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?SA holds hearing on construction of Moody Center

By Rachel Marcus Editor in Chief     2/26/14 7:56am

Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives Caroline Levander spoke at the Student Association senate to continue a conversation about the Moody Center for the Arts, SA External Vice President Ravi Sheth said.

“I have been hearing concern from some students around the purpose and vision for the Moody Arts Center, and thought that bringing Dr. Levander in to talk to students would be a great way to clear any confusion and make sure that we could start a clear and productive dialogue,” Sheth, a Martel College junior, said.

According to Levander, the Moody Foundation donated $20 million last February for the construction of a new Center for the Arts on campus. The building, which is set to be a 50,000-square-foot space that will encourage interdisciplinary arts-related projects, is set to be located across from the new Continuing Studies Building, in the space the current tennis facility occupies.

“The process has been protracted the last two years to develop a plan for more specific ideas about how the center would be used, the Rice Students Arts Council was formed. Associate Vice Provost Matthew Taylor chairs the council he has tasked with “understanding the range and depth of students’ creative and fine arts interests and activities.”

Lydia Smith, a Duncan College junior and member of the council, said that recent discussions have clarified the intended purpose of the center.

“[The Moody Center for the Arts] is going to be an interdisciplinary building that any student can use, but it’s going to be centered around the arts,” Smith said. “It is not going to be associated with any particular department.”

Sophie Eichner, a Lovett College sophomore and member of the council, said many students are unclear on the flexibility of the building’s purpose, but that the Center was endowed with an intended purpose.

“The 20 million dollars that was donated was specified to be for an interdisciplinary building,” Eichner said. “What I don’t think a lot of students realize is that endowments and their allocation of money often define what happens on campus, and we have to work within the restraints given to us.”

However, Eichner also said she acknowledges that the building has caused some controversy on campus.

“I think some frustration over the past couple of years has stemmed from the fact that there’s not going to be a new building for the art department,” Eichner, an Architecture and Visual and Dramatic Arts major said. “[The Moody Center for the Arts] is not going to be that. If you talk to people in the Visual and Dramatic Arts department - both faculty and student - some of them are frustrated because they’re not getting the building they want. But [that problem and the Moody Center for the Arts] are two separate conversations, and that’s what we as a committee have been grappling with, understanding, and moving forward from to have a productive conversation.”

Caitlin Young, a Baker College freshman, said she does not think the administration has taken the needs of arts students into consideration.

“For the theater department, they don’t put bathrooms in the dressing rooms, but you need a sink to wash off the makeup,” Young said. “They are just not logical. They have a committee of artists, but they won’t tell them what’s going on. They didn’t logically plan for what the arts building really takes. It’s not like a science lecture hall. You cannot just cut and paste the same thing. A lot of arts students feel that they are not valued by the administration.”

Smith, a Visual and Dramatic Arts and Anthropology major, said she thinks it is important for students to recognize the plans for the building are not particularly flexible.

“The money has already been allocated, and it’s going to be built as planned,” Smith said. “The best way to move forward is to really talk about how the building is going to be used and what interdisciplinary work really means for us as a campus.”

According to Eicnher, RSAC is concentrating on deciding how the building should be best used. She said that, while the function of the building was somewhat dictated by the endowment, the council has especially focused on exactly what interdisciplinary work means for Rice as a campus.

“‘Interdisciplinary’ is such a buzz word, and we like the idea of all these cool final products made through collaboration,” Eichner said. “But the process of reaching that end result is a lot more than just giving people a building. [People] need space, money, mentorship and a prompt of some sort. As students [on the committee], we’re starting to push the development of a process that students can engage with. That way, when the building comes, it’s used in a constructive way, and people know how to use it.”

Eichner also said the RSAC is trying to accurately represent the student perspective and make sure certain student restrictions are considered.

“There’s limits to how much time we have in our day, but there’s certain credit hours that have to  be filled for majors,” Eichner said. “Many students on this campus have incredibly demanding schedules, but need to be engaged in this space, so the committee comes in to make sure we’re working with students.”

Art History graduate student Katia Zavistovski said that she is looking forward to the opportunity students will have to use the space.

“I think potentially it will be an awesome opportunity for students, whether to show their arts or to curate shows there in the space,” Zavistovski said. “For art history students, they are more interested in going into museum work. It would be a wonderful opportunity to use the skill they are taught in the classroom to put into practice by actually exhibiting shows.”

According to Smith, the ultimate decisions regarding how the building functions and how it is integrated into campus will be dependent on a director, a faculty position that will be filled by a search committee led by Sarah Whiting, the School of Architecture Dean.

Regardless of the end product though, Eichner said the RSAC is working to ensure that the building is a collaborative space that helps to move Rice into the future.

“We’re looking to bring together existing departments,” Eichner said. “We have such strong individual departments, but they’re very segmented. Collaboration is where the innovations of the future are going to be happening. The whole push for entrepreneurship that has been happening on campus is very much linked to our conversation about interdisciplinary work. To have [successful] entrepreneurship, you need a good product or service, and that comes from people collaborating, working together, being creative.”

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