New Art Space at CMC Lures Artistic Expression Into “The Cave”

If one were to subscribe to the different stereotypes of the Claremont Colleges, “art” and “Claremont McKenna College” would hardly be synonymous. Now, however, the school known for producing economics and government majors has opened up a new student lounge dedicated to the artistic expression of the student body. 

Known as The Cave, the lounge will host a kickoff event Feb. 21, and is already booked for the next few weeks.

“To my knowledge, CMC has not had an art space like this before,” wrote Eric Vos, CMC assistant dean of students, in an email to TSL. “Creating an art space meets the needs and interests of our students. It expands social options on campus for students.”

The name of the space certainly fits the feel of the location. Located in the basement of Marks Hall at CMC, The Cave is a portion of the residence hall’s basement fenced off from the rest of the storage area. The one large concrete wall in the space is covered by various symbols representing CMC and the Claremont Colleges painted by students. The wall faces an area dedicated to musicians, with a full drum kit and keyboard. Old but comfortable furniture adds to the sense that The Cave is a space for students to collaborate on art or simply hang out.

The Cave is the result of an almost two-year mission by Phillip Pennell CM ’16 to find a space in which he could play music with friends. 

Pennell recalled “lugging around 150 pounds of equipment from dorm lounge to dorm lounge” to find somewhere to play, only to be evicted by a group of students who wanted to use the lounge to study. 

He said he initially wanted a space with a drum kit accessible to students, but the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College granted him more funding than he expected, allowing him to expand his vision for the creative space. Students are now hoping to book the space for dance and music practice and other activities. 

But The Cave was not installed without its share of difficulties. According to Pennell, the previous administration said that there was no need for an art space at CMC because there are art spaces at the other colleges. However, he said, sometimes those spaces are only available to students enrolled in specific classes, or have limited hours. 

According to Vos, the idea of an arts space has been discussed within the administration since planning began for the Mid Quad renovation a couple of years ago. He wrote that an article Pennell wrote in CMC’s newspaper, the Forum, helped to raise awareness. 

“Phillip’s piece in the Forum was successful in raising further awareness about the need for such a space, and it helped us identify him as an important student to collaborate with moving forward,” Vos wrote.

The Feb. 21 kickoff will host student bands, and student excitement for the space is high. 

“Obviously it’s a huge first step for CMC supporting the fine arts,” Justin Schneider CM ’16 said. “It promotes the collaborative future of CMC.”  

Vos said that the college plans to include a designated space for student art and performance in summer renovations to CMC’s campus, but for now Pennell said that he is happy the space has turned out the way it has and is grateful to the administration for its support. 

“I think that’s one of the beautiful things about a campus like this,” he said. “You hear these stories when you get admitted … about how it’s small enough that individual students can make a difference, and at first you sometimes feel that’s not the case, but after doing something like this, you do find out there is an element of truth to that, and I think that’s really cool.”

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