Stanford is not a school generally known for its arts programs, and if you ask anyone who has any knowledge of Stanford, they’ll tell you flat-out that there is not much of an arts scene on campus. Arts are certainly not at the forefront of campus culture and not valued as highly as other pursuits.
In recent years, the University has made an ostensible push to try to improve the state of the arts on campus. There’s the Arts Initiative, replete with a snazzy brochure. There’s the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA), which has, among other endeavors, hosted a number of meetings of student arts leaders to try and brainstorm ways to increase the presence and ubiquity of arts at Stanford. All of these efforts are important and crucial to making headway in the fight to make the arts better. But despite the work of these groups and the University’s claims to the contrary, the University continues to make large-scale decisions that make it very clear that the arts do not have first priority at Stanford.
For those who live in the West Campus boonies and like to work out, the recent news of the Board of Trustee’s approval of a new gym on Roble Field is good news. For those of us who know the story of the old Roble Gym, however, however, the decision is less unilaterally positive.
Roble Gym, which has its own Wikipedia page, is a gorgeous early 20th century building. The Athletic department occupied Roble Gym until the new gym, the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation (ACSR), was built in 2004. The Athletic department moved to ACSR and gave most of their building over to the Drama and Dance departments. There was a huge problem, however: as an old building, Roble Gym has many problems, most notably a failure to comply to more modern fire and other standards. Neither the Athletic department nor the University wanted to, or still wants to, pay the heavy costs to retrofit and upgrade the building–it’s pretty expensive, and in very poor shape. (Take a look at the locker rooms, for example). In the years since the Drama and Dance departments took over the building, Roble Gym has essentially been condemned and parts of the building, including the main theater space, have been completely shut down by the County. For departments already significantly struggling with facilities–one higher level administrator noted, “Many junior high schools have better [drama] facilities than Stanford”–this has made it nearly impossible for any theater on campus, including any student groups that perform, to find space. And the problem extends to all of the arts: musician and Daily columnist Lucas Johnson can tell you about the state of the music facilities on campus.
Knowing this, the decision to build a new gym on Roble Field seems like a huge slap in the face for the arts. I asked a relevant source about this decision, and I was told that the Drama/Dance departments have been assured that the new gym will allow the Athletic department to move out of the locker rooms still in Roble Gym and allow Drama/Dance to fully take over the whole Roble Gym building. The approved new gym, it seems, will fix the mistakes of ACSR and actually include locker rooms.
I do not find the explanation that Drama/Dance are benefiting from this new gym very convincing, however. Stepping back and looking at this situation, we can map it as such: Athletics built a new gym and gave Drama/Dance most of the old space it didn’t want any more; this old space has been partially shut down because it does not meet standards; now, Athletics will build a second new gym, this time in the vicinity of the old space it didn’t want any more, so that Drama/Dance can have the rest of the semi-condemned building that Athletics didn’t want any more.
This example serves to highlight how the Stanford prioritizes different aspects of the university over others. Athletics is convenient for this example, but it is not just confined to athletics. This is not to say that the arts should always be more valued than other departments or activities or interests; rather, arts should be valued equally. A musician is as valuable as an actor as an athlete as an entrepreneur, but the University’s priorities clearly fail to respect this. As long as the University values the arts less highly, people on campus will value the arts less highly.
If Stanford truly wants to promote the arts, it needs to start by fixing its priorities. Building a new gym when the most recent gym was built a mere seven years ago and the arts facilities are incredibly poor is a clear statement that the arts are not as important as athletics or other parts of the University. If we continue down this path, Stanford will not be able to make significant strides towards improving the arts, no matter how many times the University publicly claims it wants to.