As the day comes to a close on a Thursday night in University Hall, hundreds of students excitedly rush through the double doors, shielding their faces from the crisp March air. In just a few hours, one of Montclair State University’s most lively buildings becomes an empty shell of just a few students in the various lounges and study areas.
But this serves as a stark contrast to the nighttime environment in Calcia Hall, which comes to life after the sun sets on the mountainous Montclair State campus. Although Calcia is one of the university’s older buildings, it is home to artists of all kinds, who spend time mastering their craft long after most students have gone home for the day.
The environment in the art-focused building is about as diverse as those who study there. Students can usually be found lined against the multi-colored lockers, studying for written exams, while others are hard at work on visual projects, like sculpting, painting, photography and illustration.
Although Calcia has a reputation for being more outdated than some of the other buildings on campus, the walls are covered in years of hard work and passion. Graffiti covers much of the walls, and student work is displayed around nearly every inch of the winding hallways. It’s easy to see that these students are bonded by their shared passion for the arts, but what’s surprising is just how diverse their fields of study actually are.
Take for example senior business and marketing major Tamra Zaleski, who can often be found hard at work on the second floor of Calcia, tracing intricate designs for her print making course.
Although Zaleski is a studio art and design minor, she jokes that she spends “too much” of her free time in the run-down halls of Calcia. “On Wednesdays I probably stay [an extra] three hours,” said Zaleski. Her long brown hair fell in her face as she worked on the brightly lit table top. Then I come here on Thursdays between class.”
But Zaleski is definitely not alone when she works long into the evening hours. In just about every classroom and workspace, visitors can find flocks of artists who not only meet to work on projects, but also simply to spend time together. In fact, for one beginning photography class, their little corner of Calcia is like a second home.
Senior television production major Emily Donohue, who is taking the photography course as a major elective, spends her free time working on her projects before class, despite having to spend the next four and a half hours in the room. Although only a handful of students are enrolled in the course, they can be found gathered around the lab sharing photography tips, talking about ISOs (which control the camera’s shutter speed), and joking that they’re in Calcia so often, they’ve thought about sleeping there.
“Most classes normally come in early,” Donohue said, as she gestured to the dozens of other students who were not required to be in the lab. “Like this class, there’s only five of us [in this course].”
Many students find comfort in knowing they always have the support of their fellow art students when they step into the building. “Everyone’s really helpful,” said Zaleski. “If you don’t know what to do or you need supplies, there’s always someone here that will help you out. It’s really nice.”
The appeal of Calcia may not be obvious to outsiders, but to these artists, their shared passion for their work is undeniable. While most college students find spending time in their classrooms to be stressful, many students of Calcia find they feel the most relaxed and in their element.
“If I’m ever having a stressed day at school, I always escape to art,” said freshman and aspiring art major Ellie Castro, as he showed off the impressively realistic self-portrait he completed out of boredom. “Art’s a way for me to get out of reality.”
Around the spacious room lay groupings of sculpted body parts, painted vibrantly to match each student’s unique personality. “Once you start taking photos, you kind of just don’t stop,” Donohue echoed from a separate workspace. She and one of her peers huddled around negatives of her photographs, while discussing the correct way to expose shots of running water. Other students in the background could be heard laughing about the memories they had in the classroom after hours.
The students of Calcia Hall know that they will be able to keep both these memories and their skills with them for a lifetime. Although they all have different ideas of what they want to pursue after school, art will always be an important part of who they are. “Anything that involves art I would not mind doing it at all,” Castro said.