A regular trailer rarely receives much attention. But the surprisingly adaptable Collaboratory has been all over campus and played host to a number of creative installations, displays and workshops since its inception last year. According to the Creative Arts Across Discipline website, “CAAD is an experimental laboratory for trying out new models of research, pedagogy and parctice, that foreground critical making and doing as complementary activities to critical thinking.”
New Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator, Tom Pacio now oversees the project and has high hopes for expanding the site’s potential uses and visibility this year.
Originally coming to Vassar in 2007 to work as the Education Director for Powerhouse, Pacio’s recent job shift to CAAD has been a whirlwind of work.
“I have only been in this position since the beginning of August, so the majority of my efforts thus far have been spent producing the three MultiArts Collectives which are taking place this fall on campus,” wrote Pacio. “In addition to that, I am coordinating the use of the Collaboratory and sending out calls for proposals for next year’s programming.”
Pacio and four student assistants plan how to use the space, which has already been home to many exhibits and clubs. He hopes to increase its visibility both on and off campus this year. In an emailed statement, Pacio explained, “It is my goal in this year to increase the awareness across campus, and in the community, about what [CAAD] is and does. The Collaboratory is one part of our programming, but it is also the part that is the most accessible to the widest range of people.”
He continued, “It my goal to have the Collaboratory move around campus more this academic year and for it to reach a wider range of students, faculty, and staff. I would really like to see more student organizations view the space as a resource to their programming, while maintaining opportunities for individuals projects.”
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, CAAD aims to make creative work accessible to Vassar’s student body. The Collaboratory is one part of the initiative that includes three other Multi-Arts Collective projects. According to Pacio, “They are all very unique and great examples of what this grant does.”
The Collaboratory’s portability makes it one of the most flexible and visible CAAD projects on campus. It is a long retrofitted trailer that can be used by students or student groups to display artwork, host workshops or just promote activities on campus.
Groups and individuals must submit proposals to use the space. Each year, the Collaboratory tries to center its projects around a particular theme. Last year’s theme was sight. Thus, projects that incorporated visual aspects were given priority. Theme aside, any student or student group can apply to use the Collaboratory.
This year’s theme is sound. The space’s first occupants, Vassar on Tap, were a natural fit as Vassar’s only tap dance group, so they took over the Collaboratory from Aug. 31 until Sept. 4. They coaxed passerby in with free cookies and kept them interested with mini lessons and more information on the craft. Emma Butensky ’18, the group’s President, explained the process of getting their exhibit underway, “There was a call for proposals last spring, so we applied and we got the space for this week. It was a really nice experience dealing with the Collaboratory people. They were really helpful and friendly. It was a pretty easy application and once we were accepted, everything went smoothly. In the beginning of summer Tom contacted me and we started figuring out some of the logistics of the set up process and exactly how the space was going to be utilized.”
The group outfitted the trailer with streamers and festive decorations while videos of tap dancing played against the back wall. Small wooden boards served as spaces for lessons. Butensky was surprised with the exhibit’s success. She explained, “This is our first time using the Collaboratory, so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. It’s been going really well though. A lot of people have come in and a lot of people have signed up for the email list. We have pages of emails right now. Lots of freshmen have come in and we’ve just been meeting a lot of cool new people.”
The space gives students great freedom to choose how they want to present their exhibit. “We had a lot of leeway with the space. We told them what we were going to do and they approved it but we had pretty much total freedom,” explained Butensky.
This freedom allows students to share their creativity with a broad audience. Diya Nag ’18, of Vassar on Tap, explained, “Emma’s really a great teacher. She’s worked with a lot of really great tap dancers, so it’s cool to have that experience. It’s nice to get to learn something that you’ve never experienced before … you grow a lot.” Through the Collaboratory, these lessons have reached many students outside of the club’s membership.
Vassar on Tap’s workshops took place outside of the College Center but the space is already on to its next location where the Vassar Greens and Student Class Issues Alliance (SCIA) teamed up to put on a textbook swap in the space. The free, “zero-waste” swap will take place all week between 12:00 and 2:00.
Co-President of the Vassar Greens, Ashley Hoyle ’18, explained, “CAAD was absolutely amazing! They helped us get really creative with our time in the Collaboratory by moving the trailer to the green space next to the Crafted Kup and have met with me and my Co-President frequently to check in and help with publicity etc.”
So far, the collaboration and move have been successful. “The first few days have gone really well! We have had a lot of donations as well as foot traffic and we hope people continue to stop by to see what’s available as well as chat with members of the Greens about the Textbook Swap and what we do as a whole,” elaborated Hoyle.
Pacio moved the Collaboratory off campus for the first time to host the swap in an effort to increase community visibility. “This week, in working with Vassar Greens and the Student Class Issues Alliance, we decided an ideal location for the Collaboratory would be the green space on Raymond Ave. by Crafted Kup,” wrote Pacio. “While this is property owned by the college, and the Collaboratory is clearly a college vehicle, several permits had to be filed with the town of Poughkeepsie to facilitate this move.”
Pacio’s move into the community is just one of his many ideas to try to have CAAD and Vassar engage more with the surrounding community. While he may have ideas of his own, Pacio wants to keep CAAD as a student space. “…when CAAD works at its best is when ideas come from the Vassar community and I can help bring those ideas to fruition. That is how I see my job with CAAD—bring me your ideas and I will help figure out what is possible. It’s a very exciting position to be in, both creative and problem-solving centered the same time,” wrote Pacio.
He hopes that the Collaboratory will attract students to the previously unused space. “Outside of that time, it is my hope to invite some other organizations to use the space outside of the Collaboratory for small concerts, or sharings of their creative work, ideally those based in sound,” he explained. Already, Vassar Greens and SCIA will host an informal coffeehouse outside on Friday at 6:00 p.m.