Pomona College received a $600,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in June to support its new Elemental Arts Initiative, a four-year project designed to improve arts opportunities through new arts courses, symposiums, a dance concert, a theatre festival, and a summer internship.
The Initiative, which was announced Wednesday at the school’s 124th Founder’s Day celebration, will focus on a different ‘element’ each academic year—wind, earth, water, or fire—which will be featured in arts programming on campus. This year’s element is water.
The grant complements the school’s $250 million Daring Minds fundraising campaign, which includes plans to construct a new studio art building in the parking lot north of Seaver Theatre.
According to Martina Ebert, the Director of Pomona’s Office of Foundation and Corporate Relations, the central focus of the Elemental Arts Initiative is to create more opportunities for all Pomona students to pursue their artistic interests on campus.
“The Elemental Arts grant includes a range of interdisciplinary program initiatives which are focused on enhancing study and learning in the arts through artist residencies, the Summer Experience in the Arts (which mirrors existing summer undergraduate research opportunities for science majors), an array of arts immersion courses, on-campus programming, and community-based learning in the arts,” she said.
Ebert also said one of Pomona’s goals for the initiative is to restore the artistic atmosphere that was once an integral part of the school’s identity going back to the 1970s, when Pomona’s Art Department was known for its experimental and open nature.
According to Ebert, it was a desire to tap this artistic nature of the school that led her to design a proposal to submit an application for the Elemental Arts Grant in April. After the grant was awarded in June, the school hired Young Tseng “YT” Wong as Grant Coordinator. Wong currently teaches and performs mime and movement art in the Pomona College Department of Theatre and Dance. His role as Grant Coordinator will primarily focus on pursuing the goals of the Grant Committee, which is comprised of Pomona faculty and administrators.
Students responded positively to the additional funding and opportunities provided by the Mellon Grant, but some expressed their belief that it won’t create new options as much as it will attempt to fill sorely-needed voids in Pomona’s current artistic offerings.
Noah Sneider PO ’13, a leader of the Pomona Ceramics Collective (PCC), a student-run and ASPC-funded ceramics club, is one student who expressed dissatisfaction with the attention and funding devoted to the arts at Pomona. He particularly pointed to a lack of opportunities for artistically-inclined students who are not art majors to pursue their interests in art. According to Sneider, PCC has been trying to establish a presence on campus for some time, but bureaucratic obstacles have prevented them from obtaining a space on Pomona’s campus.
“We received the initial generous funding from ASPC as a club, but the thing that has been very disappointing and surprising to me is the lack of institutional support,” Sneider said. “When we were trying to find a place to set up our ceramics equipment, we were essentially told by the Facilities Director that they were not going to give a space to an organization that had not established themselves as a sustainable club.”
The catch-22, Sneider said, was that PCC could not establish itself without identifying a location in which to work, and it wouldn’t be granted a location until the club could prove to the administration that it had been established.
Despite his frustrations with Pomona’s lack of support for students’ artistic endeavors, Sneider said he was optimistic about the new Elemental Arts Initiative.
“I really would like for there to be opportunities—I think that there should be opportunities for people to have creative outlets that don’t necessitate an academic setting,” he said.
The Elemental Arts Initiative will also feature a community outreach component through Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships.
According to Maria Tucker, the director of the Draper Center, the funding from the Mellon Grant will help support a pre-existing course at Pomona, Theater for Young Audiences, which pairs 5C students with students from Fremont Academy in South Pomona to rehearse and stage a theatrical production. This year, in accordance with the initiative’s water theme, the class will experiment with a story involving a Mexican water monster.
“This year, the students in the class will be learning a story about a mythical Mexican water monster, and then [they will] infuse information about the state of water in our region,” Tucker said.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which awarded the grant that will support the Elemental Arts Initiative, has been providing funding to liberal arts institutions since 1969. It gives out close to $200 million per year in grants.