Making Change in the World (Winter 2018)
Greetings from beautiful Bennington, where the trees are frosted with snow and students are making final preparations for Field Work Term. The past few months have brought new opportunities for artistic discovery and intellectual collaboration. Students dove into fall term eager to flex their creative, analytic, and democratic muscles and start building a better world. We are excited to share with you all the great work that is under way.
Civic Action and Civil Disagreement
The midterm elections provided an opportunity for students to exercise their political power and take a look inside our local and national democratic processes. In preparation for Election Day, Bennington students, staff, and faculty collaborated on voter education and registration efforts including a registration drive, assistance with absentee ballots, transportation to the polls, and community engagement. For many students, the midterms were also an opportunity to gain first-hand experience working with state officials and media. Bronwyn Edwards '19 worked as a stringer for the Associated Press on Election Night, reporting out results from local polls. Said Edwards, “I was going to focus more on drama and writing, but I enrolled in a one-credit Public Policy lecture series in CAPA, and it’s completely changed the way I want to approach my work.”
The Public Policy Forums at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) have provided a fertile venue for discussing the state of electoral politics and many other pressing issues this fall. Through this series of timely conversations, we brought together Vermont House representatives, local journalists, VT Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan, alumna and former Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell ’69, artists, activists, and more. Following the success of the series, CAPA launched Democracy Under Siege, which focused on the current state of democratic processes, checks, and balances. It was kicked off by former VT Governor Howard Dean before a packed audience.
Recognizing the interconnectedness of art and activism, of world-building through creativity, has always been one of our strengths at Bennington. And so, we were thrilled to announce this fall our new Master of Fine Arts in Public Action degree. Directed by faculty member Robert Ransick in collaboration with CAPA Director Susan Sgorbati, the program is designed for professionals working in the arts, including visual and performing artists and leaders, who are making significant contributions to the field of socially and civically engaged creative practice. Provost and Dean of the College Isabel Roche described it as “combining artistry and social justice into a uniquely rigorous graduate degree.”
The work of Bennington students and faculty is apparent in the world around us all the time, in advances in human rights and social justice, in fine arts, and popular culture. But we are particularly proud to have been selected as an Art in Embassies school, to be featured at the intersection of geopolitics and arts innovation. This fall, Bennington College’s contribution to the program was unveiled at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway -- a large-scale outdoor sculpture, surrounding paintings, and a selection of visually complex graphics. Led by faculty members Jon Isherwood and Susan Sgorbati, students created these stunning works to explore the interconnected ecology and politics of the U.S. and Arctic Council nations.
It would be impossible to mention all the work Bennington students and alumni are doing every day to make the world a more just, sustainable, and equitable place, but special congratulations go out to students Lika Torikashvili for being selected as Georgia Youth Delegate to the United Nations, and to Kelsey Broadfield ’20 who spent an intensive summer Field Work Term at the Research Institute of Sociology and Social Inequality at Texas A&M University. Kelsey presented findings from her research at the Southwestern Social Science Association Conference in October.
We are always grateful to the many accomplished alumni who return to campus each year to discuss their work in the world. This fall, we welcomed back Gay Johnson McDougall ’69, winner of the 2018 Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award for her work in international human rights. Gay spoke to a packed house at CAPA about her experiences around the world and the state of racial justice today.
Solving Big Problems
Bennington people are known for looking at problems in new ways, for finding unconventional solutions, and for recognizing the places where science, art, social justice, and technology intersect.
And so we are also excited to share that former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Judith Enck will lead Beyond Plastics, working with students and community leaders around the country to reduce plastic pollution. Plastics are a major threat to fish, wildlife, marine ecosystems, and likely human health. Enck will teach two courses this spring on the topic, which will include community engagement and engagement with local policymakers.
Also this fall, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made a grant of $2.5 million to continue the work of the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education, which was developed by Bennington College, Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Vassar College last year. The grant will be shared among the consortium partners and will support the work of two ongoing CAPA projects, GANAS and Bennington Translates. This grant will also support the development of shared curricula and other programming on the forced migration crisis.
The National Science Foundation recently awarded a $300,000 grant to an initiative that will bring computer science to formerly-incarcerated people. The funding will help expand on the collaboration between Bennington’s Prison Education Initiative (PEI) and the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) at Bard College. Thanks to the leadership of CAPA faculty members David Bond and Annabel Davis-Goff, and Computer Science faculty member Andrew Cencini, PEI works to transform the lives of individuals and the prison system through high-quality academic programming and degree-earning opportunities.
In computer science news, Vapor IO, a micro data center focused on mobile edge computing and founded by faculty member Andrew Cencini, announced in September that it will receive its third injection of investment dollars (series C funding) to launch its colocation. Since the company's founding, Bennington students and alumni have worked over Field Work Term and full-time after graduation to help build Vapor IO, including Erick Daniszewski '14, Klemente Gilbert-Espada '14, Nidesh Chitrakar '18, Morgan Morley Mills '17, Linh Hoang '18, Hoanh An '20, Sadip Giri '19, and Matt Jones '19.
Throughout our rich history, Bennington College has invited students and staff to engage with problems that challenge us not only on a national and international level, but at the local level as well. Bennington has always played a vital role in the social, environmental, and artistic communities around us. That tradition continues to this day. Our grounds are open to the public for hiking and picnicking; we support local artists through our retail shop and events; and, from poetry readings to public policy discussions, the community is invited to join us on a regular basis.
Last month, Bennington students partnered with others from Williams College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to weatherize 44 area homes for the winter months, free of charge. It was an invigorating (and chilly) opportunity to do more for underserved communities in our area.
We also celebrated the one year anniversary of Bennington’s renovation and reopening of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum. We have the privilege of preserving this literary landmark for the community and college. It was nearly a century ago when Frost lived in the House and composed his Pulitzer Prize-winning work there. Today, the museum is open to the public and school groups; the historic building and apple trees are preserved for the future; and our vital role in Southern Vermont’s rich cultural tapestry endures.
Bennington in the Arts
Bennington College’s roots run deep in American arts. Our students work and learn from leaders in the field, and many go on to become leaders themselves. To celebrate our symbiotic relationship with the living arts, we launched Art for Access earlier this fall. Art for Access is a new program that provides a dynamic model for supporting scholarships by inviting new donations of art to the College. It is a celebration of our pioneering legacy in the visual arts and an opportunity to advance our commitment to equity, diversity, and access.
We have also just announced our next class of Lucille Lortel Foundation Fellows in Theatre. Under the direction of faculty member and Dorset Theatre Festival Artistic Director Dina Janis, students receive internship positions in select off-Broadway theatres and drama organizations, as well as need-based grants. It is a rare opportunity for undergraduates to immerse themselves in every aspect of contemporary theatre production, to cultivate a deeper, more practical understanding of the theatre world. Host theatres for the 2019 Fellowship are: Cherry Lane Theatre, MCC Theater, Mint Theater Company, New Georges, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, The Flea Theater, The Lark, The New Group, and Vineyard Theatre.
We are also gearing up for another exciting Museum Fellows Term, an immersive five-month experience in New York in which Bennington undergraduates work and learn simultaneously. It is a 360-degree view of the art world, run in partnership with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. While in New York, fellows work closely with Program Director Liz White and Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Smith. Museum partners have included The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, The Jewish Museum, Museum of the Moving Image, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Whitney Museum of American Art.
A number of exceptional artists joined us on campus as well this fall for our Visual Arts Lecture Series including Lauren Ruffin, Mario Gooden, Tan Pin Pin, Elle Pérez, and Dr. Juana Maria Rodriguez. Each term, Bennington hosts a new and varied group of visiting arts professionals for the Series to showcase the diversity of contemporary art practices. The focus this term was on “Trans Visualities: Crossings, Counter-Narratives, Collaborations.” It drew enthusiastic audiences from students and the community.
Bennington students and alumni made exciting contributions to the world of visual arts in recent months. To name just a few:
Potter Martha Grover ’02 received the 2018 Woodbury Grant and returned to campus as a visiting ceramic artist.
The work of Nicole Donnelly ’02 is featured in a public art installation in South Philadelphia’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park.
Artists Sarah Fetterman '14 and Nicole Czapinski '06 returned to campus this autumn for a residency supported by the Woodbury Foundation.
Bennington’s own Soulful Choir performed on December 2 to a rapt crowd. The choir, led by Tre Wilson, was originally convened for the student theater production of The Christians. Though production has ended, the group continues to sing and collaborate on campus and in the region. We look forward to seeing what they do next.
In the world of letters, Poetry at Bennington featured an inspiring and varied group of writers this semester including Dawn Lundy, faculty member Phillip B. Williams, Daniel Borzutzky, Rachel Galvin, Cynthia Cruz, Sandra Simonds, and Don Mee Choi. Poetry at Bennington is a series of multi-day residencies by prominent contemporary poets, both established and emerging. The readings and discussion they share with students have become a perennial favorite on campus.
For MFA candidates with poetic ambitions, we are thrilled to begin awarding the twice-yearly Donald Hall Scholarship for Poets. Thanks to a generous and sustaining gift from an anonymous donor, one full scholarship will be awarded to the top poetry candidate for the January 2019 Masters of Fine Arts in Writing residency, and again for the June 2019 residency. The deadline to apply for the June residency is March 1st, 2019.
This fall, we also welcomed the first fellow in our new MFA Residential Teaching Program, a first-of-its-kind teaching opportunity among low residency MFA programs. Lisa Ann Cockrel comes to us from the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College where, as director, she curated conversations with Zadie Smith, George Saunders, and many more. Lisa assisted faculty member Manuel Gonzales in his fall term course, “Screenwriting: Scene and Structure.”
Bennington alumni and faculty write a lot of books, from novels and poetry collections to personal essays and memoirs. Check out this list of 2018 and upcoming 2019 publications from Bennington people, and let us know if we have missed any!
And congratulations to the following students, alumni, and faculty members who have made literary contributions in just the past few months:
Bruna Dantas Lobato ’15 was awarded the 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her English translation of Caio Fernando Abreu’s Moldy Strawberries: Stories from Portuguese.
Faculty member Phillip B. Williams was featured in The New York Times Style Magazine recent cover story, “Black Male Writers for Our Time.”
Tim Hernandez MFA ’11 was awarded the University of California Santa Barbara’s 15th Annual Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs MFA ’09 released her memoir Small Fry to wide acclaim in September.
MFA Faculty member and award-winning author Amy Hempel was awarded the 2018 Yaddo Artist Medal.
Morgan Jerkins MFA ’16 was interviewed by Ozy about her New York Times best-selling essay collection This Will Be My Undoing and her creative process.
And a reminder to those prospective MFA students in your life: applications for the June term are due March 1st.
Bennington at Work
Bennington College has always stood out for its fusion of intellectual rigor and applied skills, and this approach has perhaps never been more critical than it is today, as workforce demand increases for graduates with real-life experience and the capacity to adapt to a changing world. That has been the vision of Field Work Term since our founding in 1932. Every student, every year, spends roughly seven weeks doing real work in the world, testing ideas, examining their areas of study from a different perspective, and forging professional connections that can blossom into careers.
This year’s suite of Field Work Term internships will take Bennington students around the globe and across industries. Here are just a few of the hundreds of places students will work this year: Yale University Computation and Cognitive Development Lab; USC Brain and Creativity Institute; Arizona State University Center for Gender Equity in Science & Technology; University of Georgia Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory; FX; NBC Universal; MASS MoCA; American Museum of Natural History; Christie’s; Vermont State Legislature; National Archives; and Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. Many of these work opportunities come to us from alumni and parents, whose engagement and support is essential. For instance, students this year will work at the entertainment studio RYOT, which was founded by Bryn Mooser ’01.
We are always looking for new ways to expand professional development opportunities for all Bennington students, but that alone isn’t enough. Students arrive at Bennington with widely disparate levels of financial support and need. As such, we work to do the most good with our limited resources, deploying it in ways that will help ensure that opportunities are broadly available to all of our students.
To this end, we have made important strides in a number of ways. We’ve dramatically increased the number of students fully employed from the outset. We have added dozens of paid Field Work Term positions and more funded fellowship positions. Students are receiving more career development assistance at every stage, resulting in more preparedness for their first Field Work Term right up through their transition to the workforce after graduation. We will continue to listen and adapt to student needs through our Career Development team.
This fall, we welcomed a number of new faces to Bennington staff and faculty ranks, including Delia Saenz, our new vice president for institutional inclusion, equity, and leadership development. Delia has already engaged faculty in a series of workshops devoted to understanding our core values and creating inclusive learning and working spaces. In partnership with French, SCT, Music, and the Provost and Dean’s office, Delia also co-sponsored Black French Matters, featuring rap artist Casey and Universite de Tours professor Maboula Soumahoro. During the spring term, Saenz will teach a course on the “Social Dynamics of Inclusion.”
Happenings at Home
Central to our philosophy here at Bennington College is the necessity of coming together. For more than eighty years, we have come together for creative collaboration, civil discourse, and the sort of discovery that yields great cultural contributions in the broader world. Here are a few updates from on and around campus:
Tickets will soon be available for the 24-Hour Plays on January 21, 2019 at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City. All proceeds benefit the Nicky Martin Performing Arts Scholarship and the Spencer Cox ’90 Field Work Term Fellowship for Student Activists.
As you know, Bennington launched the Campus Renewal Fund earlier this year and we have already raised $17 million of our $30 million goal to support development of our buildings and grounds.
The next Bennington Magazine will be out soon. You can update your address and check out previous editions here.
If you wish to give to the Bennington Fund before the end of the year, trustee Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan ’91 has generously offered to match every $10,000 with $10,000 more up to $100,000 through December 31, 2018.
And finally, mark your calendars for the All-Class Reunion on September 27-29, 2019. Details about the event and opportunities to help with programming are available here.
As the snow accumulates outside and fall term comes to a close, we reflect on all that we have to be grateful for here at Bennington: for the generosity of our alumni, the enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge of our faculty, and most of all for the curiosity and creativity of our students. We look forward to sharing with you all that they create and discover in 2019.
Wishing you peace in the new year.