We at the Record commend the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) for testing new selection methods for its WALLS program, but we believe that the most recent change to the lottery-only selection process has taken agency away from the student body. We therefore suggest that WCMA return to a hybrid system of line and lottery.
Because the College’s art loan program is still in its infancy, we applaud WCMA for its dynamic approach to assessing its selection methods. The WALLS team has been laudably active in tweaking its process in the three semesters since the program’s inception. As the museum actively monitors the effectiveness of the new systems, we believe it will find a successful process.
Indeed, we at the Record applaud the success of the new lottery process in increasing student participation in WALLS. We thank the organizers and supporters of the WALLS program for bringing more art to more students.
Nevertheless, we believe that the new lottery-only selection process has left students with no way of demonstrating interest in the program. Students who signed up on a whim and forgot about their application have the same chance of being selected as those who truly want a piece of art. The number of no-shows after the lottery demonstrated some students’ lack of interest. At the same time, those students who had previously shown enough initiative to camp in front of the museum doors had to resign themselves to the lottery algorithm. We believe such a fatalist process robs students of their ability to express interest and skews the selection away from those students who care most about the program. We suggest two corrections to the new selection process.
First, because the lottery does not allow for enough showing of interest, we believe a slightly more rigorous application is needed. Such a lottery form may include questions on each student’s reasons for participating in the program and passion about the available art. Such a changed lottery form would not only allow passionate students to express themselves, but it would also deter those students who do not care about the program.
Second, WCMA should revert to a hybrid system of line and lottery. A first-come, first-served process gives students a more direct way to secure their art than a lottery does. If, like last semester, not all spots are taken by the stop time, then the rest will be distributed by lottery. The museum could also allot a fixed number of slots to those who wait in line and give the rest of the loans to winners of the lottery.
Other steps could be taken to raise future participation to the numbers we saw this year. For example, messages before pick-day last semester referenced students planning to stand in line very early and camping out. Perhaps this deterred students who did not want to camp out but thought it was necessary. Careful advertising could increase participation of the student body in the WALLS program.
Indubitably, Williamstown can be cold in February, and below-freezing temperatures pose an obvious roadblock to camping out in front of WCMA for hours on end. Mandating that students line up before the museum doors not only scares students who value warmth away from participating in the program, but it also endangers those who do brave the elements. We therefore suggest that WCMA move the waiting line to a space such as the Paresky Center or Goodrich Hall. This measure is one of several ways the museum could increase participation without stripping students of their agency and ability to show initiative in securing an art loan.