"The music library is long overdue for expansion
and the performance space for music is not ideal, to say the least. We
also need theater and dancec space and a good sound system." -Provost
Even as Haverford wraps up its historic $200 million “Educating to Lead, Educating to Serve” capital campaign, some Fords are beginning to look ahead to the next major campaign, one that might very well focus on expanding the College’s commitment to the arts.
With the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center a reality and the Douglas B. Gardner Integrated Athletic Center in the works, plans are being laid on campus to renovate Stokes Hall and perhaps Ryan Gymnasium to house Haverford’s Humanities Center and Peace & Global Citizenship Center. Discussions about what kinds of exhibition and performance space might be appropriate in a new Humanities Center have led College officials to begin considering the overall needs of the fine arts and performing arts spaces on campus.
“The Humanities Center’s own thinking about future space in a renovated Ryan Gym is going to involve arts spaces,” explains Provost David Dawson, “but the long-term trajectory is pointing to something more ambitious than that.”
President Tom Tritton sees some future expansion of the arts presence on campus as a logical next step in the College’s efforts in recent years to integrate its facilities and programs around comprehensive academic centers.
“We have a strong program in the visual arts and music,” says Tritton, “but I think what we could do is add a level of cohesion and visibility we don’t presently have.”
While Tritton acknowledges that, at present, discussions of the future of the arts at Haverford are informal and preliminary, he does not believe they are premature. Inviting arts faculty and alumni to begin imagining in these pages what a heightened commitment to the arts might look like is one of the ways the College administration is encouraging an arts dialogue.
“The way we work is to plant some ideas and let the community work on it,” says President Tritton. “That way we’ll have a shared vision.”
Though discussions of the arts needs on campus surfaced with the Humanities Center steering committee, Provost David Dawson stresses that all stakeholders will be involved before the College Planning Committee, which he chairs, begins to formulate plans and make specific recommendations. That said, David Dawson believes some of the needs should be obvious to everyone.
“Fine arts and music have basic building needs,” says the provost. “The music library is long overdue for expansion and the performance space for music is not ideal, to say the least. We also need theater and dance space and a good sound system.”
As Vice President for Institutional Advancement, one aspect of Jill Sherman’s job is to look 10 years or more into the future to envision what might be at Haverford. Noting that the campus master plan drawn up for the College by the architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinsky Jackson calls for eventually constructing a comprehensive arts facility and sculpture garden, Sherman can imagine Haverford building something similar to Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center, a facility she helped launch in Bethlehem, Pa.
“They positioned it so the community has easy access to it, added a performance series, connected to the community and built partnerships,” says Sherman. “It’s a model that I think could really work well for us.”
Zoellner Arts Center is a 105,000-square-foot performance and exhibition space featuring a 1,002-seat auditorium, a 307-seat theater, a 100-seat black box theatre, and a 2,500-square-foot gallery.
Catherine Koshland ’72, Wood-Calvert Professor in Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and vice chair of the Haverford Board of Managers, thinks Haverford might contemplate something similar.
“I see an integrated center with performing arts space, seminar rooms, a gallery or perhaps two—one for permapermanent collection, one for current exhibitions—rehearsal space for music and theatre and perhaps art studio space,” says Koshland.
The prospect of an integrated arts center at Haverford, however, raises one of many questions that will have to be answered as the College looks to expand the role of the arts—Is performance and exhibition space what Haverford needs most?
Jonathan Holmes ’03, a painter andart teacher at West Nottingham Academy in Maryland, isn’t so sure.
“The facilities were good, just small and not built with the same loving care as the other buildings on campus,” says Holmes. “Senior fine arts majors didn’t have work space of their own, so they had to use the common area. There was no space to work outside the classroom, so I paid for a studio in Havertown. If I were to spend money, the last thing I would spend it on is more gallery space.”
Traditionally, Haverford’s cooperative arrangement with Bryn Mawr College has had Bryn Mawr offering programs and facilities in art history, dance, and theater with Haverford focusing on the fine arts and music. So if performance space becomes a major priority, Haverford’s relationship with Bryn Mawr may have to be revised.
Music professor Curt Cacioppo, who is chairing the fine arts department while art professor Willie Williams is on sabbatical leave with a Guggenheim Fellowship, recognizes the need for “a reasonable size performance space” (“The audience pool at Haverford is maybe 450 people.”), but he would prefer to see the College make initial investments in more music faculty, new rehearsal spaces, and a music library.
“I’m afraid an arts center might go up as a kind of window dressing, a jewel in the crown,” says Cacioppo. “It’s fine for the arts to shine and bring attention to the institution, but we need something deeper than that. We need to nurture the roots of the arts within the educational structure of the College, not just plant an ornament on top of everything for all to see.”
“There was no fine arts building 25 years ago,” observes Williams, remembering when the Marshall Fine Arts Center went up. “We got one in 1987, but it was almost immediately too small. Now it’s overcrowded, so we can’t fit all of fine arts under one roof.”
Williams’ own wish list is quite similar to Cacioppo’s. Williams says the fine arts department’s most pressing needs are more tenured faculty, more adjunct faculty, more studio space, an art library integrated with art studios and classrooms, and an auditorium. But Williams is dubious about whether Haverford is prepared to make such investments in a fine arts program that often has fewer than a dozen majors.
“It would take a real sea change to get a big space for art that would provide studios, classrooms, galleries, a library, and an auditorium,” says Williams. “That would be a real, real change. I would be amazed given what I know about the role of the arts at the College over the past quarter century.”
Williams estimates that what he is talking about might cost between $20 million and $25 million.
“The only thing Haverford College has spent that kind of money on,” he notes, “is the sciences.”
Though Haverford is not now a collecting institution and does not have an art museum, one of the building blocks of a more ambitious arts agenda might well be the 5,000-image photography collection that Williams has managed to put together over the past 25 years. Indeed, Haverford’s photography collectioncollection is a survey of the history of photography and stands as one of the best small-college photography collections in the country. Naturally, Willie Williams would like to see the College promote and exploit the potential of the photography collection more actively.
“Visual imagery and what it takes to understand it,” argues Williams, “is at the heart of the liberal arts enterprise.”
Despite the fact that starting an art collection and art museum from scratch might seem a daunting and impossibly expensive undertaking, Jill Sherman doesn’t think Haverford should rule it out as it contemplates what might be.
“We have a number of alumni who have significant art collections and art works,” she says. “I’ve been asked about giving gifts of art to the College, but right now we don’t have facilities to house and display art.”
Sherman notes that Ursinus College only opened its Berman Museum of Art a decade ago with a gift of the largest private collection of works by British sculptor Lynn Chadwick, 40 pieces of which are displayed around its Collegeville, Pa., campus.
“I envision the same kind of thing happening here,” Sherman says. “I really do.”
The possibilities are exciting and open-ended. Performance space? Studio space? Exhibition space? A museum? An art collection? And what should the focus of art at Haverford be?
Board vice chair Cathy Koshland ’72 believes “there is no question that a state-of-the-art theatre is really needed. Roberts is woefully inadequate, really amateurish and many high schools have better theaters—even public high schools. Studio space is less pressing for fine arts because we have the Marshall Fine Arts Center.”
In terms of Haverford becoming a collecting institution, Koshland says, “My own experience in my first two years of college at Smith is that having a collection that is integrated with the teaching program is an unbelievable asset. It’s not clear that Haverford will ever develop the depth of the collection at Smith, but there are things to think about.”
One of those things, suggests Koshland, is what the focus of a Haverford art collection might be.
“A lot of hot stuff is occurring at the intersection of computer
technology, performance art and graphics,” she says, “so thinking
about where we really want to go will take some homework and exploration
about pushing boundaries versus staying in a more classical and still
quite viable tradition.”
“I really feel our comparative advantage and need is not to build a conventional collection or facility,” says Benston, “when we can build a site where more edgy, cutting-edge art can be seen and take more risks.”
Nathan Suter ’95, a photographer and art teacher at East Side College Prep in East Palo Alto, Calif., agrees.
“Haverford can do more daring contemporary things than the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” advises Suter. And having completed his MFA degree at the San Francisco Art Institute last year, Suter counsels that any new arts facilities at Haverford should not be based on the traditional paradigms of painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. The cutting edge is multimedia.
“The way art is going now, you need to build a facility that is multi-use and flexible,” says Suter. “A new facility needs to have project rooms, digital facilities, and video editing spaces. Why would Haverford think it was moving forward by replicating tradition? We need to be as pioneering in the arts as we are in astrophysics or biochemistry.”
If there is a consensus of opinion at this early stage in the thinking about the future of the arts at Haverford, however, it is that the arts need to be better integrated into the wider intellectual mission of the College—physically, philosophically, and pedagogically.
Ellen “E.D.” Tully ’93, an object conservator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., sees integrating the arts with the wider curriculum as the most important advancement the College could make.
“I always felt the arts at Haverford were on the periphery,” says Tully. “People tend to get the feeling that to do fine arts at the College you need to be a fine arts major. There are a lot of links between the arts and the other disciplines that would make it so you could draw in people who don’t think of themselves as creative.”
If the College can offer a Chemistry of Food course, suggests Tully, then why not a Chemistry of Art course? Then, too, Haverford’s extensive photography collection has historical, social, and spiritual dimensions that may not be appreciated, not to mention the technology and science that goes into photographic reproduction.
Lindsay Turk ’02, who just completed a one-year internship at the Williamstown (Mass.), Art Conservation Center, says she fell in love with the culture and campus of Haverford at first sight and decided to attend despite misgivings about the fine arts program. Though art had been central to her high school experience, she decided to major in chemistry at Haverford.
“I think it would diversify our student body if we could attract more art students,” says Turk. “The fine arts building is isolated from the rest of the campus and the gallery isn’t in the central place for students.”
William Wixom ’51, curator emeritus and former chairman of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, sees connecting the College with other cultural institutions as the best way to advance the arts at Haverford.
“I would like to see more interaction between faculty and students going out to existing art institutions,” says Wixom, whose own distinguished curatorial career began with a connection he made with the Barnes Foundation in Merion while a student at Haverford.
“The purpose of the humanities and the arts at Haverford should
be to encourage perception and thinking and sensitivity to music and the
arts,” says Wixom. “That’s how you would measure success
in the future. Building some mammoth building with fieldstone isn’t
necessarily going to help that.”
“Philadelphia has some of the best museums in the world,” echoes Stephen Shapiro ’60, an art and antiques dealer in Short Hills, N.J. “The last thing Haverford needs to do is build a museum. I’d rather not see another building. I’d rather see money spent on programs and making connections.”
Arts grads and faculty alike tend to agree that the strength of Haverford’s present arts programs is the people who teach and make art. They also agree that there are simply too few of them. For instance, music professor Curt Cacioppo points out that Haverford has only three tenure-track music faculty serving a combined Haverford-Bryn Mawr student body of 2,500. When he compared that to peer institutions, he found “Our ratio was by far the least favorable. On the other hand, it’s amazing what we can do.”
Likewise, Willie Williams says that four fine arts faculty positions, only three of which are tenure-track, are not sufficient to allow art teachers to well serve both studio art majors and students who take art courses as electives.
“Faculty is the most important thing, because there are so few teachers to begin with,” agrees Jacob Weinstein ’01, a cartoonist and art director with The Philadelphia Independent. “I don’t think the money part of it is going to make a better art department. The facilities were fine for me.”
“In my mind what Haverford does exceptionally well is create an environment where you have a lot of interaction with teachers,” says Kevin Mulhearn ’97, a history major now pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at City College of New York. But Mulhearn, who has worked at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also supports improving the College’s arts facilities.
“A legitimate museum space is not the best use of the resources out there,” says Mulhearn. “Willie Williams’ idea of a building that would incorporate an art library, better exhibition space, and better studio space is what I would do. The visual arts building is the sad stepchild on campus and the music spaces are unusually dire. They are not good places to work.”
“The programs are good, but they are limited because there are too few voices of artists,” says Nathan Suter ’95. “Haverford needs an aggressive visiting artists program.”
Suter, who has already said he would like to see Haverford focus on new art forms, argues that, whatever aesthetic course the College embraces, it must do so in a rigorous and focused manner.
“We can only do a few things well, so what are they going to be?” he asks. “If you’re a school of Haverford’s type, if you’re going to do fine arts you need to be as excellent at it as you are at other small departments.”
Ultimately, to achieve excellence in the arts may well entail a major investment in new faculty and facilities, but the subtext of most conversations about the role of the arts at Haverford is the desire to have both the visual and performing arts assume a more prominent place in the consciousness and culture of the College as a whole.
As Provost David Dawson observes, “We have a persuasive and compelling approach already in place. What we need is increased support for it and integration.”
“One of the things that will have to change,” says Willie Williams, “is that the centrality of the arts as a function of what the College does would have to have more awareness.”
“Whatever else we share,” says Humanities Center director Kim Benston, “we share an interest in having creative and dynamic students at Haverford. I have found more creativity among the students in theater, music, and the visual arts than the College should expect.”
Vincent Desiderio ’77, a figurative realist painter represented by Marlborough Gallery, is one of the most successful working artists Haverford has produced. Desiderio’s work was featured in the summer of 2002 in an exhibition at the College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, but the artist believes there is some historic baggage the College needs to jettison before the arts at Haverford become truly ascendant.
“I’ve always been incredibly skeptical of how involved Haverford has been with the arts,” says Desiderio. “As a Quaker institution it has been suspicious of the graven image.”
While there are a variety of elite small liberal arts colleges that have made substantial investments in arts facilities, among them Amherst, Williams, Skidmore, Smith, Bard, and Colby, Desiderio is also skeptical of the wisdom of looking to other institutions for inspiration or precedents.
“The arts are involved on the cutting edge of thinking. They are not restricted by social concerns, so they are able to think in more fluid ways than those constructed by other rational disciplines,” insists Desiderio. “Any program for the betterment of the arts at Haverford would have to find an agenda on the brink of what’s happening in the arts, not what happened yesterday at Yale or Cal Art. College is where you have the freedom to do that, but it would take a real change of attitude.”
What that consciousness-raising change of attitude would involve is a recognition that what transpires in an art studio is a pursuit of knowledge every bit as rigorous and meaningful as what transpires in a science lab.
"There is no question in my mind," says Cathy Koshland, "that
the study of the arts is an essential part of the education of any liberal
arts students. To understand and appreciate the arts is as important as
being able to critically evaluate literature or intelligently decipher
writings in science of politics. I think we neglect aesthetics at our
peril. If we underevalue design, beauty, expression beyond the mundane,
we undervalue ourselves."
"The arts are central to the human experience," says Tritton, "so they should be central to a college education,"
And that is why the next major campaign Haverford undertakes will seek
to elevate the arts to their rightful place in intellectual life of the
College, providing what Kim Benston calls "a more attentive gaze
on the arts at Haverford."