story | Nicholas Lua, Features Editor

photo | Serena Jael Quay

Eleven recognized arts groups and a steadily growing student body: the arts scene at Yale-NUS College is thriving. However, campus resources are not infinite. Now that we are a full house, how do different art groups negotiate the use of our arts spaces?

With the number of arts groups still increasing, students expressed concern that there would be insufficient space for the practice of the arts. Min Ying ’19, President of sYNCD, the umbrella organization of Yale-NUS’s different dance groups, said she now has to spend more time coordinating the access of seven dance groups to three dance rooms. While sYNCD uses Practice Room 4 for dance practice, only around three dancers can use that space at one time, said Min.

Theater groups have faced issues finding room to store their props and equipment, even having to store props in their suite. Yale-NUS’s repertory theater group, (aside), had to dispose of its Lord of the Flies set as there was no room in the Arts block to store it.

Another concern raised was how the arts spaces available on campus are not always equipped for the practice of particular art forms. The practice rooms could have better sound insulation, said Vincent Lee ’19, a member of Yale-NUS Orchestra, as someone practicing in one practice room can hear performers in other rooms.

Backstage in the blackbox theater.

Backstage in the blackbox theater.

The College is aware of student concerns regarding the arts spaces. To address these concerns and facilitate the maximal use of arts resources, it has set up the Arts Spaces Committee (ASC). Different arts stakeholders, including students, faculty and Arts & Media are represented on the committee. Upon inspecting the arts spaces, Dr. Rajeev Patke, current chair of the ASC and Director of the Division of Humanities, found some practice rooms too small and that there was a shortage of storage space for equipment. “Architecturally, we can’t tamper with the structure of the buildings,” he said, “but what we do in them can be made more flexible.” Some changes mentioned included changing room interiors in ways that are not structurally fundamental, such as by installing soundproofing.

The ASC also aims to establish a “concise, transparent, rational procedure for the use of [arts] resources,” said Dr. Patke. The College recognizes that as it transitions from a growing phase to a steady state, it needs to shift from using ad-hoc procedures to using long-term ones. To this end, the ASC has created a five-page document detailing how it functions and how it prioritizes access to arts resources. Arts groups can use the document to apply for access to resources, including funding. The document is available on the College website.

On its part, Arts & Media aims to make arts spaces fully accessible to students. “The goal,” said Gurjeet Singh, Associate Director of Arts & Media, “is 24-hour access.” Students can simply walk in and use most arts spaces, provided no one else has booked or is currently using them. All arts spaces can be booked except the Performance Halland the Black Box Theater. If performers wish to use these two spaces for a production, they have to first schedule a production meeting with Arts & Mediar. Nevertheless, students can use these spaces informally if their activities do not require technical support. For instance, some dance groups have been practising in the Performance Hall when it is empty, said Mr. Singh.

The Performance hall has become a space for dance practice, when empty.

The Performance hall has become a space for dance practice, when empty.

With a few exceptions, the bookings of most rooms (such as the practice rooms) are automatically approved by the system. Dance studio bookings go through Arts & Media to ensure students do not wear heels in the studio, which could damage the dance studio’s flooring. Arts & Media has also enlisted students’ help in managing the arts spaces. Haokai Lek ’18 helps manage access to Practice Room 5, the band room, which students can book using a Google Form on the Yale-NUS College Students Facebook group. Access to the Georgette Chen Arts Studio (Studio 2) will be managed by the Visual Arts Society.

Institutional initiatives aside, arts practitioners are working together to face campus constraints. While many have long-term bookings of some arts spaces, they are open to compromise should other groups need the spaces. For instance, after consulting sYNCD, (aside) now uses the dance studio every Friday until their performance of Spring Awakening. “At first there were some difficulties but now [they’ve] been resolved. We’re very open to discussion if other people need the studio,” Min said.

In addition, arts practitioners are willing to share their resources. Dr. Nirmali Fenn, Assistant Professor of Practice, said that the musical instruments under her charge are available for all students to use after they have obtained her permission. The different arts groups could potentially create “a common pool of props and equipment everyone can have access to,” said Kristian-Marc James Paul ’19, Co-Director of (aside)’s Spring Awakening production.  

Other creative solutions have also been implemented. While the school cannot store large sets,, Arts & Media tries to store flats, which “sets could be built around”, said Mr Singh. Arts & Media also have 20 theater cubes and 10 movable mirrors, which can be adapted for the practice of different arts. After Dr. Patke had granted Dr. Fenn use of Dressing Room 2 to store musical equipment, Dr. Fenn installed a humidifier to ensure the equipment was stored under proper conditions.

To work towards improving their craft, arts practitioners  expressed their willingness to stay open to new ideas. This would help the College facilitate the artistic development of students. “Open-mindedness, imagination and cooperation” is the way forward, said Dr. Fenn. “If someone suggests an idea, it should not be obstructed. Eventually, after five conversations, you get a super-idea.”

In short, compromise, collaboration and creativity.

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