July 19, 2009

Arts in the Ith

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So. You’re in Ithaca. You’re in college. What to do now?
When prelims, lab reports and snow aren’t getting you down (read: seldom), there’s a lively arts scene right outside your doorstep to keep you sane. From barn-burning bashes in Barton to art appreciation in the Johnson, there’s something for every taste. Cornell may be known for its cows and gorges, but it’s no slouch when it comes to music, theater, film and fine art.
And don’t forget the turf around The Hill. Ever since it made an appearance in Homer, Ithaca has been an arts-obsessed little town, with a local music scene bursting at the seams and a host of other cultural offerings to keep the hippies, hicks and Hillsters entertained. So make use of your time here, hit the town and remember — grades may last a semester, but art lasts forever.
— The Arts Section

Concert Venues

The State Theatre
107 W. State St.

The State is Ithaca’s very own Fillmore, MSG and Royal Albert Hall, all rolled into one. A cinema during Ithaca’s brief tenure as the Hollywood of the East, its ornate interior has recently played host to the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Neko Case and Andrew Bird. Ani DiFranco, Built to Spill and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the artists slated to stop by this fall. Dance performances and movie screenings are not unheard of. Get your tickets early.

Barton Hall
Central Campus

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There might be track and field equipment on the floor and ROTC classrooms may serve as backstage, but Barton is a bona fide big star attraction. Ever heard of Ludacris, The Decemberists or Stephen Colbert? They’ve all stopped by, and Barton Hall is the undisputed king of campus venues, with a capacity around 5,000 and … interesting acoustics. One problem: most shows are on Sunday nights — the track team gets Barton on Saturday.

Bailey Hall
Central Campus

If you want to hear the sweet sounds of the Cornell Symphony Orchestra or the words of public figures like Mike Huckabee, then Bailey’s your best bet. The classroom for Psych 101 doubles as a venue for Cornell’s more subdued performances.

Risley Hall
North Campus
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As with all things arts-related on campus, Risley Hall is right in the thick of the concert scene, hosting smaller acts like Matt & Kim and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, while welcoming Cornell’s own singers and songwriters to rock their halls. There’s nothing quite like moshing on a Thursday night in somebody else’s dorm.

The Bars
Downtown & Collegetown

For a more intimate live music experience, be sure not to miss the thriving bar music scene around town. The Nines by campus regularly features college acts, while The Chapter House on Stewart Ave. is a second home for many of Ithaca’s superb home-grown bands. Castaway’s (413 Taughannock Blvd.) hosts some of the liveliest concerts around, and watering holes like The Lost Dog Café (106 S. Cayuga St.) and Felicia’s Atomic Lounge (508 W. State St.) book acts throughout the year.

The Slope

The epicenter of madness and debauchery on campus. At least for one day a year. Although the headliner last year was The Pussycat Dolls, keep in mind that past Slope Day performers have included Snoop Dogg, Kanye and Ben Folds. It gives you somethng to look forward to during the long, cold winter.

Show Promoters

Cornell Concert Commission

The heavy hitters in the campus concert scene. They’re the ones responsible for the big blowouts at Barton (T-Pain, Girl Talk, etc.) and the early fall shows on the Arts Quad. Now you know where your Student Activity Fee goes.

Fan Club Collective

The Lennon to CCC’s McCartney and a home to Cornell’s wanna-be Brooklyn hipster crowd, the FCC brings in bands before they’re cool and offers an oasis of originality in the desert of Cornell’s musical conformity. Think Kurt Vile, Bird Names and Castanets. If you get it, you get it.

Slope Day Programming Board

They only put on one show a year, but don’t call them lazy: these cats work year-round to throw Cornell the biggest and baddest party around, and the music’s just half of it. Feeling woozy? Thank your lucky, Slope Day Programming Board stars that there’s free water (and port-o-potties) within crawling distance.


The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts
430 College Ave.

The home of Cornell’s Theatre, Film & Dance Dept. Campus-produced plays, musicals and dance performances are put on throughout the fall and spring, with plenty of coed thespians for you to feast your eyes on.

Risley Hall
North Campus

Risley’s drama-oriented denizens give Cornell plenty to laugh, cry and think about, offering everything from nights at the circus to period-faithful reproductions of Don Giovanni.

Other Theaters

Ithaca’s a regular hub of cultural commotion, so it’s no surprise that there’s a thriving drama scene in town. The Kitchen Theatre (116 N. Cayuga St.) offers classical and modern productions year-round and The Hangar Theatre (801 Taughannock Blvd.) performs for those lucky enough to stay for an Ithaca summer. Speaking of which, the Red Bull Players put on Shakespeare in the Cornell Plantations in July.

Art Galleries

Hartell Gallery, Sibley Hall
Central Campus

Architecture students are notoriously mysterious, always locked up in Rand Hall producing God knows what. Hartell Gallery is a little known way of sneaking a peek at the architecture curriculum; nestled under the dome in Sibley Hall, the (spatial) center of the AAP community hosts a range of exhibits throughout the year. During mid-terms and finals, stop by to see the studio works of students pinned up — not just drawings of buildings, but frequently hand-built models and constructed work. Last year, Hartell Gallery hosted the work of Peter Eisenman ’55 as well as the works of myriad students and professors.

Tjaden Hall
Central Campus

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Cornell conceals a small but productive discipline in the fine arts within its College of Architecture, Art and Planning. While you’re in Ithaca missing the big shows at big city museums, the two galleries at Tjaden Hall put on constantly changing exhibits throughout the year — a glimpse into the current discourse on campus. Last year’s exhibits offered anything from huge plaster casts of bulging bodies to delicate paintings of Iraqi aerial landscapes. The Olive Tjaden Gallery and the Experimental Gallery are open during the week; check at the AAP registrar’s office for a schedule of shows.

Johnson Museum
Central Campus

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The Hebert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University’s own fine art museum located conveniently on the Arts Quad, has a prolific collection of contemporary and historic works of art, including many Asian artifacts. The temporary galleries change almost monthly and the Johnson frequently hosts events and lectures related to the works shown. Less known is the fact that the Johnson owns many more works than it can show at any given time — hidden in the archives are more Hokusai prints, original Rembrandt plates, and the paintings of abstract expressionists like Michael Goldberg. These works are available for viewing to students — an awesome privilege — and can be seen by making an appointment with a curator. Also, once a year, the History of Art Majors Society, a student run group, curates a show accompanied by essays and interactive exhibits.


Simon Unger’s Cube House
Makarainen Rd.

One of the few really beautiful works by a Cornell architecture grad in the Ithaca area, Simon Ungers’ minimalist cube is located out by Route 79 near Ithaca College. A pristine concrete box surrounded by acres of wilderness included in the property, the house stands as a tribute to the beauty of old school modernism in all its glory — stark, individualist, and monumental despite its small scale. Simon Ungers ’80 was the son of the late O.M. Ungers, who taught at Cornell and whose works abroad have influenced generations of designers. Borrow a friend’s car and drive up to Makarainen Rd., near South Hill to creep around.

Carl Sagan’s Study
900 Stewart Ave.

When crossing the Stewart Avenue bridge from North Campus’s Fall Creek Road towards the West Campus dorms, you will see a two-faced work of architecture that is shrouded in mystery. On the North Campus side, the building displays a modernist façade — a pure white plane with a cut opening. Looking across the gorge from the West Campus side, the building, flanked by the Rockledge fraternity, appears to be the gateway into an Egyptian tomb. The late Carl Sagan, legendary Cornell astronomer, renovated the former meeting place of the senior honor society Sphinx Head into his study and part-time home. Designed by the late Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente (a protégé of Le Corbusier and one-time Cornell professor) and his wife Ann Pendleton, Carl Sagan’s cliff edge study is a structural and formal marvel.

Johnson Museum
Central Campus

Beyond being the home to a prolific art collection, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is a complex an interesting space designed by Pei Cobb Freidd Partners — whose most famous architect is I.M. Pei. Sited specifically at the end of the northern row of the Arts Quad, the Johnson Museum functions as a viewing device for the lake and the landscape. The building has distinct and interesting spaces on each floor, starting with café on the bottom level (a picturesque place to grab a tea), moving up through the big courtyard in the middle and the panoramic conference room on the top floor — each of which is highly designed in terms of light and material. A stark contrast to the historic decadence of the other buildings on the Arts Quad, the architecture of Pei’s Johnson Museum deserves its own look.


Cornell Cinema
Central Campus

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No joke: C.C. may just be the best college movie theater in the country. Billing itself as a “year-round film festival,” it screens a frightening number of feature films, documentaries and shorts from the megaplex and places you’ve never even heard of, making every one of us a potential cinema expert. Showings are usually in Willard Straight Hall or Uris Hall. Do yourself a favor and make it a regular stop — there are multiple films a day and a constantly changing lineup, and the live talks by directors and music-accompanied silent films are just icing on the cake. Seriously, you’re lucky.

120 E. Green St.

A gift from silverscreen gods, this Ithaca fixture just moved into some new digs, allowing it to show you the best of independent, foreign and mainstream film in style. Prices are cheap, the seats are comfortable and going there makes you feel sophisticated. One more thing to do on a cloudy day, of which there are many.

Regal Cinemas
Pyramid Mall, 40 Catherwood Rd.

And you thought college meant never going to the mall again. But if you absolutely must see the midnight debut of the next Harry Potter flick, hoof it over to Regal, home of the Hollywood blockbuster and normal release schedule. It’s average and expensive and boring, but, hey, we all need our fix sometimes.