Students arts orgs make space for rest and expression despite challenges

Student organizations that center on the arts have traditionally made up a steady contingency of chartered clubs, as they do currently in the ‘22-’23 academic year. These organizations offer a variety of opportunities and forms of expression for students to engage in, whether that be assorted genres of dance at Dance Guild, peer-reviewed visual art and writing through the Dialogue art journal, or multi-cultural engagement via Rangeela. Many of these organizations are not only confronting the typical challenges that come with leading organizations, but recovering from COVID-19 restrictions that prevented performances and negotiating the cultural and administrative shifts taking place at Calvin. These organizations’ leaders told Chimes they are continuing to flourish, even as they navigate new territory. 

For organizations that culminate in a recital, one of the primary challenges has been resuscitating student awareness and participation after a pandemic break from performances. “The number of participants is smaller because with Rangeela’s performance not happening for the past three years, the level of awareness about Rangeela has decreased,” Su Ji Lim, president of Rangeela, said. It is Rangeela’s first year as a student organization.

Dance Guild was able to perform without restrictions last spring, but the question of rejuvenating participation was equally important to them. “We had to really figure out, ‘okay, now that we don’t have limitations anymore … how do we get people to dance and how do we get people to want to participate and hear about Dance Guild?’” Taylor Lacombe, president of Dance Guild, said. By estimate, Lacombe said that Dance Guild’s total number of participants resemble what they were pre-COVID, even as the fall typically has a smaller number than the spring.

More active marketing has become a focus for these organizations as they seek to drum up engagement. “Our leadership team’s next goal is to advertise our show well,” Lim said. “The three-year hiatus makes it critical that we focus on advertising Rangeela not just to the Calvin student body, but to the greater Grand Rapids community.” For both Dialogue and Dance Guild, social media has become an important way of reaching students, with Dialogue establishing Social Media Coordinators as a specific role on their staff this semester. Lacombe said social media presence and word of mouth have been significant contributors to Dance Guild’s healthy participation numbers this semester. 

According to the editor of Dialogue, Lucia Skuldt, the student-run arts journal has maintained steady submission numbers and overall participation throughout the last few semesters. Though Dialogue works primarily towards the publication of student-submitted work once a semester, they have also been working to foster the arts community at Calvin more broadly by including art sales and other activities at their release parties. “We used to have Visual Arts Guild, and Visual Arts Guild would have a fall arts festival every semester,” Skuldt said. “That sort of just doesn’t exist anymore. So Dialogue has tried to take on that.” The Visual Arts Guild is currently in flux after a significant portion of their leadership left. 

There’s something cool about everyone experiencing that sort of reward after you’ve worked so hard for something for so long.”

The student leaders of arts organizations feel their organizations serve important roles in campus life. “I think just taking time out of your week, whether it’s like an hour,” Lacombe said. “Just to get some stress relief, to do something artistic, as a way to even express yourself, I think it is really important for students to have something like that to do during their crazy, busy life.” 

Clara Tolsma, the communications officer for Dance Guild, said she feels there is something rewarding about perfecting something before presenting it to an audience. “There’s something cool about everyone experiencing that sort of reward after you’ve worked so hard for something for so long,” Tolsma said. 

People are making art, whether they’re in art classes or not, and I think it’s a unique place for these things to exist, and to hopefully create some community.”

For Skuldt, these organizations also offer a unique opportunity for expression and community. “People are making art, whether they’re in art classes or not, and I think it’s a unique place for these things to exist, and to hopefully create some community,” Skuldt said. “People are saying really important things, whether that’s through visual work or written work, that it would be good if the campus and others heard it.”