Photo courtesy of St.Joseph’s University
The arts majors at the University of Richmond are filled with students who have creative mindsets and are committed to their craft.
According to UR’s website, the arts include the department of art and art history, the department of theatre and dance and the department of music.
“We are a small department that is high powered, very imaginative and really diverse,” Erling Sjovold, the department chairman of art and art history, said.
At UR, there are 18 declared art and art history majors: six in art history, and 12 in visual and media arts practice (VMAP). There are also eight music majors and seven dance majors.
“It fluctuates,” Professor Johann Stegmeir, the department chairman of theatre and dance, said. “We will have years where we have small number. It averages 15 or 16 at any given time, so it depends when you declare your major.”
Nene Diallo, WC’18, is a visual media and arts practice major. She said she has felt labeled by some people as being “artsy” and “hipster” just because she liked art.
“It’s like this distance that people create between you and them,” Diallo said.
Diallo was finally able to find her niche at UR after meeting other art majors during her third year. Two years ago, she received the Capital One Art and Art History award, which is presented to students that have great work and are involved in the department.
“I felt definitely more comfortable in the art department. There is a small culture, and there are people that enjoy the arts on this campus,” Diallo said.
Zack Cain is a music major at UR who recognizes that there is creative talent at the university.
“I think there are a good amount of student musicians and people who are artistically inclined,” he said. “Art as well. I think it is a very strong group of creative people for such a small school.”
These students of the arts are considered creative. Professor Jeffrey Riehl, the department chairman of music, thinks that creatives can distinguish themselves from other students on campus by the way they approach daily tasks.
“Music is a creative enterprise. We make music. So, we are part of a group of people who have a maker’s mindset or a creative habit of mind when we approach problems and our own arts and craft,” he said. “We do it through that particular mindset which is different than an analytical data-driven mindset that is fostered in other places across campus.”
Professor Anne Norman Van Gelder is the director of dance at UR and said that UR can distinguish itself from other liberal arts schools with the exceptional arts courses that the university offers for students.
The Production study I, II, and III classes are offered in the theatre and dance departments. This course is taught by five or six faculty members at once, so that students can make connections between the different areas of production and how they work together.
“The director, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the choreographer, and scenic designer, we are all working together and not in isolation,” Van Gelder said. “We have to be in conversation so that the concept is unified. We needed to create a course where students could learn those things.”
Van Gelder has seen prospective student’s excitement about the arts culture at UR.
“This is unique and this is different,” she said. “Because they can dance at a high-level with excellent dance opportunities, and of course we already know the reputation of the academic rigor at UR.”
That is why Julia Marcellino, WC’18, a dance major, came to UR—because of the combination of academics and dancing.
“It’s a very small intimate experience which is great because you get a lot of special attention,” she said.
The experiences that these students have gained by going to a small school and majoring in the arts has been immense.
“I was at home in Guinea with my family and used the funds that were given to me through the school to take documentary photography,” Diallo said. “So I think I wouldn’t have these options if I were at a bigger school because art schools are crazy competitive and I think that is a very toxic environment.”
Cain was informed about the summer research fellowship that UR offers for students to help establish their career path.
“I was really interested in Balinese music so I applied and this past summer I spent two months in Bail researching gamelan music,” he said. “It was really special and I just feel really lucky to have the chance to do that.”
Emilie Knudsen, WC’19, is a theatre major and has been involved in the department since she arrived on campus.
“I just showed up to the Modlin fair and immediately, I was assistant stage managing a show,” she said. “They are really good about getting you involved from the get go.”
Knudsen helped with the production of The Crucible in November. However, she said she noticed that there was sometimes a disassociation on campus for the arts.
“I feel like there is kind of a disassociation with the rest of the school almost,” Knudsen said. “We try to advertise well for our shows, but I never see a lot of students from all over who come and see our shows.”
Marcellino is surrounded by the arts, but acknowledges that many students at UR are unaware of them.
“I feel exposed to it but I feel like it is very segregated just to Modlin,” she said. “There is a museum in there and we have so many resources but a lot of people probably don’t know about it because it is very secluded.”
Stegmeir wishes that the arts culture was more vibrant on campus, but overall thinks the arts have a strong faculty and student representation.
“I would like it to be more vibrant than it is, but that is me being greedy in a way,” he said. “I think that we have a pretty solid arts culture at UR in all the disciplines, in performance and visuals.”
Though the arts are broken into four different departments with a small culture on campus, there is a commitment from both the university and the arts faculty, Stegmeir said.
“I think that it is really filled with rock stars in a way. My colleagues are so well educated and informed and really current in the way they view art and its relationship to the world,” he said.
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