LORENZEN | Any person, any study… except the performing arts

“Don’t tell me what you enjoy. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you like.

I almost didn’t apply to Cornell. This school has changed my life, giving me the best opportunities, the dearest friends and the best experiences of my life so far. But, at first, I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t on my college list four years ago. I knew he had a good reputation. I had a cousin who went here and loved it, but my aspirations were to enter the world of cinema and theatre. I wanted to write plays, screenplays and fiction. And I knew from my research that the Cornell administration’s history of supporting such artistic pursuits was abysmal.

There was a strange dichotomy – Cornell had one of the best records for producing creative luminaries in film and theater, but the administration had one of the worst records for supporting undergraduates in those fields. . Cornell’s alumni list is a veritable who’s who of industry leaders. There’s Howard Hawks (’17) – one of the greatest film directors of all time (scarface, The big sleep, Men prefer blondes). There’s Paula Vogel (’76, ’16) – the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of How I learned to drive. There’s Sam Gold (’00) – Tony Award-winning director of fun house. There’s Thelma Schoonmaker (’61) – the three-time Oscar-winning film editor from angry bull, the aviator and The dead. Even Superman graduated from Cornell! Christopher Reeve (’74) cut his teeth on the Cornell stages.

But, when a high school candidate researches Cornell’s performing and media arts department, they first discover Cornell’s history of gutting its funding. The major itself – encompassing film, theater and dance – was created after the Cornell administration cut the department’s budget by $1 million. Cornell took on the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance and cut its budget so badly that it could no longer survive. When I researched Cornell in high school, this is what I found. And that’s why I didn’t see myself applying initially.

However, on the last possible day, I decided to launch an application. I wrote my supplemental essay in script form and submitted it just before the deadline, expecting little to draw from it. But what came out of it were the last four years of my life. And these four years of my life have been indelibly shaped for the better by the incredible talent, support and guidance of everyone in the Performing and Media Arts department. PMA teachers are incredibly bright and supportive of student work. They go above and beyond to nurture artistic endeavors in a school that tends to reject such endeavors. And the students who walk the halls of the Schwartz Center every day take the legacy of all those alumni and run with it. The Department of Performing and Media Arts represents the best of this university, and I am proud to be a part of it.

That’s why it breaks my heart that, more than a decade after the budget cuts that created this department, the Cornell administration still doesn’t take its commitment to the performing arts seriously. As a member of PMA’s Programming and Curriculum Committee, I witness the difficult budgetary decisions the department must make due to its insufficient funding.

The annual budget for PMA productions is $50,000, a figure lower than the funding levels of some student organizations. The average game production tends to hover around $10,000. This year, the department has 5 incredibly talented student filmmakers making thesis films, most of which require a budget of at least $5,000. Support for thesis projects alone can monopolize half of this budget. Students and faculty are perpetually poised to push forward and create exceptional work, but the specter of limited funding hangs over everything. You can’t fund every project, but the first thought when staging a PMA production doesn’t always have to be “How are we going to get the money?”

Funding issues affect all areas of the department. While PMA tries to bring in more BIPOC guest artists, there is no funding to pay for their travel and accommodation. Although Ithaca has a great arts scene, few artists working at BIPOC in these fields can afford to put their careers on hold and move to Ithaca for a semester while paying two rents. And if they choose to go to class, they still won’t receive funding to cover their expenses. This makes Cornell a less attractive destination and stifles efforts to bring diverse voices to the department.

And that’s all without mentioning how insufficient funding and ongoing cuts are hurting staff retention. When the pandemic began, Cornell was understandably faced with the need to economize across the University. Yet what was the first place they immediately sought to cut? The dance program, laying off two dance teachers. At a time when it would be harder than ever for dancers to be able to continue producing work, Cornell responded by getting rid of their teachers.

The end result of this dynamic is a Catch-22. The Department of Performing and Media Arts struggles to maintain high visibility on campus despite insufficient funding, resulting in fewer majors and an easier time for the administration to further cut its funding. All the while, students who are deeply passionate about the department continue to work with faculty who continue to go above and beyond to support them while receiving scarce resources to do so. This is happening as elsewhere in the University brand new colleges are springing up. Yet the department that runs all of the performing arts at a school that prides itself on producing luminaries in this field is consistently underfunded. This is unacceptable.

If the Cornell administration still believes in one person, one study, it should provide the performing arts with the funding it deserves. He should see not only Cornell’s proud history in these fields, but also the ancillary benefits of honing the personal and creative skills of students in countless majors who branch out into acting, writing, dance and other artistic activities, improving their performance in their primary studies. Cornell should simply value the Department of Performing and Media Arts for all that it brings to this university. And to do that, he has to put his money where his mouth is.

Andrew V. Lorenzen is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] When we’re sixty-four takes place every other Wednesday this semester.