Anyone walking around Montclair State University’s expansive campus is bound to notice the architecture. Clean white facades are neatly topped with beautiful Spanish-style roof tiles. The buildings are graced with the names of significant alumni or faculty who made a difference in their department.
Then there’s Calcia Hall, the building that houses several respective multidisciplinary art studios, a film theater and probably the least potable drinking water on campus. It doesn’t take much creative brainpower to analyze the visual metaphor and make the connection: as educational institutions build bigger and move forward, fine arts are being left behind.
When budget crunches happen in education, the arts and humanities departments are almost always the ones to get cut off first. More profitable programs are usually prioritized, and so the smaller, less lucrative art programs are given less funding.
Calcia Hall is living proof of this, if such a building can even have anything resembling the concept of life assigned to it. A two-story brown box relic from the late 1960s, Calcia Hall hasn’t changed much since its inception. Notorious amongst students and faculty for its lack of heating and unreliable plumbing system, Calcia’s reputation is unfortunate. After all, it provides Montclair State’s incredibly talented fine arts students a place to become the unique creative powerhouses they’re meant to be.
The subject of Calcia Hall’s long-overdue makeover is not a new one. In 2015, The Montclarion covered an instance of anonymous vandalism on the building’s side. The graffiti read, “YOU ARE PAYING FOR LOCKED DOORS AND A FAILING CURRICULUM.” This statement was in reference to Calcia Hall being locked over the weekends and late at night, which interfered with students’ ability to work on projects that required access to studio equipment.
Recently, Calcia Hall was due for renovations, which were included in last year’s budget. These renovations would have included four new design labs and an upgrade to the photography studio. Ultimately, much to the disappointment of faculty and students, the renovation was canceled.
To this day, Montclair State apparently sees no issue with charging students full-price tuition for the privilege of using facilities that are infamous for their charmless antiquity. According to Dr. Abby Lillethun, the chairperson of the department of art and design, it appears the most recent renovations in Calcia Hall were only partial.
“Calcia is an older building and therefore requires constant upkeep. In the past [six] years the university has renovated parts of Calcia Hall, but part of that renovation project was not completed due to a decision of President [Susan] Cole,” Lillethun said. “That was [five or six] years ago, under a different chairperson.”
University spokesperson Andrew Mees clarified that the proposed renovation was never meant to be a general update to the infrastructure of Calcia Hall.
“The renovation you mention was not a renovation in the way you are interpreting it. It was the proposed installment of new technology that was no longer deemed either cost-effective or vital to the curriculum,” Mees said. “College of the Arts administration made the decision in consultation with faculty to no longer pursue the project.”
Lillethun also insisted that contrary to popular belief, there have been no cuts to the department of art and design’s budget.
“The department has not had budget cuts except as follows. Flat budgets, yes, but not cuts, except in the immediate response to [the coronavirus (COVID-19)], some [part-time staffing] was ended in 2020,” Lillethun said.
This sentiment was backed up by Mees.
“In terms of cuts to funding, there is absolutely no truth to that rumor whatsoever,” Mees said.
Good thing, too, because the last thing Montclair State or any other university should be considering is cutting their arts budget. If anything, it should be increased.
Continuing or worsening the neglect of fine arts programs will not make fewer people choose to major in the arts. It will also not change the fact that, while the arts may not be as profitable as business or nursing, they are a vital component of our society.
If the arts didn’t matter, why would the Nazis have confiscated and destroyed thousands of works of art, which they labeled as “degenerate?” Why are we seeing a disturbingly widespread resurgence of banned books in schools nationwide? Why are people paying upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of owning a single image, whether it’s an NFT or an original Frida Kahlo painting?
If Montclair State can’t find another new project to sink millions of dollars into, maybe Calcia Hall will finally get the love it deserves. Fine arts programs everywhere deserve much more from the institutions meant to support them.