Portrait of the artist as a college student

It occurred to me this week that one of the greatest gifts that my undergraduate education afforded me was the space to develop. I mean that quite literally. It was especially true during my junior and senior year.

There was an old theatre on the campus that had been closed down because of asbestos. The wings of the building had separate entrances and no asbestos. They had formerly housed the music department. We were given keys that allowed us to enter two large rooms with grand pianos at any time of the day or night. There were some electric blue naugahyde couches. A teacher gave us an old futon mattress that he called the "orgy cushion". We largely used it for napping.

There was a group of people that met there to practice and interact every night between 6pm and 2am.  I would practice for 3 to 5 hours and intersperse practicing with reading and homework. Linda Leuci would practice piano next door. Brian McMillan would read or paint in the room while I practiced (check out one of our collaborations here). Stacy Rosende might drop by and discuss art (check out some of her work here). A philosophy student might drop by to debate some issue from Nietsche. A poet might drop by to discuss T.S. Eliot. We were a small group that was constantly interrupting each others work in the best possible way.

Conversations ranged wildly from bi-tonality to existential psychology. We would cover aesthetic philosophy and then discuss literature. It was especially true that whatever class Brian and I took, we sort of wound up both taking it because we discussed everything in between practice sessions.

It was incredibly formative for me. I was interested in everything, and I had a space in which to reflect and create. I had other liberally arted creative people in community with me. We showed each other our  creative work as it happened because it was often happening in the same room. We debated and criticized the work as it developed.

I don't know how exactly one can foster communities for undergrads like the one I had. Part of it was definitely just having a space in which to work and interact and grow. That couldn't have happened in a tiny practice room. It did happen because the University gave us a space in which to grow.

(The moral is, find a space and talk to people.)