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Despite Arts Everywhere initiative, UNC arts staff feels neglected by University

Moving forward after Arts Everywhere Day, UNC has a long term goal of increasing interest in the arts.

Arts initiatives like Arts Everywhere are creating a public platform for the arts at UNC, integrating them into campus life through new events, performances and installations of public art. But despite this visible appreciation for the arts, there are still signs of internal neglect.

In October 2017, UNC launched the Campaign for Carolina, a fundraising campaign with an ambitious goal of raising $4.25 billion by the end of 2022. Arts Everywhere, established in 2016, was taken under its wing and became one of the campaign’s signature initiatives. One of the initiative’s stated goals is to prioritize funding for the arts and Ackland Art Museum. 

Rachel Ash, associate director of Arts Everywhere, said she hopes that through this and other initiatives, the arts can become an even more fundamental part of the University and campus life.

“We’re trying to elevate all of the arts on campus. So, whether it’s the development of a new app where all the departments can share what they’re doing, or our website, or collaborations we’re doing that are furthering teaching and research, that’s certainly a big part of the initiative’s mission," she said.

Elizabeth Manekin, head of university programs and academic projects at the Ackland Art Museum, said she thinks UNC puts an appropriate amount of stock in the arts and is heavily invested in their future at the University.

“I think the Ackland is doing a great job of engaging with the University,” she said. “Of course, my perspective is perhaps different from a faculty member within a traditional academic department, but from where I sit I think the arts are certainly valued and I think that that’s a good thing.”

Cary Levine, associate professor of art history, said while he and the UNC Art Department are fully supportive of public arts projects and initiatives like Arts Everywhere, from a financial standpoint, the arts and humanities are struggling at UNC.

“Our budgets are being cut, we can’t hire enough faculty, we can’t recruit graduate students efficiently and our facilities are often in disrepair,” he said. “So there’s a little bit of frustration there, where we want to support and we do support these more public-facing initiatives, but at the same time, it seems sometimes that the attention or support isn’t supplied to the actual art department.”

Levine said arts initiatives should not stop with public art, events and performances, but should also be active in confronting ways that the arts and humanities are neglected internally.

“It looks like the University is really supporting the arts when we have sculptures and projects and participatory things, but what people don’t realize is that at the same time the arts are really struggling at UNC,” he said. “There’s a big gap between the kind of support for things that are happening in the community and on campus versus what’s happening on the inside.”

Many of the buildings that house arts departments at UNC suffer from cases of deferred maintenance. The second floor ceiling of the Sloane Art Library collapsed last December, but librarians are still relying on a plastic canopy and buckets to protect the books from water damage. 

John DeKemper, a graduate student in studio art, said Hanes Art Center has been experiencing leakage issues that have gone unaddressed for years.

“The ceiling of the printmaking lab has been leaking for 5 years, I think, and there have been buckets out for ages but its ruined computers and it’s ruined some of the graduate students’ art that they keep there,” he said. “These studios are for graduate students to use as their home base, and when water becomes an issue it gets to their work, so that’s pretty problematic.”

DeKemper said despite the shortcomings of some of the facilities, the largest unmet need is the lack of a space to exhibit work and allow the public to engage with contemporary art.

“A lot of us are kind of frustrated with the space that we have. I think there’s a lot of feeling of limitation," DeKemper said. "I’ve only been to the Ackland once or twice and they were both required. And a lot of the stuff is older. There’s a not a huge contemporary presence there. I don’t feel compelled to go engage there.”

Sabine Gruffat, associate professor of studio art at UNC, said she was concerned that Arts Everywhere and existing spaces for the arts on campus put more of an emphasis on the performing arts than other art forms.

“I like the idea of it,” she said. “But I also don’t know how they decide what to support. Emil Kang is in charge of it and his background is in the performing arts, but the performing arts on campus already get much more attention than the other arts.”

On Jan. 8, Duke opened the new Rubenstein Arts Center, which offers multipurpose studios, classrooms, makerspaces, a movie theater and a studio theater for dance and theatre performances. Gruffat said projects like this at other universities make UNC’s lack of a central hub for the arts on campus even more glaring.

The University of Wisconsin, where Gruffat previously worked, had movie theaters and other facilities that allowed students and faculty to exhibit work, she said. UNC has built several makerspaces on campus in the past few years, but Gruffat said she thinks the University’s priorities should lie elsewhere.

“I don’t think the Ackland is funded enough,” she said. “And they also don’t have a contemporary art wing. There’s no public space on campus for contemporary art. Not just visual arts, but film and music don’t have the same kinds of public spaces the performing arts have on campus.”

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