Andrew Siddons: Make space for the arts at GW

When the Columbian College tightened its purse strings last spring, there was a great deal of noise made about changes to the Music Department. Fortunately, as The Hatchet reported last week, those changes won’t affect as many students as was once feared.

Budget cuts also targeted another culturally oriented department – the film studies minor. Unfortunately, these changes have had a strong impact and have gone relatively underreported. The cuts that this department faces are indicative of an overall lack of support for student cultural and arts programs.

The tiny film studies department was founded in 1997, but only in 2001 did it receive the funding to hire a full-time film professor. In April of this year, the Columbian College told Peter Rollberg, director of the program, that the professor teaching Film Studies courses would need to be an adjunct, a lower-paid position compared to a full-time professor. This decision does not provide the department with the staff it needs.

What’s ironic about these budget cuts is that they affected a relatively popular department, presumably to make up for deficits caused by spending elsewhere. This sounds like a whacked business model, but it’s more reflective of our University’s whacked academic priorities. Last spring, the arguments in defense of the budget cuts basically claimed that the University ought to focus on our “comparative advantage” programs, the majors such as political science, economics, international affairs, journalism and others that ostensibly benefit from being located in the heart of the nation’s capitol.

The problem with this approach is that a campus swarming with even more suits talking about their I-don’t-care-where-you-interned-ships isn’t getting us closer to that U.S. News top 50, let alone any sort of higher academic quality. There are many devoted and intelligent GW students studying subjects that might not make it to the cover “The Economist,” and they shouldn’t have to transfer because they can’t find a mentor.

The University needs to exhaust its means in order to make sure that students and faculty are not limited academically. New full-time faculty positions are created every year, but too few of them go to arts programs. Just because a specific major is not packed with students doesn’t indicate lack of interest. There are 50 registered film studies minors, according to Rollberg, so somebody must be filling up those classes.

Beyond making an effort to stop cutting back on more film, theater, art and music programs, the University could also be doing more to support creative life outside the classroom. To its credit, their approach hasn’t been completely backwards. Living and Learning Communities have helped bring like-minded students together to discuss and create film, music, photography and art. A success story is the Soundtracks LLC, which helped bring together founding members of “The Sunday Mail” campus band. Now under the moniker “Jukebox the Ghost,” they remain a staple of GW’s music scene. The University also makes it pretty easy for bands like this to perform live, in venues such as the Hippodrome and the Mitchell Theater.

But these small spaces are less than adequate for GW’s incredibly active theater companies. Cramped performance areas similar to the Mitchell Theater and Lisner Downstage make some productions impossible and leave many potential theater-goers without seats. Even though a small percentage of the students here are involved in theater, talent still deserves a better place to thrive.

Last year, students living in the “Project G Street” townhouse were given the chance to make their own movie, an excellent opportunity. But after the Community Living and Learning Center gave one of the students’ most devoted mentors a different job, the residents were left without much guidance. Despite this, they managed to teach themselves a great deal about film production and completed a screenplay.

Efforts that GW can take to contribute constructively to the arts in our lives are self-evident, but it’s up to students to keep the administration on its toes. Anyone involved in movies, theater, art and music should let them know these things matter. After all, we could all use a little more culture here at GW.

-The writer is a senior majoring in political communication.

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