The building lies two miles away from campus. Its windows are boarded shut. The staircase is on the outside, so to go upstairs students must step outside into the blistering cold. The floor has a thick layer of dust on it, and mousetraps lie under the stairs. The kitchen is so dirty that it looks abandoned and unused.
Brandeis rents this dilapidated building for the fine arts students. While there is another building for fine arts on campus (Goldman-Schwartz), many senior students move to this building on Prospect Street (the Prospect Art Studio) for upper-level classes and space to work. The building also houses the Post-Baccalaureate students and their projects. This building highlights a major and consistent problem within Brandeis, a problem that concerns fine arts majors and all patrons of the arts.
“I think although we still offer one of the best undergraduate and Post-Baccalaureate programs in art in the country, our facilities have fallen behind many of the liberal arts schools with comparable art programs,” said Tory Fair, associate professor of sculpture.
Students speak even more passionately about the issue.
“That rental building on Prospect Street … It looks like a place someone would cook meth. When I first saw it, I thought it was an abandoned building, not the building I would be having classes in,” said Vikki Nunley ’14, a fine arts major. “Facilities all but forgets about us … it smells like poison when you walk in … I don’t think the floor has ever been cleaned. Ever. There is a fine layer of white dust on it.”
Nunley also stated that many of the art students worry about their art being ruined, due to the state of the building and its overcrowded nature.
“It is nice to have our own space for sure,” said Marissa Lazar ’14, a fine arts major and an Undergraduate Departmental Representative for the program. “But some issues people run into are transportation and also feeling separate from the rest of the FA department.”
Fair agrees that physically separating the senior arts students from the first-years and sophomores leads to a divide within the department.
“Beginning students and intermediate students have much less interaction with the advanced students, and we see this as a disadvantage. We are working very hard to bring all the art students on campus,” said Fair.
But perhaps the largest issue for students who take classes and work at the Prospect St. studio is its significant distance away from campus.
“Here’s how much Brandeis does not care about our safety or our department: There was no Bran Van service to the Prospect St. studios for the first three weeks of class. So the only way to get to class was to either walk or hope someone has a car and could drive. Most of us walked,” Nunley said. “But the worst part was trying to get to the studio outside of class. We have upwards of 15 hours of homework over the course of a week … you can’t do it in your dorm room. Do you know how many arguments I had with Brandeis dispatch to get picked up and dropped off at that studio at night?”
Nunley stated that she and fellow students do not feel safe waiting for a Bran Van outside on Prospect St.
“Standing out there, in my winter coat and sweatpants, cars driving by would shout lewd things to me,” Nunley said. “One time, a guy stopped, rolled down his window and called out to me, trying to get me into his car. I freaked out. All this I endured, just to get to the studio to do my homework. And Brandeis really just does not seem to care.”
In addition to the numerous problems surrounding the rented Prospect St. building, the Department of Fine Arts faces other challenges.
While the department has a materials budget and attempts to provide supplies for all students in varying disciplines from sculpture to painting, Fine Arts majors still must spend money out of their own pocket.
“If you are a fine arts major, you are expected to invest in certain materials beyond what we supply for advanced work. Materials are expensive and it is always a balancing act to make our budgets go as far as they can,” Fair said.
Nunley estimates that she and other fine arts majors pursuing a thesis spend upwards of $300 a semester on materials. She compares it to asking a chemistry major to buy his or her own chemicals for lab. “I knew a classmate who wanted to be an art major but had to drop it because it was too expensive. I don’t know any other major that continually spends as much money out of pocket as the art majors do,” she said.
“Classes provide canvas and certain mediums, but paint and paint brushes are bought by the students. Paints can be very expensive,” said Lazar, but she also acknowledged, “At the same time, textbooks can be expensive too.”
Fair states that while she does not know how the fine arts department’s budget compares to other departments, the varying nature of its majors place a large demand on the department’s funds. “I do know that we have a lot of needs because of the material and spatial demands in making art—whether it be a painting, a photograph, a sculpture or a video, all disciplines take resources,” she said.
Nunley thinks the department receives comparably less money. “Art is always the first thing to be scaled back or cut down because it’s not viewed as academic or taken seriously by anyone not in the department,” she said this week.
Despite these obstacles, students in the fine arts department routinely praise their professors.
“I personally love all of the FA professors I have had. They all care about their students and are very passionate about what they do,” said Lazar.
The fine arts department boasts a talented faculty who are famous in the art world, from Graham Campbell to Sean Downey. Despite this, all of the professors in the department (except for one professor who is cross-linked with Israeli studies) have been denied the official title of “professor.” All are listed as “Artist-in-Residence,” “Lecturer” or “Associate Professor.”
“The FA professors and staff members are wonderful, really. I know Joe Wardwell pushes really hard for more money and for moving out of the Prospect Street senior studios,” said Nunley. “They’re actually all really stellar, successful artists outside of being professors—most people don’t know how great the faculty is.”
As the spring semester marches forward, the fine arts department is determined to make a bigger splash on campus.
“We are working as hard as we can to bring better facilities to the arts. We are hopeful that the new strategic plan will prioritize our ambitions in the fine arts to highlight and celebrate the success of our program,” Fair said. “We are working to increase the size and visibility of our gallery that is now housed in the theater.”
Lazar has been trying to make an impact with Undergraduate Departmental Representative events. “As a UDR I am trying to make the FA department have more of a presence on campus … We have planned events such as movie nights and a Student Arts and Crafts Fair.”
Nunley has high hopes that Brandeis will find another, cleaner studio closer to campus and someday revive the art department.
“We are anxious to reach our full potential!” said Fair.