A student I.D. is a beautiful thing. You can take advantage of cheap meal deals and free or reduced admission to museums across the country. This is one of the few times in your life where the world is actively encouraging you to take part in the myriad things to do around you. The next time you will have these same chances is when you are 65.
That makes it truly depressing to think that Williams students take their student privileges for granted, shrugging off incredible opportunities to broaden our engagement with the institutions that dot the Purple Valley. Within walking distance of campus is the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, one of the most renowned art museums in the world, which just this summer reopened with glorious new spaces designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando. In North Adams, there is Mass MoCA, a sprawling complex that allows our most prominent contemporary artists free reign to create mind-blowing installations. We can rattle off two art museums without even thinking about our own WCMA, which constantly pushes the boundaries of what it means to be an educational museum. All of these museums offer free admission to Williams students, but how often have you or your friends taken advantage of these institutions?
We are fulfilling only part of our missive as students of the liberal arts when we skip out on the innumerable chances we have to broaden our perspectives both academically and culturally. In class we are constantly asked to push ourselves intellectually, and all Williams students do so with aplomb. However, when we are afforded the opportunity to learn through various cultural opportunities, many College students shy away and make excuses. The liberal arts means acknowledging that there are millions of ways to expand your knowledge outside of the classroom, and we fail again and again to fulfill that when we say, “The walk is too long,” or “I don’t understand it, so why should I bother?” or “I’m too busy.”
This goes doubly for cultural institutions. Art offers us an opportunity to examine the entire history of what different societies and cultures have found important enough to record in oils, marble, bronze and everything in between. These experiences can help us better understand our perspective and challenge our own assumptions about the world, or offer us a restorative breath of fresh air and a reprieve from the bustle of college life.
But let’s face it: high-minded appeals to your intellect will mean very little in reality. While we all may have good intentions, that 10-minute walk will be forgone once the temperature drops below freezing, and that student performance looks a lot less appealing when you can start your pregame an extra half-hour early. We are all lazy and entitled college students to some extent. People come from all over the world and pay $20 to see what the Clark has to offer, yet we have it in our backyard with free admission and most students will only ever go once in their college career, perhaps out of some sense of obligation. Williams students so often believe that all things must come to them, so we end up underutilizing the great institutions that dot the Purple Valley. Think this is an exaggeration? WCMA literally gives students art to hang in their rooms in order to increase our engagement with the arts because many of us don’t bother to walk across campus.
One might protest that art is not quite their thing. Maybe you went to MoMA or the Met on a holiday weekend, and had to jostle with teeming hordes of fellow museum-goers. The art is great, the atmosphere decidedly less so. The greatest thing about the museums around us is that our seclusion allows for the most wonderfully intimate and personal engagements with art. You can stare at a Monet or a LeWitt as long as you want without being poked by 30 selfie sticks. And if you’re still not interested, that’s fine. But why should that stop you from taking advantage of these amazing facilities? Hike up Stone Hill, sit out by the reflecting pool in the spring, or take advantage of the Clark Library next time you need to write a paper. It’s open until 11 p.m. most days, free for students, and arguably the best study space in Williamstown. Unfortunately it is closed until May, so seniors have missed their chance, but underclassmen still have hope. You can have an amazing experience without once having to step inside a gallery.
So next time you have some free time, take the 10-minute walk to the Clark, or grab some friends and visit Mass MoCA. The purple bubble is small enough, and we make it smaller when we don’t take advantage of the amazing institutions around us.
Quinn Pitcher ’15 is an art and economics double major from Eastport, N.Y. He lives in Prospect. Meg Richardson ’16 is a comparative literature major from Iowa City, Iowa. She lives in Sage Hall.