The Modlin Center for the Arts was established in 1996, with the mission statement of providing “diverse and vibrant arts experiences that inspire, engage, and enrich the community on- and off- campus,” according to the Modlin Center's website. But for many of these experiences, student attendance is minimal.
At the University of Richmond, why is it so hard to get students to engage with the arts?
The Modlin Center has initiated an ongoing effort to increase UR-student engagement and attendance of Modlin-sponsored events, said Shannon Hooker, assistant director of the Modlin Center. Student engagement drives Modlin's programming, Hooker said.
“The Modlin Center can serve both as an educational and social resource for students,” Hooker said. “You don’t have to be an expert in the arts to get meaning from or to appreciate it.”
Hooker oversees “Modlin Arts Presents,” which brings outside artists to campus for performances and workshops, she said.
“We’re trying to design different engagement events that bring folks closer to the performance, to the creative process and to rich perspectives,” Hooker said.
These events include visiting performers presenting talks, live performances, master classes, Q&As and more, Hooker said.
Along with "Modlin Arts Presents," the HD Broadcast Series and Artists in Residence program collectively host about 45 live performances during the academic year, Hooker said.
But the majority of those who enjoy these events are not UR students. It is estimated that 90% of attendees of those performances are adults from the Richmond area, said Program Associate at the Modlin Center Jianing Wang, a junior exchange student studying at UR.
The remaining 10% is composed of faculty members and students, many of whom are attending these events solely to fulfill a class requirement, Wang said.
“Students here [at UR] are very over programmed,” Wang said. “So if it’s not interesting, they won’t come.”
Wang, along with a couple of her classmates, is researching student engagement with Modlin Center programming for their marketing research class this semester. She hopes this project will give Modlin Center programming a direction so that the Modlin Center can conduct activities that are better targeted toward students, Wang said.
Cost is another factor limiting student attendance, Wang said. In her preliminary research, Wang found that students prefer athletic games because they are free with student IDs, unlike on-campus art events, she said.
For UR performances, tickets usually cost about $10 for students, Hooker said. But many of these performances would be a lot more expensive if seen at professional venues outside of UR, she said.
To address a potential cost barrier, the theater and dance programs have made all their productions free for students this semester, Hooker said.
The Modlin Center also faces difficulty with its location on campus, Hooker said. It is an “uphill battle” to get people to the other side of Westhampton Lake and past the Heilman Dining Center, Hooker said.
Junior Kacy Workman, a student associate who works under Hooker, said many of her friends perceived the Modlin Center as very formal, and thus home to only formal performances.
Workman said that in her experience, students would more likely engage in more casual events, such as a printmaking workshop.
“There’s a space on campus for students who want to be involved in those things, but who don’t necessarily want to take the time to take a semester-long drawing class,” Workman said.
Workman and Hooker have tried to plan similar events, many of which are quite popular, they said.
Workman and Hooker recently partnered with “Meet @ the Museum!,” a happy hour where students can socialize over hor d'oeuvres at the on-campus museums, to start providing live music to the functions, they said.
In the fall of 2018, the Modlin Center also teamed up with SpiderNights for a Modlin Arts Crawl, which had arts and crafts activities, food and an open mic night, Hooker said.
Currently, Workman is trying to plan a Modlin Block Party for fall of 2020. This function would take place on the Westhampton Green, complete with performers, food trucks and a potential art workshop, Workman said.
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