Randa Zammam: The fight to save the arts isn’t over

After brutal budget cuts to the music department last semester, you couldn’t go 10 minutes without hearing someone rant about saving the arts at GW. But this academic year, I haven’t heard much about it.

Last month, I attended a play put on by the theater and dance department starring some of my fellow students. “The Basilisk of Barnagasso” was funny and exceptionally well done, yet I was upset to look around at the rest of the audience and see that less than half of the 425 seats were filled on its opening night.

As I walked back home from the Marvin Center, a bitter thought crossed my mind. Last semester’s drastic cuts to the music program prevent any non-majors or minors from taking music classes, and this semester, we saw cuts to the creative writing department. Little by little, the University continues to chip away at the programs that students rely on for a creative relief from their other classes or to have a well-rounded education. So why aren’t students taking the time to support the arts?

In the spring, a 16-hour protest concert brought students together in solidarity against the budget cuts that hit music the hardest, but it seems like student activists have forgotten the cause since then. Students should work harder to convince the University that they care about the arts and other creative programs at GW – and that effort starts with attending productions, poetry slams and other events on campus.

Sometimes social media works, but an online presence will never match the value of real-life advocacy. Students last year brought attention to program cuts with the hashtag #SavetheArtsGW, but bringing awareness and actually doing something are two completely different things. These cuts affect students and professors alike, so we can’t assume that tweeting and posting on Facebook is enough. If you care about the arts, you have to put in the time and effort to prove it.

Each of us can accomplish amazing things in our respective programs and it would be a shame if more funding was lost because we failed to support each other. It doesn’t make sense for students to launch a widespread campaign against budget cuts but then not do everything we can to support them now by actually showing up to student productions and concerts. I refuse to believe that #SavetheArtsGW was just a phase in our temporary campus activism.

The best way to grab officials’ attention is to endorse the arts, though there’s no proven formula for how to reverse a decision to make cuts to vulnerable programs. The University may regard our complaints now as noise unworthy of consideration, but one thing they do pay attention to is money. If students support the arts in the most practical way of old-school attendance, then GW will notice consistently packed auditoriums or sold-out shows and performances. It’s up to us to prove that we’re not just all talk.

If the University sees an influx of participation in the arts, officials will want to capitalize on its prospects. GW only recently acquired the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, so it would make sense for the school to boost the arts if students are interested, rather than cut them down. By having a robust arts program that garners student attention and attendance, the University may be able to attract more talented students.

One step in the right direction is for the departments to start advertising and promoting their own upcoming events. As a student who isn’t fully immersed in the arts, it’s hard for me to find out about theater productions or a band’s concerts unless I’m personally told about them. Even just a University-wide email, like the ones we receive that promote basketball games, could increase awareness of upcoming opportunities for students to come and support the arts. Most of us receive notifications about the big events at Lisner Auditorium, but we need to be better informed about smaller shows and events put on by students.

Of course, not every student has the time or the money to go to concerts and performances. Even free shows can cost students, since they may conflict with shifts at work or their only free time to do homework. But those of us who have the time and the money should support the programs and extracurriculars that are important to us.

We can’t allow the University to continue cutting funding for programs about which they think we don’t care. Student engagement in the GW community has always been a bit lacking, but if we all band together, maybe that would grab officials’ attention.

Randa Zammam, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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