University continues its ban on new arts groups

By DIVA PAREKH | September 27, 2018

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COURTESY OF DIVA PAREKH Student arts groups have difficulty finding performance space while Shriver is under construction.

The University’s Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) announced at the beginning of the fall 2017 semester that it would not be accepting new performing arts and local community service groups during that academic year. While new local community service groups are now permitted to form, the restrictions on new performing arts groups remain in place.

Homewood Arts Program (HAP) Director Eric Beatty wrote in an email to The News-Letter that HAP decided to maintain the restrictions on new performing arts groups because the challenges which prompted the restrictions last year still persist. The University will reconsider accepting new arts groups before the upcoming school year.

“For this 18/19 year we are keeping the same policy as last year that there will not be the opportunity for students to apply to create a new performing arts group,” Beatty wrote. “This policy will be revisited again before the 19/20 academic year.”

The challenges Beatty cited when he introduced the restrictions were primarily logistical. Hopkins has 22 dance groups and 12 a cappella groups with almost 500 total members. Beatty said in 2017 that HAP was finding it increasingly difficult to find both space and time for practices and performances.

Junior Nancy Fallon, captain of the Ladybirds dance team and a member of the Barnstormers theater group, discussed why she believes the restrictions were the only possible solution.

“There are already so many issues with scheduling and with finding time to rehearse. Rooms are always booked, because there are so many performing arts groups that need the same rooms,” she said. “The only way to solve that is to either stop creating new groups that also need those same rooms or to build new rooms. So the easier solution is what’s happening.”

Fallon added that due to the number of dance groups that needed rehearsal time, Ladybirds had its rehearsal time reduced by an hour at the beginning of this semester. 

Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott wrote in an email to The News-Letter that because each category of performing arts group has different needs, accommodating for all of them has become increasingly challenging.

“This becomes more challenging for Theatre, who use specific spaces they can build sets to rehearse; dance organizations who need practice rooms that have appropriate flooring; and a cappella and orchestra rehearsals that require specific acoustics,” she wrote. 

Stott also addressed other unexpected challenges that come with finding space for arts groups to practice.

“Storage space is a commodity as well for arts organizations, storing costumes, props, and equipment. Members have to currently store items in their own apartments, and that is when items start to get lost and damaged,” she wrote.

According to senior Jenna Bellantoni, a member of the Mental Notes a cappella group, another logistical challenge she has noticed is that as the number of performing arts groups has increased, the budget for her group has decreased.

“Our budget is not adapting to the growing of our group. It seems limited by whatever arbitrary number that Hopkins has set,” she said. “We’ve had to seriously consider fundraising for basic things like sound equipment for our concerts.”

Stott explained the process through which funding is allocated to performing arts groups in an email to The News-Letter.

“Performing arts groups receive their funding from multiple sources — mainly from the [Student Activities Commission] SAC through [the Student Government Association] SGA. Many of the organizations also apply for [Student Life Programming Grants] SLPG and the Alumni Association Grant,” Stott wrote. “Homewood Arts also has a nominal amount of funds for each organization for the year for those who have issues making their fundraising goals.”

SGA Executive Treasurer Mi Tu wrote in an email to The News-Letter that SAC designates a specific part of the budget to each category of student group.

“We allocate [each performing arts group’s] budget by evaluating how many students attend their events, how big of an influence they have on campus and how many students are members of the group,” she wrote. “If there are more performing art groups, we will not be able to move money around, which will result in budget cuts in other groups.”

The constraints on spaces that performing arts groups could use were exacerbated in 2017 by the renovation of the Shriver Hall auditorium, which many groups use for performances. At the time the restrictions were introduced, Shriver was slated to reopen at the beginning of the spring 2018 semester. However, in February 2018, the University announced that the renovation was delayed and would be completed during the current academic year instead.

Because Shriver was closed, the annual Dance Orientation Show took place in the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) auditorium and the annual A Cappella Orientation Show took space in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy’s auditorium. Both have a smaller capacity than Shriver Hall. HAP, as a result, restricted entrance to only first-year students.

Bellantoni was disappointed that there was a cap on the number of students who could come to the A Cappella O-Show, since it is the only time all the a cappella groups would be performing in the same place at the same time. 

“There were lines out the door of freshmen who wanted to go to the concert but weren’t able to because of limited space,” she said.

Fallon agreed, adding that she wished O-Show had been open to the entire student body instead of only freshmen. 

Fallon added that during the Dance O-Show, at least a quarter of the BMA auditorium remained empty, which she did not believe would have been the case if it had been open to sophomores, juniors and seniors as well.

According to Stott, the Shriver renovation will be completed during the following spring semester, and spring showcases will be planned accordingly based on when it reopens.

In Fallon’s discussions with Beatty, she said she was told that if Shriver did reopen in the spring, the 22 dance groups would have six total days during which they could plan to have their showcases. 

“Showcase dates are up in the air for the spring,” Fallon said. “Whether Shriver will be open or not, we have no idea yet, which means that we can’t really plan our showcase until we find out when Shriver is opening.”

Bellantoni added that planning concerts at the end of the year is especially challenging, particularly as the number of performing arts groups increases.

“A lot of groups will want to have their concerts during the last few weekends of the school year,” she said. “As we get more and more groups, finding the best concert days gets really complicated, so we have to do a lot of inter-group negotiation.” 

She said that she understood where the University was coming from when they introduced the restrictions, but she wished that the administration could give more support to performing arts groups.

“With how much money Hopkins has and with how much we prioritize having a really vibrant campus community, it seems like Hopkins could do more to accommodate our student groups,” Bellantoni said.

Stott wrote that because she only arrived on campus this August, she would spend time during the upcoming year familiarizing herself with the organizational culture at the University. 

She wrote that she also plans on conducting a review of organizational challenges that student groups face and then making recommendations that would assist them. 

“The goal is that the ban will not need to continue with the organization review and the re-opening of Shriver in the next academic year,” she wrote. 

In order to achieve this, Stott stressed the importance of feedback from the Hopkins community.

“It will be important for students and University partners to provide input and feedback in these changes, and offer suggestions for improvement based on each organizations’ own experience,” she wrote.

According to Fallon, the rigor of the admissions process ensures that students admitted to Hopkins have diverse interests, to which she believes the University should be catering sufficiently.

“I don’t agree with telling people that they can’t start new clubs and have activities that mean something to them,” she said. 

Fallon added that these groups and activities have been particularly meaningful to her during her time at Hopkins. 

“The activities that mean a lot to me have kept me sane at such a stressful school,” she said.

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