Freshman Angelique Henderson (from left) joins A.R.T. instructor Sam Weisman and Ginny Fahs ’14 during a discussion at Arts @ 29 Garden. She said the intensive theater program, which included sessions on monologue work, auditioning, and the business of acting, “was a blast.”

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Arts & Culture

Art for art’s sake

6 min read

Students step outside comfort zones to explore their creative sides

Leave it to Harvard students to stay busy even during a nominal break from school. Undergraduates took advantage of myriad offerings during the recent winter recess, including the arts intensives centered at Arts @ 29 Garden.

Utilizing the University’s newest arts space, students explored their funnier sides, tapped out poetry on machines, danced, fused architecture with fiction writing, and tried the stage.

Arts @ 29 Garden is a new initiative born out of the University-wide Arts Task Force that two years ago called for Harvard to further integrate the arts into its curriculum and everyday life. The new space on Garden Street is aimed at promoting creativity, collaboration, art making, and experimentation among faculty, students, and visiting artists.

With Harvard’s new academic calendar, many students now have more time to explore areas of interest that they might not have been able to fit into their busy schedules during the fall and spring semesters. For many students, the restructured winter break gave them a chance to experiment with their inner artists.

Freshman Ginny Fahs took a weeklong creative writing workshop that connected her to her poetic side in a relaxed, informal way.

“I love to write, and I don’t have the time to do it. This week was just so unstructured and free, and our activities were unconventional and fun. A lot of it felt like play. I felt like I had time to actually develop my ideas and develop my writing.”

As part of the class, students typed out strings of letters on paper towels using old typewriters in an effort to connect the characters to the visual arts. They also wrote poems on pieces of cardboard boxes, read a book about Buckminster Fuller, the Harvard-educated engineer, author, inventor, and futurist, penned works inspired by Fuller’s poetic style, and traipsed off to see the recent play “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe,” at the American Repertory Theater, along with students from all of the intensives.

“It was a very process-driven workshop,” said poet and visual artist Jen Bervin, who ran the creative writing intensive. “The aim wasn’t really to create finished work but to create new thinking about page space and composition and approaches to writing … to activate a lot of different learning and thinking at once.”

The monthly salon series at Arts @ 29 Garden, “Salon @ 29,” held on Feb. 3, focused on the January Arts Intensives held in the space. During the evening, students and their instructors discussed their workshops.

Freshman Angelique Henderson, an economics concentrator who plans to pursue a secondary concentration in dramatic arts, said the intensive theater program, which included sessions on monologue work, auditioning, and the business of acting, “was a blast.” She said she developed “a close bond” with other students in the theater group.

That work has already paid off; she was recently cast in “for colored girls/for black boys,” a March production of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club.

“I felt like it was a real test of what I had learned,” said Henderson.

Sam Weisman, an artist with the A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training who was an instructor in the theater intensive, said it was “refreshing” to work with the students.

Older, more experienced actors tend to hold onto preconceived notions and are protective of what they have learned, said Weisman. But his Harvard students were eager and willing to experiment.

“Everyone gave themselves over to everything they were doing in a tremendously constructive way, which as a teacher I found very refreshing,” said Weisman.

Some students opted for laughter, taking a workshop with comedians Jimmy Tingle and Jane Condon. Students who wanted to move more took a dance intensive with Liz Lerman and Dance Exchange artists Keith Thompson, Vincent Thomas, and Sarah Levitt.

Others explored the nexus of architecture and the written word in a class geared toward helping them learn the basic concepts of architectural design and representation.

Jawn Lim, a doctoral design candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), ran the course. He and course co-creator Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor in Architectural Theory and associate dean for academic affairs at the GSD, challenged students to consider concepts like architectural structure. The class fused architecture with fiction.

“We sought structural and spatial potential that is found both in text and architecture, and in so doing pushed the students to invent visionary designs by identifying organizing systems that parallel both architecture and text,” said Lim.

Students first wrote a brief story describing an architectural scene. They then reworked their texts based on small plastic models they created. The students also developed stop-motion animations of their constructions and listened to lectures on concepts like utopia and Fuller’s architecture to help inform their designs.

“A lot of them showed that they were meant to be designers … they were hungry for the opportunity to think with their hands, to design something,” said Lim of students whose concentrations ranged from economics and philosophy to physics and comparative literature.

He called the concepts learned during the workshop invaluable.

“Even if they end up working as a surgeon, they think in three dimensions now … they can imagine space and form a little more fluidly. If they end up in government, they think in systems, they think in processes. The way they can apply the experience to their future careers is unlimited.”

“Those few days of intense studio work have shown me the power of pushing the boundaries of my imagination,” said sophomore Yuanjian Luo, a visual and environmental studies concentrator and participant in Lim’s class who is considering a career in graphic design.

For Lori Gross, the associate provost for arts and culture who helped to coordinate the program, which was aided by the Office of the President and Provost, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and the Office for the Arts, the intensives allowed students to explore and experiment with new artistic practices.

“There was a lot of crossover. Students in the theater track danced, and the dancers quoted Shakespeare. Participants created a new community of artists by working across disciplines they may have never before encountered or studied.”