CMC's Ill-Equipped Artists

Applying for art classes at other colleges as a Claremont McKenna College student can be a funny experience. At the beginning of this semester, I sat in Pomona’s digital lab, waiting to see if there would be enough spots for me to transfer from the waiting list to the class roster. Unfortunately, no luck for a non-art major sophomore, but as I walked out the door, the professor muttered something interesting. She said simply, “Wow, a lot of CMC students this year.” There were around thirty students total, three of whom went to CMC.

Claremont McKenna isn’t exactly known for art, unless you count some particularly creative beer pong tables. It doesn’t have an art major, any art classes, or any artistic facilities outside of a few auditoriums and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. Sometimes, it’s easy to assume that CMC just doesn’t do art.

But that’s not exactly true. Every year, CMC’s Under the Lights presents their one-acts performance and the Athenaeum puts on a Dinner Theatre production. CMC students participate in Acapella groups, the 5C orchestra, and a number of other consortium-wide arts groups. Plus, it’s important not to forget the countless musicians, photographers, and craftsmen that decorate their dorm walls with their work, or play a little ukulele during a homework break.

With those individuals in mind, one student asked CMC President Pamela Gann about the lack of arts facilities on campus when she came to visit ASCMC Senate on March 27th. In response, Gann emphasized the availability of such spaces at other schools, explaining, “The arts are definitely in the Claremont Colleges, so we in the consortium subspecialize.” Seems fair. As long as other campuses meet the students’ need for studios and easels, CMC is free to subspecializes in gigantic, cubical study spaces.

Perhaps that's not exactly fair to CMC, which, cube aside, has clearly focused its energy on developing world-class programs in economics, finance, and government, among other things. But Gann’s comment isn’t exactly fair either.

Mercedes Teixido, representing the Pomona College Art Department, explained that Pomona College does indeed provide access to its arts facilities, but only to those students currently enrolled in art classes. She added, “We do not have open access even for Pomona students. Because we provide all of the materials for our classes, it would be impossible to just have materials for anyone available."  She noted this policy was "a matter of safety and space.”

Teixido went on to point out that Pomona does offer opportunities for students outside of classes, though they are limited.  For example, Pomona has “a Friday afternoon figure drawing session which anyone can come do."

In short, opportunities do exist, but are significantly restricted. Teixido emphasizes that, “I do have to say that we allow very few allotments from CMC as we have extensive waiting lists for all our intro classes, therefore, CMC students barely benefit from our facilities.”

Christian Neumeister CMC ’15 is well aware of the difficulties of being an artist at CMC. As a member of a band composed of CMC students, he complains that, “there are practice facilities around the 5C’s, but they’ve been extremely difficult to access. Scripps has practice rooms, but they’re tiny. We’ve been told we need to be taking lessons at Pomona to access theirs. At Harvey Mudd, you must be a student to access them.” He explains, “No one is asking for an art department or a music department, just a room or two where we can do what we love without bothering anyone.” Neumeister is working on starting a Jam Society to help give CMC students the opportunity to practice their art, but still needs to secure some facilities to make it happen.

As CMC’s campus continues to grow, limited arts facilities ought to be on the wish list. Gann did point out at the senate session on March 26th that, “We do have a campus center in the Master Plan where we will have gallery space and performance space, but that is not a formal department. I don’t see that changing anytime soon."

This hardly seems to cover the current gap, especially compared to facilities offered to students of other schools. Compare these meager features to Pitzer college’s Media Studies Production Center which, according to their website, offers Pitzer students “24–hour access” to “professional-quality video and film cameras,” “a full complement of lighting and sound equipment,” “student-run and student requested workshops,” and even a dark room.

It can sometimes be hard to see at first glance, but CMC has a wealth of artistic talent, more than can be fairly represented by a few pictures on the wall of Ryal Lab and a handful of performances in Pickford and McKenna Auditorium. In my wildest dreams, I see a full featured dark room with enough chemicals to repeat the Cuyahoga River fire, but that’s certainly not fair to ask the school to support financially. But, as the campus expands and more buildings are added, a one-room studio with some lights, a few easels and music stands, and a couple sound proofed music studios doesn’t seem like too much to ask.