Rain or shine, night or day, the arts are fighting for life at Eastern.
A group of Eastern students took a stand last week in wake of possible upcoming cuts to arts departments around campus.
Save Kentucky Arts is an initiative started by students in EKU’s theatre department and has attracted students from various arts and non-arts majors. Its purpose is to combat the recent budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, and in-turn the defunding that the group anticipates to arts programs.
Baxter Wilhelm, a sophomore theatre major from Westminster, Md., said it all started as an off-hand comment backstage at a recent EKU theater show.
“It really has just kind of grown from there,” Wilhelm said. “And we’ve gotten a lot of support from people in the programs and in the community.”
Some of that support came in the form of signatures late last week. Save Kentucky Arts set up at Powell Corner on Thursday and Friday, April 28 and 29, collecting signatures for a petition to save EKU’s arts programs.
Lizz Walker, a sophomore broadcast and electronic media major from Richmond, said the goal is to show the impact of potential cuts.
“Hopefully this can express how many people are affected by this and how many people use art no matter what their major is or who they are, and how art affects everyone,” Walker said. “And that’s why it’s such an important major.”
Other than signatures, Save Kentucky Arts also encouraged people to sign up to perform during a 24-hour art demonstration in the Ravine.
The demonstration started at noon on Monday, May 2, and ended the following Tuesday at noon. Rain came down hard for the first few hours, but it didn’t stop students from expressing themselves under the pavilion. Buckets scattered the stage and collected water from a leaky roof while people painted, sang, danced and LARPed.
Adam Smyth, a 2013 EKU graduate with degrees in English literature and English theatre, said it’s all to get people to better appreciate the arts.
“It’s not just fun, or it’s not just playing around with crayons or paintbrushes or anything,” Smyth said. “But it’s actually trying to help a community and, you know, trying to be better, stronger people.”
Sean Sullivan, a senior English and theatre double major from Louisville, said he thinks arts programs are important to universities in order to provide the same opportunities for students as large, art-dedicated schools.
“It’s very important to provide educational opportunities in the arts at state level schools for kids that are less fortunate and don’t have the money to go to big conservatories or big, nice schools,” Sullivan said.
One of the glaring issues liberal arts faces is disproportional spending by universities. At one end of the spectrum, adjusted for inflation, EKU’s head basketball coach salary has increased 211 percent since 1975. Meanwhile, English salaries have gone down 7 percent.
Smyth said it’s out of balance.
“It feels unfair,” Smyth said. “We work just as hard as anyone else does. I get that people make different amounts of money and have different value for the community, but it does feel that we aren’t cared about when we see numbers like that.”
Sullivan said the numbers are no surprise.
“It was shocking, but not as shocking as it should be,” Sullivan said. “Because I think that’s expected nowadays, and I think colleges are run as businesses. Especially at a D1 school, you’re gonna have more money put in place for sports programs.”
There are no set plans for Save Kentucky Arts going forward. However, the group left their mark on the Ravine and campus community. By the end of the 24 hours, lights, paintings and chalk drawings nearly covered the wall and floors of the Van Peursem Pavilion.
According to Wilhelm, it’s all important, and it’s part of life.
“It is fundamental to what we are as humans,” Wilhelm said.