Arts First is the Prague Spring of Cambridge's artistic life: It is the brief efflorescence of forces at work beneath the surface throughout the year. And, like Prague's spring, its emergence into the austere landscape is soon repressed by the dominant forces within the community.
In conversations with The Crimson, three students elaborated the frustrations and rewards of the work they put into last weekend's Arts first festival, and reflected upon the grander scheme of artistic activity at Harvard. Their testimony reveals the neglect of the arts, and the struggle some students undertake to revive them.
One of the most talked-about events of Arts First was the premiere of the film "Silent Blessings," by Roberto Buso-Garcia '94 of Lowell House.
Although the film ran only once and lasted only 28 minutes, its making took an entire year. But Buso-Garcia would not have spent the time any other way: "It's my life," he says. As for academics, he jokes, "You squeeze it in somehow."
Buso-Garcia's experience making the film exemplifies the time, effort, and deep personal commitment that students involved in the arts invest every day in order to produce the works in the annual two-day celebration. Maria Elena Alvarado '94, who worked on the film, recalls the early morning hours spent shooting the film. "We'd get up at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning in order to be filming from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.," she says. "And it was very cold, too."
Buso-Garcia's quest for funding, and his realization that Harvard lacks the infrastructure to support independent filmmakers, led him to form Harvard-Radcliffe Filmmakers, a group devoted to helping students produce la***.
As he exclaims to his best friend, "Words! Words! A word like 'power' means nothing without action behind it!" By the end of the 28-minute film, Sebastian and his brother have resolved some of their frustrations through action, turning their words into realities.
"Freshman year I had the revelation that the one biggest obstacle to going beyond ordinariness--to extraordinariness--is that we live in a world--especially at Harvard--where the word is everything," he says. "How useful is theory? You say you're a writer, you say you're a filmmaker. But you're not until you make the film."
Another student who strives to turn words into art is Brodie B. Fox '96, a sophomore in Cabot. He organized an art show in his house and was part of another last weekend.
Fox's plan of study indicates his devotion to art, Although the Committee on Joint Degrees took two years to approve his plan of study--a dual concentration in Visual and Environmental Studies and Biology--Fox insists the effort was worth it. "Art is something I knew I couldn't give up," he says.
Fox feels he has a calling to bring art, and awareness of it, to Harvard. After working for weeks to drag artwork out of a house that started out apathetic, interest caught, and he even received submissions "from Gov majors."
The barrier to the acceptance of the arts at Harvard, Fox believes, is simple ignorance. "Cabot has these amazing resources that all lie dormant," Fox says. "The visual arts are never brought up in Cabot."
He eventually hopes to start an "underground arts network" with people he met while organizing the show. The group has no formal plans yet, but they hope to do at least something artistic on a regular basis in their house.
Melissa-Ann Weisman '95, of Agitprop, speaks with an almost missionary fervor about making students more aware of all forms of art.
"I'm trying to get people more aware that there are different ways of approaching art," she says. "I'm concerned people believe there's a hierarchy involved, that there's high art and low art. But this binary view isn't necessarily true."
During Art First, Weisman displayed photos of the rooms that won a competition she organized to look at creative use of space. Her project of examining rooms makes the simple artistic, and literally puts are in the students' realm.
It also gets rid of the problem that most people here have no time to do artwork or to go see it in museums. Instead, Weisman's project makes the student the *** their every day life.
*** between the artist and the viewer, and broadens the experience of a work from the individual to a group. "I guess what Agitprop hopes to get is some kind of common experience, common enthusiasm, "Weisman says. "It's our responsibility to bring art to them."
But far from it being a duty, she calls art a "rich sensory experience." Anyone who has spent 10 minutes at Harvard knows we could use more of those, in public places and elsewhere.
Agitprop, Harvard-Radcliffe Filmmakers and the fledgling Cabot network will hopefully all encourage students to look to their aesthetics. They aim to keep "arts first" for more students during more of the year.
"When Arts First is gone, maybe something new will be generated," speculates Fox. In a place where arts are too often underground--or underfunded--let's hope so.