May 13, 2005

Campus receives a makeover for FOTA

U of C students have yet another indication that spring has arrived: A random mannequin torso in Bartlett Quad and art exhibits springing up around campus signal the start of the annual Festival of the Arts (FOTA).

FOTA organizers have striven to showcase and promote student art on campus since the organization's creation by the Class of 1963. This year's festival (May 13 to 22) will feature new artists, innovative projects, and a little U of C creativity through a combination of performance and visual arts spread all over campus.

This year's FOTA board hopes to enlarge its scope of art, beginning with the debut of the winter art gallery earlier this year, featuring student artwork in the McCormick Tribune lounge. FOTA is also 10 days long, as opposed to the former weeklong celebrations.

According to Claire Mazur, third-year in the College and FOTA executive director, this year's festival will promote a greater sense of community by having students work together. Mazur has been organizing FOTA since last summer and convened a board of directors during fall quarter.

"It's important for FOTA to be student organized," Mazur emphasized. "It's run by fellow students who know student artists, not the administration. They're our peers. It's easier to mobilize the student community with students organizing the event. There's a lot of collaboration going on in FOTA, and it brings groups together with shared resources."

Hannah Kushnick, a second-year FOTA co-curator, believes FOTA exists to fill a void in art, and to broaden the lives of students with it.

"Experiencing art is not only entertaining and uplifting, but it's an essential part of being a well rounded person," Kushnick said. "It's like the quote in our mission statement—you're not a complete person, you're not an educated person, an experienced person, without having art in your life.  It's incredibly rewarding to know that we're giving people the opportunity, resources, and encouragement to create art and develop artistically, and the entertainment and enrichment of viewing and experiencing it."

Some of the events planned for FOTA 2005 include its launch party at the Smart Museum this Friday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.; a Silent Film Festival presented by Fire Escape Films; a production of "Circus Chimaera" from Le Vorris and Vox; a Dance Showcase on May 16; and Psychle, a rock opera by Tautologic, a rock band founded by U of C alumni in 1997. FOTA is also incorporating many local artists, including the University of Hip-Hop, a multidisciplinary school of street arts in Chicago that will provide demonstrations in the Reynolds Club and Hutch Courtyard on May 22.

Not all preparations have gone without a hitch. "HIV House," an installation by first-year Grant Gordon and his friends to educate students about HIV, was removed from its spot in front of Eckhart Hall when facilities services mistook it as a remnant of Scav Hunt.

FOTA had an abbreviated festival in 2004 due to a severe shortfall in budget when the Student Government Finance Committee ran out of money last spring. FOTA managed to get roughly $25,000 from SGFC earlier this year and $9,000 from the Arts Planning Council to allocate to student artists for their projects and to promote the festival. Mazur attributed this year's revival of FOTA to a highly trained and motivated board of directors, and commended them for their hard work.

"FOTA has never had a board of directors," she said. "This year, they were highly structured and highly efficient at getting the job done." Mazur said that since none of the board members are fourth-years, she thinks many of them will stay on to improve and enlarge the festival.

Mazur also appreciated the interests of the administration. After the death of FOTA's founder, University professor Meyer Gerhardt, the festival dwindled during the '80s and disappeared until it was revived five years ago. Mazur said that the board has been working with several administrators, including Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life, and Heidi Coleman, director of University Theater, to express concerns over the festival's future. Mazur said that most of the administration has expressed interest in the festival and said they will ensure it will continue in the future.

Mazur said this year's main goal is to spread and publicize FOTA's role, as many on campus do not know about its events or its purpose as a conduit for student artists. Justin Stankiewicz, a third-year in the College and the FOTA public relations director, believes FOTA can help unite students in the College.

"I don't think the U of C has something that unifies the students, something to be passionate about; we don't have big college sports or something like that," Stankiewicz said. "Art is something that all people can appreciate. FOTA can bring people together."