students and therefore won't help considerably with the lack of space for undergraduate groups. 

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Anonymous posted on

The varsity show has access to many times over the level of funding provided to other student theater groups.  They are also afforded extensive access to the Lerner Theater for much longer periods of time than other student theater groups.  I agree with the sentiment of this op-ed, but closing with the V-Show as your primary example detracts from the broader issue that affects other groups much more profoundly.

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