The Crisis Of BC’s Art Spaces

The closing of the Spring Student Art Show last Thursday in the basement of Bapst Library has left the gallery empty, and potentially, closed for good. For most students walking into the library, the shut wooden doors to the gallery might not have much meaning, but for artists on campus, the indefinite closing of the Bapst Gallery represents a greater trend of student work being pushed out of the University’s public spaces.

A short walk through the halls of Stokes gives an unflattering perspective on Boston College’s treatment of student work in its recent expansion. There’s no hint of modesty in Stokes Hall’s faux-Gothic facade or golden-plated elevator doors. And while the building was predominately built for the classroom and office space, the architect found plenty of room left over for a lavish two-floor atrium, expansive seating area, and coffee bar. If the administration was looking to cut costs, someone forgot to tell the designers of this $88 million complex.

How strange is it, then, that not even a dime of the largest investment BC has ever made toward the humanities went toward creating space for student work? It’s blank walls and empty spaces for the thousands of students and faculty who pass through the building everyday. The proverbial nail never even made it into the wall of this massive development, and the only exhibition space established in the building was an ad hoc area put together by the history department for a recent comic book showing on the third floor.

The white walls are closing in on campus organizations looking to arrange student exhibitions. The BC Library network has been the one venue on campus particularly open to accommodating these groups, but there’s only so much room for artwork in libraries. In many cases, the student works accepted into the libraries end up in spaces that are nearly impossible to find. The fact that the closing of a gallery tucked away in a creepy basement foyer poses a real problem to anyone demonstrates just how desperate the situation has become.

Moving outside the libraries and academic building to the University’s ever-changing green spaces, there’s a similar problem of attractively laid out spaces with no real function. The trees on which banners once hung in the Main Quad are gone, and the pathways around the University have been reshaped to be so linearly oriented that BC’s outdoor spaces are no longer a venue for ideas and artwork.

What’s left is a very attractive campus with little to show. Students have no real way to claim space on their own campus, with flyers closely monitored, artistic spaces limited, pathways straightened, and even outdoor performances requiring approval. Administrators seem remarkably untroubled by the fact that they’re creating an academic setting with virtually no space to share ideas. BC continues to expand physically while simultaneously consolidating its outward appearance. The true identity of the University is hidden beneath a shallow facade maintained for little more than campus tours and information pamphlets.

When so much is done to keep studies inside the classroom, it’s no wonder that BC students seem so quick to separate their academic and social lives. The spirit of anti-intellectualism that so often characterizes the social culture at BC can be identified from the top down-the administration’s attitude that walls are best kept clean and quads are best kept tidy seems to reject everything a Jesuit education is said to promote.

Student and faculty artwork is now mostly confined to the fourth flour of Devlin Hall-and it belongs there no more than it belongs tucked away into the obscure corner of a library basement. Perhaps the closing of the Bapst Gallery will motivate students to challenge the University on its white-walled spaces. If BC is serious about investing in the humanities, providing more accessible and substantive areas for galleries in the University’s academic buildings is decidedly the next step. The way I look at it, the administration just unknowingly drove an $88 million nail into the wall. All that’s left is for someone to hang the frame.

 

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John Wiley was the Editor-in-Chief of The Heights in 2015. Follow him on Twitter @johnjaywiley.