What is C.A.T.S.? Inside SLC's Independent Arts Collective

A poster for C.A.T.S., an independent arts collectice on campus. Photo courtesy of Shy Adelman

A poster for C.A.T.S., an independent arts collectice on campus. Photo courtesy of Shy Adelman

 Voices bounce off the high ceilings and bright walls of room 106 on Oct. 3, demanding the attention of any passerby shuffling through the dark outer basement of Heimbold. A box of half-eaten donuts lies on the table, the leftover evidence of someone’s recent return from the city. Six students sit on one side of a long rectangular table, spitballing ideas for the theme of their next show. These students are part of Creative Arts Thinking Space, also known as C.A.T.S.

According to their mission statement, C.A.T.S. is a “student-run collective supporting and engaging the creative arts community at Sarah Lawrence College.” Past show themes have included “Everything Must Go,” the last show of the 2014-15 school year where work could be bought, sold, or traded; “Kiss Me Thru the Screen,” a showcase of art representing love in the digital age; and “SLC Anon,” where all work was anonymous and willing artists were then revealed in a zine visitors took home. After roughly 30 minutes of open discussion, the next show’s theme is decided upon: “What’s in Your Backpack?”

Started in 2009 by a group of students, including Simran “Simi” Johnston and Zoe Alexander Fisher, who co-founded the Brooklyn gallery 99¢ Plus, C.A.T.S. has existed independently of SLC administration every year since then. Although there has always been a core group of students who organize the events—namely, those who participate regularly in meetings and shows—anyone can become involved to whatever extent interests them. 

According to Shy Adelman (’18), who has been involved since her freshman year, C.A.T.S. tries not to emphasize membership, but instead strives to be a space where all people feel included and involved. Gabby Johnson (’18) believes this objective is better reached through the group’s being an independent collective. 

“I think [C.A.T.S.] works better being less attached to administration,” Johnson said. “It was started by students who just wanted to do it and thought it was necessary to have something like C.A.T.S. So I feel like it being something that the students continue because they want it for themselves as opposed to administration pushing it on students to continue is good.”

Inclusivity, and the need for more inclusiveness this year, was a main talking point at the Monday night meeting. Luca Casson-Milstein (’19) suggested pushing the C.A.T.S. social media presence to a wider audience, while Adelman discussed the circulation of more posters with Johnson. 

“We weren’t inclusive enough last year, and so pretty much this year we’re trying to make it much more of a welcoming environment,” Casson-Milstein said. “Not that we had any intention last year of making it seem closed, but this year we want to make sure everyone knows that no matter what, you can submit whatever and you’re part of C.A.T.S. because it’s not a club.”

While most C.A.T.S. participants can agree that administrative involvement is not the right choice for the group, it also means there is no club funding involved and students are on their own for any extra costs. According to Adelman, however, this has not been a problem with setting up shows. Equipment can be rented from the A.V. desk and promoting events online is cost-free. In the past, shows have exhibited projects of varied media, including projected images and short films on portable televisions. 

Any student can submit work to display at a C.A.T.S. show by emailing catssubmissions@gmail.com or through the C.A.T.S. Gryphonlink portal. If a student wishes to remain anonymous, work can also be submitted through Tumblr at slccats.tumblr.com/submit. To become involved in organizing shows, any student can participate: meetings occur every first Monday of the month at 9 p.m., in either the Heimbold Atrium or basement room 106.

Gloria Cowdin '19

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The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.