"An Artists' Union!" proclaimed posters throughout Carpenter Center this October, signaling the development of one of Harvard's newest student organizations. Now known as the Art Students' Caucus (ASC) after full approval from Dean Epps and CHUL, the group is settling down to work on projects that emphasize its primary goal: encouraging students and faculty in the visual and environmental arts to adopt a collective approach and a spirit of interaction concerning arts-related issues.
The caucus, which now includes about 50 students, (mostly VES concentrators) has evolved rapidly from the small group that began meeting weekly near the start of classes this September.
What led to the formation of such a group? Consider first of all what it's like to study art at an institution like Harvard. Students do stand to gain in many ways. By feeding their art work with diverse intellectual experiences, artists here are exposed to an inter-disciplinary approach that art schools alone can't offer. "I'm sure if people had wanted to go to art schools, they would have," says Adrienne Booth '80, a charter member of ASC.
But conflicts inevitably result. It pays to take courses outside the VES department, yet between required studio time and hours spent on course assignments, many students find they have little time left for private artwork. Moreover, many find it difficult to maintain a serious self-image as an artist in an environment of such traditional academic attitudes: an environment pervaded by ignorance and misconceptions of the visual arts and of the VES department.
Combine this with the fact that in the past, VES majors and other Harvard artists have enjoyed only very limited contact and interchange among themselves. Carpenter Center is the only building in the Western Hemisphere by famous architect Le Corbusier. Artistically it is an incomparable treasure, a feather in Harvard's cap; yet its imposing structure does not encourage aggregation or socializing. Film and photography students who work in the building's basement and studio artists from the upper floors rarely see each other. This isolation has been compounded by the lack of all-department events and activities.
Additional difficulties have stemmed from the fact that the Visual and Environmental Studies Department is among the newest at Harvard, fairly small, and struggling for more financial support from the University. Many studio courses depend on fees, an almost unheard of situation in the sciences. The small but dedicated faculty have virtually achieved miracles within the limitations of space and budget that have affected teaching, studying and exhibitions. Yet the department chairman, Lou Bakanowsky has been much quoted for his remark that "the visual arts need to be more visible."
The Art Students' Caucus, then, functions as a response to these various pressures, a support system ready and organized to assume a more active role for Harvard's artists. The specific aims of the ASC are nowhere stated more clearly than in its charter and bylaws: --To further cooperation among members of the visual arts community at Harvard-Radcliffe.
--To promote the display of student art at Harvard-Radcliffe.
--To inform residents of the Harvard and Boston/Cambridge communities of student activities and projects in the visual arts at Harvard-Radcliffe.
--To collect and make available to its members information pertaining to
a. classes, lectures, exhibitions, etc. of special interest.
b. grants, fellowships, and other funding available (mainly for undergraduates) for projects and studies in the visual arts.
c. job opportunities in the visual arts.
d. gallery and exhibition space available to student artists.
e. other events and opportunities in the visual arts.