Over 50 alumni participants showcase their work through sessions, panels, workshops, performances, and screenings. Twenty-five films were shown as part of the Bennington College Alumni Film & Creativity Festival, directed by Cameo Wood ’08 and Alethea Root ’02.
Alumni, families, students, faculty, and staff joined Chair of the Board of Trustees Nick Stephens ’77, Interim President Isabel Roche, and Vice President for Facilities Management & Planning Andrew Schlatter for a celebration and presentation of the transformational renovations in Commons.
“Commons is today an embodiment of Bennington’s philosophy, and a space befitting the high aesthetic standard of those early artists and tastemakers who gathered here,” said Roche.
At the conclusion of the remarks, the Commons bell sounded to ring in this new chapter of the College’s history.
Over the course of the weekend, visitors explored Commons—eating meals in the new dining hall, gathering for coffee in Roz’s Cafe, attending open classes, and admiring artworks on display throughout the building.
On Saturday afternoon, alumni, families, faculty, and staff came together for Bennington Today, the annual state-of-the-College report on all that Bennington has accomplished over the past year and its priorities for the future.
Board of Trustees Chair Nick Stephens provided an overview of Bennington's storied history and the through-lines to life at Bennington today, including the historic renovation of Commons. Interim President Isabel Roche detailed some of the most exciting developments of the past year—among them a $1 million grant from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation to address the causes of food insecurity in the region, the Beyond Plastics project in which students become leaders in the fight against plastics pollution, a new partnership with the Middlebury Language Schools, and the continued momentum of Bennington’s ambitious capital campaign.
Participants also heard from Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Alan Kornberg on the status of the search for the next president of Bennington College. The Committee has selected Phillips Oppenheim, a leading firm working with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, to spearhead the project, and they are already making progress in identifying some promising candidates.
Awards and Honors
Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award
On Saturday afternoon, educator, composer, and instrument-builder John Bertles ’81 was honored with the Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award.
This annual award was established in honor of Bennington’s ninth president and former director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) to recognize a member of the College community who has successfully demonstrated the willingness to step forward and take risks in order to solve problems and achieve results in the areas of education, government, the arts and sciences, or industry.
As co-founder of Bash the Trash, Bertles builds, performs, and educates with musical instruments made from reused and repurposed materials.
“My mentor at Bennington College, the late Gunnar Schonbeck, always counseled to seek deeper meaning through the interconnectivity of subjects: meanings which are complex, difficult, and diverse—and consequently richer both in scope and nuance,” said Bertles. “In Bash the Trash, we embody that concept, using our cool and weird musical instruments as vehicles to teach and entertain, and ultimately inspire children and educators to seek those deeper connections between art, science, and the environment.
Hudas Schwartz Liff ’47 Outstanding Volunteer Award
On Saturday evening, Sekka Scher ’90 was recognized with the Hudas Schwartz Liff ’47 Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Established in 1985, the Hudas Schwartz Liff ’47 Award recognizes outstanding volunteer service within the alumni body. Since its creation, 27 alumni have been honored with it. Wendy Liff '77, Hudas Schwartz Liff’s daughter, joined the College community for this presentation.
Scher is the chair of the committee for the Spencer Cox ’90 Field Work Term Fellowship for Student Activists and a significant donor and driver of the 24-Hour Plays.
In her speech, Scher remembered Cox’s advocacy in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis and called for a continued support of young people in their efforts to better the world.
“Let us take Spencer’s legacy as a challenge to never stop using the skills that we’ve developed to fight the battles of today,” said Scher. “Let us dedicate all of our creativity and resources and never stop earning the trust of the next generation.”
On Sunday morning, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management and Planning Andrew Schlatter gave a presentation on upcoming campus space renovations, including a redesigned Student Center and the reconstruction of the Barn’s southeast wing.
Bennington College is in the design and costing phase of development for a planned renovation of the Student Center complex, working with the Philadelphia architecture firm DISGAU. The design—developed in collaboration with current students through the Fall 2018 course (Re)Center: Reimagining the Student Center—will recreate the Student Center as a vibrant new hub of student-centered programming.
The renovation will incorporate new interior and exterior amenities—including a communal kitchen, mezzanine lounge, music stage and student gallery—supporting a mix of programs that combine social, performance, active recreation, and student life functions.
Barn Southeast Wing
Following the spring 2019 fire that damaged the southeast wing of the Barn, the College is pursuing plans for a reconstruction and renovation of that portion of the building. Envisioned as the initial phase of a holistic renovation to this much-beloved building, the Southeast Wing reconstruction will retain the vital historic character of the building, while adding new features to improve accessibility and wayfinding, as well as new spaces to support collaboration and interaction between students, faculty, and staff.
Throughout the weekend, attendees were treated to a variety of concerts featuring the work of Bennington alumni, students, and faculty.
The a cappella group Bennington—featuring Michael Chinworth ’08, Dane Whitman ’16, and Liam Dailey ’14—sang for faculty, families, students, and alumni gathered for a welcome reception at the Wolery Terrace on Saturday.
On Saturday night, Thomas Hughes ’06, keyboard player for psychedelic multimedia pop project Carol Cleveland Sings; and Alice Tolan-Mee ’12, who writes, records, and performs in electronic future-pop project Catastrophie; presented their latest work.
On Sunday afternoon, Surplus Daughters—a folk trio comprised of Carling Berkhout ’19, Amy Anders ’21, and Magdalen Wulf—performed a free concert at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum.
5x10 Alumni Exhibition Auction Extended
The 5x10 Alumni Exhibition Auction, featuring creative 2D expressions by Bennington alumni, has been extended to November 1, 2019. All proceeds go towards supporting student scholarships.
Before the weekend ended, alumni, families, and the campus community gathered at the End of the World for a memorial lantern send-off, remembering friends, faculty, and others in the Bennington community. Carl Linich ’04, Doug Paisley ’91, and Kerry Ryer-Parke ’90 performed.