As an institution, Bowdoin has consistently shown an admirable dedication to the arts. A visitor to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art over the course of this year alone might have seen outstanding exhibitions of Grecian urns, Assyrian relief sculptures, Bronze Age Chinese vessels, and works by Edward Hopper, Henri Matisse and Käthe Kollwitz. The College has spent a fortune enhancing its arts facilities—most notably, the $20.8 million renovation and expansion of the museum and the $15 million renovation that transformed what had been the campus pool into a state-of-the-art performance hall. But Bowdoin's institutional support for the fine arts often fails to extend beyond these conspicuous gestures, and among students, a culture surrounding visual arts is strikingly invisible.
The College has an unfortunate tendency to sequester its art community, confining exhibits to strictly arts-related buildings like the Visual Arts Center and the museum. By doing this, our arts culture is isolated in buildings that are mostly inhabited by students already arts-inclined; meanwhile, Smith Union is adorned with schmaltzy photographs that would be more at home in Bowdoin Magazine. Imagine a Smith Union or Thorne Dining Hall bedecked with teabag and eggshell sculptures, charcoal drawings, photographic portraits, and oil paintings. The College would clearly benefit from more public art: Besides the improvements it would afford the College's appearance, it would be a welcome symbolic sign that the fine arts are celebrated here.
There are more practical barriers to Bowdoin's fine arts culture as well; the spaces in which students make art are far-flung. Sculpture students who once worked on the top floor of Adams Hall must now trek to Fort Andross for class, a requirement expected of students in no other department. Photography students and senior majors make their art in McLellan while printmaking students work the presses in Burnett House, and architecture, painting and drawing students produce projects in the VAC. Despite there only being 12 visual arts senior majors, only a handful knew one another at the year's start, reflecting a lack of solidarity in the department largely because these students have spent the past three years in different buildings on and off campus.
As the College determines how it will use the newly-acquired Longfellow School, we hope it will prioritize the fine arts. A unified space would give the department coherency and breed the community of peers many artists consider essential to their practice.
Arts events on campus consistently experience tepid student attendance, and out of all of Bowdoin's approximately 100 student organizations, only one is devoted to the fine arts. The failure of our student body to engage with art to a degree that reflects Bowdoin's financial investments indicates a problem that may begin before students even matriculate. The College must admit more students interested in the visual arts in order to promote a more robust arts culture. The Board of Trustees will be meeting this weekend to discuss Bowdoin's admissions strategy for upcoming years, and we hope that it pays close attention to the arts when considering admissions priorities. This will require some tough but necessary trade-offs. The College should focus on filling its museum, not just with Winslow Homers, but with students who appreciate them.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Zoe Lescaze.