By David Thiel with illustrations by Dongik Lee
For Deerfield Magazine, Spring 2013
Look around you.
Every artificial object you see has been created—often by a team. And in nearly every case, whether you’re examining an item of fashion or of engineering or of hard science, there was an artist on the team that developed it. The final product of most material endeavors—and most virtual ones—bears the clear marks of artistic involvement. Your car, your phone, your desk, the morning paper, and even your coffee cup, is a product of artists collaborating with engineers, manufacturers, authors, editors, and baristas.
Art is everywhere.
Look around again. The space you’re in was likely designed with a purpose in mind. Whether you’re sitting in a comfy chair or at a conference table, there’s little debate that environments have a significant influence on the work done within—why else would we spend so much time and money on architecture and design? Spaces have the ability to transport us into a mode of work, a moment in memory—or even a state of mind. The art of space is in what it creates within us.
The unique blend of artistic endeavor and purpose-built environment sometimes finds its locus in museums, but even more often is employed in classrooms, studios, and workshops. Deerfield is investing in just that sort of thing.
Originally opened in 1952 to honor the boys who risked—and gave—their lives in World War II, the Memorial Building remains the place of introduction to Deerfield. Here students awkwardly introduce themselves in the first days of school and express their love and sorrow on the night before graduation. Here students find their footing making announcements, shouting one-liners from the balcony, or putting a speaker on notice with a particularly astute question.
This place of tradition offers opportunities like no other on campus: It is a safe place to take risks. On stage and in the studio, students expand their talents and knowledge in ways that are sometimes a bit scary—but they gain confidence when our community gathers in support. This vital rhythm—of risk and reward, of private effort and public performance—is established in Deerfield’s arts program, and no more appropriate place could be designated for its incubation than the Memorial Building, which literally and figuratively sits at the heart of campus.
Beginning on June 3 and wrapping up in August of 2014, the Memorial Building will undergo a transformation. The renovated building will reinvigorate old spaces, translating some to new purposes while simply reinforcing others against the throes of modern use. It will also address some practical issues. Music practice rooms are loud, and work well in the basement, whereas the visual arts need quiet light and might benefit from excavation. The Large Auditorium doesn’t quite fit everyone, so more seats are needed. Currently, the theater program has improvised a classroom in what is actually a gallery, but after the renovation they’ll have a dedicated space. A larger gallery and a new concert hall are explicit additions to the building.
Under the guidance of Senior Manager of Construction Projects and Planning Jeffrey Galli, preparing for the renovation has been a collaborative process. Design was handled by Architectural Resources Cambridge (ARC), with significant input from faculty and staff members who will teach and work in the building. From storage spaces to acoustics, no aspect of the arts center was left unexplored. Recognizing the wisdom of direct experience, custodians were asked to weigh in on practical matters such as the most efficient way to remove trash and recycling, while arts faculty contributed to the details in studios and gallery spaces.
Mechanically, new systems will bring greater efficiency and creative opportunity. A modern recording studio will see updated equipment and booths wired for sound. Classrooms will gain projection equipment and speedy Internet access—all the better for accessing digital art collections. Communications systems (vital when coordinating a theater production) and things like lighting and staging controls will be upgraded for greater speed and reliability; they will also provide students with direct experience in working with professional quality accouterments. Details like combinations of fixed lights and adjustable track lighting in art studios will allow for greater flexibility and creativity. Distinct spaces, such as a digital print room, will be created for new media that wasn’t even a consideration when the arts facilities were last renovated. The building’s mechanicals will be upgraded, gaining a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating in the process, and providing cost savings as well as greater comfort.
One major improvement is hard to describe: circulation. In the same way that blood vessels deliver vital nutrients and oxygen, circulation space in a building helps it breathe and bring in new life. From a practical standpoint, circulation aids artistic endeavors—making the movement of materials, instruments, scenery, and other essential components easier—but philosophically, it is essential in welcoming people. The Memorial Building (today) is labyrinthine and fragmented, and only the steadfast explore its inner areas; those who do are rewarded stunning troves of unappreciated excellence. Circulation means that Academy art collections of both student work and major pieces, will soon see dedicated and accessible space—out in the light.
Temporarily relocating aspiring artists, dancers, and thespians for the 2013-2014 academic year has been a challenge, but one that students, faculty, and the administration have met with aplomb. Some classes, such as music, will relocate to modular buildings on the east side of campus. Visual artists just might find their temporary housing inspirational—particularly if their focus happens to be on the local area—since the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association has graciously agreed to share its space. Theater Director Catriona Hynds will hold classes and performances in Historic Deerfield’s White Church; she says the venue has amazing potential when it comes to innovative staging. Dancers will spread out across campus—from the third floor of the Main School Building (which already contains a dance studio) to the Kravis and Stoltzfus rooms. All agree that these inconveniences are a fair admission price to the new and improved arts center.
Ask a group of eight-year-olds “How many of you can draw?” and you’ll face a sea of raised hands. Yet the same question asked of 18-year-olds is often greeted with stunned silence and grudging excuses of “no talent” or “no time.” Society has long believed that the presence of art demonstrates a community’s sense of well-being, and yet has historically de-prioritized the arts in education. The 18-year-olds in question don’t lack talent, they lack training. While they were drilled on reading, writing, and arithmetic, schools have often treated art as “extra.”
But that’s changing.
The world has gained perspective on art’s extrinsic, quantifiable value—and not just that it can be a hook for college. Art teaches essential “21st century skills” in communication, collaboration, abstract thinking, and aesthetics. Through art, students learn some of the most important aspects of character: curiosity, confidence, empathy, and risk taking. Even the fundamentals of “practice makes perfect” is a core skill for artists that is often lacking in other disciplines. Inviting feedback on your work, delivering a monologue, or collaborating with an ensemble can be a potent learning experience.
Engagement with the arts—both as a producer and an observer—is an essential skill that everyone can learn. The arts are not something that require innate talent, but instead are a product of training, practice, and feedback. By investing in arts spaces, the Academy is not only signaling its dedication to this view, but addressing the practical aspects of teaching and learning in the 21st century. ••