Café at the Barker Center Hopes to Gain Greater Recognition

In the two years since its reopening, the renovated Arts and Humanities Café at the Barker Center has regularly hosted a range of arts events, but students and cafe managers say the cafe’s aspiration to be a campus arts center has yet to fully catch on.

Brandon R. Tilley, the cafe’s program manager, said he has been working to promote the space to a network of people beyond the “artsy kids and English-major types” that he typically sees in the establishment. He said he hopes people will come to view the café “as a place where students and student groups can pitch their own performances.”

Barker Center
The Barker Center is home to the Barker Center Cafe, where students can buy coffee, pastries, and sandwiches.

Tilley said the café hosts two to four open events per week, each with an average attendance of about 15 to 20 people. Common events include musical performances, open mic nights, and poetry readings. He said he wants to bring greater attendance to events at the café.

“Almost no event is as large as I would like it to be,” Tilley said. “Unless we’re packed to the gills, I always wish that there were more. I want there to be better name recognition.”

Some organizations that have used the space for events have reported having positive experiences.

On Oct. 11, the Harvard College Office of BGLTQ Student Life and Speak Out Loud held an open mic night at the café in recognition of National Coming Out Day.

Sheehan D. Scarborough, acting director of BGLTQ Student Life, and assistant director Khanh-Anh H. Le said they got the idea to host the event at the café unexpectedly through word-of-mouth but found it to be a good space for student engagement.

“The variety of seating at the café helped to create an intimate, casual feel,” Le said. “The physical space itself is also round, so it feels like you’re being embraced by the space.”

Other recent events at the Arts Café have included a Halloween-themed open mic night hosted by the Sloth and a live band performance by the Lighthouse Keepers.

According to Abigail L. Westover ’17, lead vocalist of the Lighthouse Keepers, the performance was well attended, with all seats filled by the end of the night. However, she said she believes awareness of the venue can still be increased.

“I think it’s still something that people don’t know about it. Especially if you’re not studying something where you’re in the Barker Center a lot,” Westover said.

Tiller said he has plans to diversify future events at the café by hosting interactive activities such as drawing and knitting in addition to arts performances, and hopes to solidify the café’s image as a space for the arts.

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