By Ray Newby
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
― Vincent van Gogh
“What about the Academic Hub?”
The question was arguably off topic, but I can’t for the life of me remember who brought it up. We were in government class one Tuesday morning, only an hour and a half or so into the school day, and we were listening to the Mayor talk about local infrastructure. Though the class had started off on an interesting note (we’d all met him at one point, but not this intimately, and we were temporarily star-struck) most of us had our phones in our laps or, like me, were drawing on our hands with pen ink. Most of us, however, looked up when an unidentifiable voice peeped up on this.
My immediate response was to look at Mr. Drabczyk, our teacher. He stayed silent. He was curious too.
The Mayor, as if he knew this was coming, sighed slightly and leaned against the table behind him. We knew he felt somewhat responsible for our school’s struggles — he’d alluded to it at the last Board of Education meeting (we’d been there — 90% of the crowd was BISFA, BISFA, BISFA).
“The Academic Hub,” he said after a pause, “is in a complicated position.”
Barbara Ingram School for the Arts was opened in 2009. Named after a woman passionate about the arts, there were five original disciplines — theater, instrumental music, vocal music, dance, and visual arts. Two quick years of success and another department became “literary arts,” renamed creative writing (it had a better ring). Students had classes in stairwells, offices, lobbies, and dressing rooms. I am only a sophomore, and since those first years we have acquired spaces in five different buildings for classes. Through rain, snow, incredible heat, and even once or twice a hail storm, Barbara Ingram students from 13 to 18 trudge across downtown every other hour. With at least two art classes and three academic classes every day, we meet our credit requirements and then some. All students are loyal to the school, bussing in every day from as far as counties away. All students care — all 270 of them.
Students of Barbara Ingram crossing the street to attend classes at one of our five buildings downtown.
Space is becoming a problem again, however. The building we use for most of our academics has only signed our lease for one more year. A year we are halfway over with.
Proposed almost since the school’s beginning is the Academic Hub. Most of us see it as the end game for Barbara Ingram — no more weekly rumors of shut downs, monthly “talking to”’s about proper street-crossing technique, or how to be mouse quiet and not disturb the other tenants in our buildings. The proposal, though everyone’s interpretations are different, is of a building designed for us and other specialty schools in the county. It would connect to the main Barbara Ingram building, replacing the very wobbly uninhabited structure next to us. It would have academic classrooms for us (no more rainy day umbrellas!) and provide room for other extracurriculars from other schools.
The Mayor suggested it may even connect to the theater next door. “They don’t have a big enough backstage to put on a lot of shows, which is a lot of lost revenue,” he said.
The idea has been out there for a while, and even before this year fundraisers went on to build up a money supply for the proposed 15 million dollar construction project.
Not that a bucket at the back of a poetry reading or a dance show is ever going to raise 15 million dollars.
Recently, after hearing about our trouble in the building we use for academics, the Mayor brought the Academic Hub back up again at a city council meeting. On September 22nd, 2015, everything seemed to be going smoothly. The commissioners had voted 4-3 to begin construction with the money the Board had saved for us (1.5 million dollars, according to the Mayor). Apparently, the commissioner’s only issue was with spending money, as we found out on October 6th when they voted again, denying us the 4.4 million we needed to really get underway.
Barbara Ingram instrumental students performing in one of their many concerts
This is when it all hit the fan.
The students were outraged. One started a hashtag on popular social media called “Why BISFA Matters,” which quickly grew as students even from other schools started posting. I had a few things to say, personally, and so did many of my other classmates. Every single student was rallied for the Academic Hub. No one wanted to leave.
So when in government class the mayor heard this question, he knew months of tweeting, talking, and bad feelings were behind it. Not towards him, necessarily, but towards the situation. He gave us some insider information.
First of all, there is a lot we don’t know about that is going on behind the scenes. Biases, related to “white flight” and against urbanization. A lot of the rather old members of the commission still didn’t believe in the downtown area where we are located. The rather infamous Karen Harshman was calling the streets “unsafe,” and saying she “would never let her children walk around down there.”
I guess she doesn’t know we have police officers at every corner, and these new spangled devices called “stoplights.”
As cliché as it sounds, for every student I know this school is their home. Not everyone has the chance to go here, and we understand we are lucky. But lives at our old schools would mean bullying, mockery, and less of a chance at our dream for a lot of us.
So what about the Academic Hub? The Mayor assured us all Barbara Ingram would not be shut down, but he had that look in his eye the teachers and staff have had for the past couple months; the shimmer of doubt, and of fear.
We fuel local businesses. We come at every angle of the city with a youthful outlook. We perform nearly every week, at least one discipline with at least one show.
We are here to stay. We will use stairwells, offices, lobbies, and dressing rooms as classrooms if we must.
Barbara Ingram School for the Arts lives.
Rachael Newby is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram