Let’s put that construction to better use

Opinion by Mina Shah
May 12, 2015, 9:13 p.m.

At Stanford, there are many creative people in our midst. Plenty of these people demonstrate their creative skills and artistic prowess in majors and in university-sanctioned and funded avenues. We have academic programs and departments, projects, galleries and even art and music libraries. We have lots of great musical groups, a capella groups, dance groups, comedy groups and other performance groups. In fact, we have so many groups that there isn’t enough space for all of them to create on campus. We need more space for arts production and performance on campus.

We also have a lot of students on campus doing impressive creative projects outside of the university’s purview. Lots of the most innovative art produced here, the art with the most soul and self, comes from spaces outside of direct university support. For example, The Outsiders, a collective of nine people who are Stanford students but not affiliated with Stanford, just dropped their first mixtape about two weeks ago, and it’s amazing. They’ve come together to speak their truths in a way that powerfully touches on the experiences of audience members — speaking to personally emotional experiences, using creative word-play and rapping over some beautifully constructed beats.

It doesn’t seem like Stanford has much of a problem. We have creative energy, and that’s a beautiful thing. People are doing their thing and being absolutely brilliant. The thing is, they don’t have enough space to do it. There are some breathtaking performance and practice venues. Dinkelspiel Auditorium holds just over 700 people, Bing Concert Hall holds almost 850 and both have excellent acoustics.

However, they’re both incredibly expensive to book and, even with enough funding, their schedules are difficult to make work. Additionally, Dinkelspiel Auditorium can only be used by Stanford University departments, programs or student groups funded by the ASSU, unless a non-Stanford group has the endorsement of an ASSU-funded group. There actually isn’t any public booking information for Bing Concert Hall; those hoping to use it must go through StanfordLive. The only performance spaces on campus that are readily available and have a low cost (i.e. are open and reasonable for students without university funding to reserve) are in dining halls and dorms, specifically Kimball, Roble and Casa Zapata.

From the experiences of one artist, Tyler “EagleBabel” Brooks, “Having been here for five years, I still have to say that Stanford has a long way to go to become a school that provides the same opportunities to student-artists as it does to student-athletes and students with more technical and academic interests in terms of number and caliber of opportunities.”

He’s right. It isn’t fair that all of these resources and so much space goes to specific disciplines, like sports, more than the arts just because those particular sectors happen to be more economically secure and generate greater profit. If someone goes into tech, the likelihood of economic success is much greater than when going into a field as unpredictable as visual arts or music. Collegiate sports is well-known to be a huge money-maker for universities, so funding from donors and the university go there more freely; a quick buck is more guaranteed.

Creating these physical spaces for art production must start with a smaller but more difficult change: our mentality. We have to figure out a way to imagine the arts not as an extracurricular, but as something that is actually essential for the completion of a successful Stanford career.

Some might argue that the WAYS requirements begin moving us in this direction. However, these requirements end up functioning the same way that Thinking Matters did when it replaced IHUM: instead of giving people a greater appreciation for and interest in the humanities, it increases the possibility that students can and will finish their time at this university without ever having taken a class in the humanities.

Similarly, the “Creative Expression” requirement simply puts students in a position to check the box of a requirement. The administration should instead create a space where we can understand the difficulty of this sort of creation or an understanding of what it might entail. When we listen to an album, we just think about how the music sounds as it plays; we don’t necessarily have an understanding or appreciation of how many nights the artists stayed up until 5 am perfecting beats or the number of hours they spend rewriting lyrics to get a rhyme scheme or to adequately represent an emotion. And unless a listener knows the artists personally, it is difficult to appreciate just how much heart and soul artists are putting on the line when they produce and perform their craft.

A desire and willingness to engage with the arts is largely already present on this campus. Students here appreciate art, but not as a viable, productive career path, even though that’s exactly what it is for some Stanford students. We don’t appreciate it as an academic pursuit either, and, in kind, we do not provide our artists with enough space to produce and showcase their work.

Even if the university doesn’t provide the option of more degrees or academic programs in the arts, the university community should still feel it imperative to provide our artists with more space, and then act on that imperative. We need to build performance halls and studios to better serve this part of the Stanford community that is largely ignored in terms of the resources we give them.

Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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