Upon entering the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance, it is clear that it is a home for the arts—or at least that’s how dancer Adrienne Hanson ’14 feels.
“You really feel the creativity when you walk in,” explained Hanson. “It’s incredible.”
Last year, walking to a painting class could take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. Prior to the opening of the Edwards Center in August 2013, the visual arts and dance classes were spread out around campus and throughout the town of Brunswick, most notably at Maine Street’s Fort Andross Mill. The new center—a $6.5 million renovation of the former Longfellow Elementary School—has created a unified home for the visual art and dance departments.
“In the building, we get to house all of the visual arts classes,” said Ella Blanchon ’16, a visual arts and government major.
According to Blanchon, the best thing about the new building—aside from the closer location—is its size.
“We just have so much more space to do things. Like six by seven foot paintings. That’s not something I would have ever been able to do in the VAC. There’s just not enough studio space,” said Blanchon. “It’s crazy how exciting it is to be able to think about a project on that scale. Before, the biggest you could go was maybe four feet.”
Blanchon said she loves having the new building. Last semester, she got her own studio with huge windows and natural lighting, which she said is “extremely important” for painting.
The new center has created many opportunities for creative synergy, but Blanchon doesn’t believe the intention of the building is to unify the visual and performing arts.
“To the extent we’re all in the same building, it’s unifying, but it’s tough, because there’s not a lot of cross over. We’re all very artistic and crazy...but that’s about where it ends. Everyone’s his or her own individual,” she said.
“I don’t think the aim of the building was to unify people...at least not to unify the visual and the performing arts. It was to be a gorgeous building where we can have all of the art department in one place.”
Paul Sarvis, senior lecturer in dance performance and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, noted that it’s still challenging to “function as a department” despite the new space. Some dance studios are still located in Memorial Hall, forcing professors to walk across campus.
Another key aspect of the new arts center is its ability to draw the attention of prospective students. Blanchon was looking for schools with beautiful arts centers when she was applying, and she was disappointed by the lack of an artistic epicenter at Bowdoin before the conception of the Edwards Center.
“[Art] wasn’t as ingrained here, and I think the new building really helps to facilitate a more artistic community,” said Blanchon. “It allows us to actually have shows in one place.”
Hanson agreed with Blanchon’s assessment of the Edwards Center as a pull for prospective students.
“I feel like that’s going to mean something for people looking at Bowdoin...knowing that the arts are a huge department and the professors here have wonderful things to offer,” she said.
“For the most part, the Edwards Center has been fantastic,” said Sarvis. “What had been previously just a prep room in the train station building that we moved from is now a studio being used for teaching, and it’s big enough so the student dance groups can use it for rehearsing.”
“Architecturally the spaces are inspiring to me, the high ceilings, the skylights, and the natural lighting.”
Sarvis noted that there have been some “building issues that still have to be worked out with regard to the air handling and heating systems and the dance floor, but those are getting addressed and will get worked out in the next couple of years.”
Hanson echoed some of Sarvis’ concerns about the building issues, and his assurance that the problems are being dealt with.
Sarvis recognizes the continuity the Edwards Center offers to Bowdoin’s artistic community.
“It’s delightful and really significant to be housed with visual art, because I think that dancing and visual art have a tremendous amount in common,” he said. “It’s kind of amazing what a difference it makes to just simply be passing people and have casual conversations that turn into substantive discussions about teaching or about art history and practice.”
Hanson’s only other complaint involves the availability of the building.
“I’m in a dance class, but I don’t have access to the other art studios or the media lab or even to the [dance seminar room],” she said. “I understand that the media lab has a lot of very expensive equipment, but [the lack of access] is a little frustrating, for someone like me who really finds such solitude here.”