At the end of this semester, the Willard Straight Student Union Board will close the ceramics studio that the Straight has housed for the past 54 years, according to Michael Motley ’12, executive director of the SUB.
The decision comes as part of a larger push to “revitalize” the building and make it a more popular center for undergraduate students, according to Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67. Among possible changes, Hubbell mentioned turning the front desk into a student activities service center, providing refreshments in the lobby, and creating a pub.
Motley said his organization, which oversees Willard Straight, could no longer justify the devotion of the entire space to pottery when hundreds of other student groups on campus are requesting space to hold meetings and events.
“People are fighting for space in Willard Straight,” he said. “The need for space for use by undergrads is so high [that] it’s not feasible to devote so much space to [the pottery studio].”
Motley explained that the Straight was created for the benefit of undergraduate students, and the pottery studio is more popular with graduate students and the Ithaca community. He called undergraduate interest “incredibly minimal.”
According to Andy Palmer, coordinator of the studio, about 319 people enroll in pottery classes each year — about half of whom are undergraduates.
Motley, on the other hand, said that out of about 80 emails he received in protest of the decision, only one was from an undergraduate.
Though the SUB does not yet have a concrete plan for how the studio will be repurposed, Motley said that once the kilns and other equipment are removed, it will be spacious enough to host dance classes, coffeehouses and other events.
The SUB will work with the class councils to assess what the student body would most like to see in the space, according to Motley.
Norah Smith ’02, a current Ph.D student and a defender of the studio, said the SUB decision ignored the facility’s unique ability to fight the academic stresses weighing on so much of the Cornell community.
“The studio provides a creative outlet that helped me maintain perspective and sanity through difficult times when it felt like nothing in my academic career was progressing,” she said.
Abby Sterle ’11 is among the undergraduates advocating for the studio’s preservation. Sterle began taking ceramics classes at the beginning of this year, and said her only regret was not enrolling sooner.
“Becoming a member of the studio was one of the best decisions I have made during my time here at Cornell,” she said. “For me, the ceramics studio is a relaxing and creative escape from the stresses of school, work and life.”
Sterle expressed concern that were the studio forced to move off campus, undergraduate interest would fall further, and said she wished that the University would assist the studio in finding a new location on campus.
Currently, studio organizers led by Palmer are considering alternative locations, including possibly forming a community ceramics cooperative at the Fall Creek Pictures facility on North Tioga Street.
Motley expressed disbelief that the average Cornellian would be able to fit pottery into his or her life.
“If people had time, I’m sure they’d use the studio … but I don’t think they really have time to sit down and make a pot,” he said.
Nevertheless, the studio’s advocates expressed regret for what future generations will be missing.
“It deeply saddens me that future Cornellians will not get to experience this unique and wonderful environment,” Smith said. “The studio has been a bright, constant, shining star through my time at Cornell and I hate to think about it not being here for others.”
Original Author: Eliza LaJoie