Walking through Harvard Yard this fall, it is hard to miss the brightly-colored chairs ordered by University President Drew G. Faust’s common spaces initiative, but the performing artists meant to entertain those sitting in the chairs are not always so obvious.
Last Friday, Banda Roncati—an Italian marching band that was in town to play in that weekend’s Honk Parade—performed in the open space between the Science Center and the yard despite the drizzling rain.
Though not heavily publicized, the band attracted a diverse crowd of about 40, including small children and parents, tourists walking through campus, and several sections of “Italian C” students.
Brian D. Goldstein, a student at the Graduate School of Design and a member of the Committee on Common Spaces said that providing for performances has always been a major element of the committee’s plan. For the yard as a common space to be successful, he said, there needs to be more than just chairs, and the performers and food carts are an effort to make the space more attractive.
Faust’s initiative also aims to provide a common space that is more open to people outside Harvard, unlike the Harvard-centric Lamont Café and Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub.
Though one student said that the space is too open and criticized the fact that it attracts more than just the Harvard community, Lizabeth Cohen, a professor of American studies and head of the committee on common space said that “if people in the community want to sit down that is fine. We have open gates, we are not living behind bars.”
Although there were students in the crowd enjoying the playful the school.
Scott A. Sherman ’13 and two classmates who stopped to listen had not known of the event beforehand and were unsure what type of music the band was playing.
“I did not intentionally come out for this,” Sherman said. “The crowd caught my eye as I was walking back from Annenberg.”
As flocks of other freshmen walked by, few stopped to listen.
The two other freshman standing with Sherman noted that they were unsure where to learn about musical events in the yard. Though the performances are not heavily publicized, Cohen stressed that the they were not conceived to be large productions but rather to supplement the common space.
“The point [of the performances] is to have them out there, so when the weather is nice, people drop in,” she added.
Cohen emphasized that a primary purpose of the chairs in the Yard is to experiment and see how Harvard can improve social interactions with resources that are already available.
“We have learned that it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference,” Cohen said. “Putting out those chairs and tables in the Yard was not a major construction project but has changed the social environment on campus.”
While she said that the fall’s experiment has been a success, the committee’s next challenge is to see which new space can be used with the coming winter.
The chairs will be put away at the end of October, and new common space will be sought.