Vassar’s newest art club fosters supportive, creative community

Courtesy of Courtney Collett Caolo ʼ23

Students all around campus engage in a variety of art both in and out of the classroom, from drawing and painting to knitting and digital art. Among all of the various artistic clubs and groups that students can join, the Vassar Art Club has emerged as a new organization that hosts fun arts-related events with the goal of uniting and creating a supportive, relaxing space for student artists to foster their interests.

The Vassar Art Club President Courtney Collett Caolo ʼ23 started the group last fall after feeling frustrated that she didn’t have the time in her schedule to take any of the Art Department’s classes. As a result, Caolo found herself yearning for an artistic community that she could join outside of academics.

“There [weren’t] really any opportunities to get into the studio art academics without having pre-reqs, or having to take other classes, test out of classes, and I was like, ‘I just would like to have a space where other artistic people could meet and create and have a community,’ but that wasn’t available,” Caolo expressed.

After consulting with the VSA Chair of Orgs, Caolo began searching for other group members and people to assume leadership positions within the group. Just from the initial flyers she posted around campus, nearly 30 people expressed interest, including many of the members who would make up the club’s current Executive Board. Within a few months, Vassar Art Club became an official pre-org and grew to include over 50 people by the end of the academic year.

Treasurer Laura Darling ʼ24 was one of the first students who reached out to Caolo about joining the group. Formerly the president of her high school art club, Darling was looking to build a stress-free, supportive community where she could meet new people and continue to engage with art.

“I just want it to be a fun, relaxing environment, because I feel like a lot of the time the art classes at Vassar can be stressful, because you have pressure to get a good grade and everything, and also not everyone has room in their schedule to take one,” Darling commented. “So, I just want it to be a good place to come and be with other people and be supported.”

The board members all emphasized the importance of supporting the artists and their creative interests.“A big part of the events that we put on is what our members want to do,” Caolo explained. “We’re not going to hold events that have no calling on campus for that.”

The club often sends out polls to its members, soliciting ideas for future meetings or projects. As a result, the club has hosted events that have dabbled in all kinds of art, from sketching and painting to Shrinky Dinks and ʼ90s bracelet keychains.

“We kind of really just work in a way that we like to provide the means necessary to be creative, so if there’s anybody who’s interested in a very, very, very niche thing, we’re going to try and find materials and a community in which they can thrive and create,” Caolo said. 

However, along with the typical challenges that come with starting a new student org, the Vassar Art Club faced many obstacles last year due to the pandemic, which rendered event planning much more complicated.

“The challenge was basically everything had to be either over Zoom or outdoors,” Darling said. “Kind of the whole point of an art club is to be able to share thoughts and ideas, and it’s very hard to do when you can’t actually be together in person, so we had to be creative about it.”

Some of the main problems involved limited capacities and a finite number of locations where the club could meet, due to restricted card access to certain buildings: “We couldn’t get into any of the studio spaces, we couldn’t collaborate with the Ceramics Club because none of us could go in Noyes, so it was kind of really difficult to find spaces in which we could hold meetings that were safe. A lot of times, we eventually just ended up in the tents. That way we could just be outside, reduce risk and still have a good number of people there,” Caolo described.

Caolo particularly wanted to use the club for community outreach and to engage with non-profits in the Poughkeepsie area, an element that was derailed due to COVID-19. However, the club is hoping to revive this goal in the future and host a student art show in collaboration with a local non-profit. They plan to bring in young and independent artists from both Vassar and the Poughkeepsie area to showcase their work on campus.

Alongside this project, the possibility of more events and the ongoing growth of the club heightened the members’ excitement for the coming year.

“Now that we have a bigger budget and now that we have less limitations due to COVID…we can kind of hold regular meetings where we can bring everyone together, do stuff more often, and get a real community started, and that’s what I’m really looking forward to, is being able to provide a sense of community for people who are trying to be artistic on campus,” Caolo said.

Assistant Manager Charlie Chen ʼ24 expressed his enthusiasm for the continuing evolution of the club: “I’d love to see how the club [grows] from what we were to what we are to what we will be. I feel like it will be an interesting journey just to see it getting big, and hopefully by the time I graduate Vassar, it can probably be one of the more well-known, bigger clubs.”

Since the org fair, around 180 people have expressed interest in joining the club, but the group is also eager to welcome more new members to the community. “There will be no skill required; if you want to have some fun, come join us,” Chen encouraged.

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