The move to reduce Heimbold Visual Arts Center’s hours has drawn frustration from SLC students and garnered confusion about the exact reasoning behind the change. Previously, the building was open 24-7, but this year it closes at 2 a.m. every morning until opening again five hours later at 7.
Many art and film students use resources for their work that are only available in Heimbold. Some say the demanding schedules for students requires staying through the night, and that the new limitations have affected their work. Heimbold staying open until 4 AM instead of 2 has been suggested as a compromise between the old hours and the new ones, with the argument discussed inconclusively in Student Senate. Not everyone considered the alternative sufficient when it was mentioned at the Town Hall meeting on October 22nd.
Student Vered Engelhardt pointed out, “No one’s up at seven to do art, but people are up til seven to do art. What if my video is buffering? Am I going to leave and lose my video?” No students present spoke in defense of the compromise.
A petition has been created to restore Heimbold’s 24-7 hours, which has 300 signatures so far. Amit Sankaran, the creator of the petition, commented, “I am only familiar with how this has impacted film and animation students, and I know that this is a problem. Most film projects need more than 24-7 access to a computer in order to render things out (which is usually a long process). Closing Heimbold at 2 a.m. means that students whose projects need more computing time would need to be in the lab all day, which isn’t feasible under a full Sarah Lawrence workload.”
Sankaran continued, “We used to joke that you’re not a film student until you’ve slept on the floor of the Ziskin Lab waiting for footage to process. That’s not an anomaly--digital filmmaking and animation requires hours to be put in without interruption. If I’m now forced to start a render and leave at 2 AM, I run the risk of something going wrong and only discovering it six hours later, after the damage has been done. This is an unacceptable risk, especially when you’re handling footage from a film that you’ve spent hundreds of hours and potentially thousands of dollars on.”
Many of the programs film students rely on are only available on the school’s computers, not typically on their own, as they are expensive and/or specialized. Engelhardt points out that visual arts students, too, face the same constraints, saying, “You can’t work on your sculpture in the MacCracken study room.”
The reasoning behind the new policy is complex. Professor of Film Fred Strype explained that he is, “still working with the administration and the other stakeholders in Heimbold regarding this situation. It’s an exploration in balancing the circumstances and needs of the college with the aims and need of the students and the heretofore existent culture of the building.”
At the Town Hall, Senior Class President Kurt Santana explained that, “Last year there was an individual [in the building] who doesn’t go to Sarah Lawrence, and it was a security scare.” The school has voiced concern about leaving the building open without someone to sign in visitors, and administration considered it too expensive to pay for a secuirty guard to monitor Heimbold for a full 24 hours.
There is a perceived lack of communication about the policy, according to Sankaran. “The general response from students and faculty has been similar. I’m not sure who, if anyone, was consulted about potential impacts on student work before this decision was made, and students and faculty were caught equally off guard.”
The policy has been discussed to some extent with student government, with Gary Burnley representing the visual arts faculty. However, Senior Class President Toya Singh remarked, “We had an entire meeting where there wasn’t a [cost of operation] figure brought up.”
The restoration of 24-7 hours for Heimbold Visual Arts Center now relies on finding both the funding to pay building security and enough workers able and willing to cover all of the hours. SLC has determined that there needs to be a building monitor always present for the building’s security, despite Heimbold’s main doors only unlocking during late hours to those with a student ID card. Controversy over the hours appears likely to continue unless a decision is reached that satisfies both the academic needs of students alongside SLC’s financial and security concerns.
JM Stewart '18