University President Ronald J. Daniels announced on Tuesday, March 5 that the University plans to build a student center where the Mattin Center is currently located. If you happened to stop by the Beach that night, I expect that in 10 years — which is when I ignorantly estimate the student center will be constructed — you will remember listening to bass-heavy music, waiting in a ludicrously long line for free food and frolicking on unfortunately ephemeral seesaws.
What you might not remember (or know), however, is that all this short-lived pizzazz was celebrating Shriver Hall’s reopening after three semesters of renovations — not Daniels’ proclamation. In fact, the celebration immediately followed a ceremony at Shriver that shone a spotlight on the talent of student performing arts groups, who will now finally be able to continue using Shriver as a performance space. I have set out to write this article in an attempt to prevent Hopkins students from — as they are stereotypically wont to do — forgetting about and overshadowing the arts.
The reopening ceremony at Shriver began with the Octopodes, the oldest a cappella group on campus, singing Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.” For those of you who aren’t connoisseurs of Motown music, the tune’s chorus begins with “I wish those days could come back once more.”
The Octopodes’ invigorating plea for those glory days to return foreshadowed Daniels’ subsequent remarks. Daniels recounted how in 1954, when Shriver first opened, the Barnstormers staged a play written entirely in Anglo-Saxon and set in the year 999. Shriver is now once again able to house student performances and host the likes of Robert Frost and Kurt Vonnegut.
“Today in 2019, this place is truly worthy of the vital role it has long played on Homewood Campus as the lodestar of performing arts at Hopkins and one of our chief connections to the wider world,” Daniels said.
Indeed, following its $14-million remodeling, Shriver now sports enhanced stage and electronic systems, including LED lighting fixtures, a 36 microphone soundboard and a digital projection apparatus. Daniels shared an anecdote about a renowned British poet who came to Shriver in 1955. He stressed how improvements to Shriver had been a long-lasting necessity.
“When Dame Edith Sitwell swept onstage in a giant white cloak and gold-encrusted hat, every one of the thousand people who had come to hear her fell silent. She began to read. Then she stopped,” he said. “A strange noise was emanating from her microphone or, as she put it, ‘an unfortunate moaning sound.’ Dame Edith soldiered on, but before she left that night, she remarked in her full-throated English, ‘Something will have to be done.’ And so, although it’s been 64 years since Edith Sitwell’s reading, something has finally been done to Shriver Hall.”
After Daniels’ address, the Beta Zeta Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada (SIA), the sole Latina-based sorority at Hopkins, gave energizing performances of various songs and dances. The Lan Yun Blue Orchids, a traditional Chinese dance group, followed SIA and swayed across stage to more soothing music, adroitly wielding multicolored parasols with unyielding smiles.
Next, junior Karter Burnett and sophomore Giuliana Nicolucci-Altman delivered spoken-word poetry. Both were ingenious and captivating speakers. Burnett’s poem portrayed the theme of systemic oppression, contrasting two definitions of the word “sentence.” Whereas a set of words followed by a period is complete, Burnett recited, society will forever relegate them to the prison of being silenced.
“My sentence has no end,” they said. “There’s no limit to my suffering.”
Nicolucci-Altman began by professing her love for her mother, who immigrated from Brazil and in doing so, brought Nicolucci-Altman to a new motherland, filled with false hope.
“This motherland, she picks favorites, calls some of her children lazy, ungrateful,” she said. “This mother, she blames us for her problems, makes us do the dirty work, then hides behind white columns, makes us feel invisible, now suddenly we’re criminal.”
Nicolucci-Altman continued, exploring how the U.S. abuses immigrants and people of color. I particularly enjoyed her characterization of the Statue of Liberty as the “green Siren of Ellis Island,” which encapsulates Nicolucci-Altman’s declaration that the American dream is just a dream.
Next, Shakti, a competitive classical Indian dance team at Hopkins, displayed their evocative and masterful choreography. Their performance was a narrative told through dramatic music and dance that seemed to render power struggles and a spectrum of emotions.
After remarks from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger, Baila!, the University’s only Latin dance team, concluded the ceremony. They were electrifying and magnetic.
In an interview with The News-Letter, junior Nikki Garcia said she appreciated the opportunity to showcase in their original venue and she remarked on how much Baila! has grown.
“It was heartwarming to perform in Shriver because that’s where I first performed with Baila! my freshman year,” she said. “We have improved so much since then as a team, and it just felt right to perform at Shriver for its reopening.”
Finally, all the student groups who had performed returned to stage, joined by someone wearing the Blue Jay mascot, whose look, like Shriver, was also transformed in February. They danced along to The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” filling me with nostalgia for B’nai Mitzvah parties. Attendees left Shriver and headed to the Beach, passing members of the Johns Hopkins Entertainers Club playing with fire on Wyman Quad.
Many students have criticized the baby blue paint at the center of Shriver’s façade. And I think it’s fitting to question whether there was another façade at Shriver on March 5, namely, the University’s support of the arts. Indeed, the reopening ceremony served as a stepping stone to Daniels’ proclamation of a student center, whose construction will demolish Swirnow Theater, one of the Barnstormers and Witness Theater’s major performance spaces. I’m grateful that Blue Jay fetuses will get to enjoy a student center. But the loss of the Mattin Center will deprive students of the multifaceted gem that is the Digital Media Center, as well as the only visual arts spaces on campus. Administrators have failed to comment on how they will address these concerns.
In sum, Shriver’s reopening ceremony was lovely; you shouldn’t forget about it. The University shouldn’t forget about the arts either.