New Space For Visual Culture, Arts, and Media Opens on Campus

Thanks to the successful Lives That Speak campaign, the VCAM building now offers new opportunities for hands-on learning that build visual literacy across the liberal arts.

Students, faculty, and friends gathered on Thursday, September 8, for the much-anticipated opening of the new campus home for visual culture, arts, and media (VCAM) in the former Old Gym.

The VCAM facility, made possible by the successful Lives That Speak campaign, which raised more than $269.5 million for the College, supports the new visual studies minor and serves as a lab for film and digital media projects; curatorial experimentation and arts exhibition; and 3-D printing, prototyping, and design. As the new home for the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH), the VCAM building also includes a screening room, a maker space, a central campus lounge and community kitchen, an innovation incubator, and flexible studio and exhibition labs.

On Thursday evening, attendees buzzed around the beautiful new space, enjoying the catered refreshments and stopping by the different booths focusing on new programs with VCAM and many continuing HCAH initiatives for students. (The event doubled as a fall open house for HCAH.)

“Even after watching the project evolve from idea to drawing to construction, I’m actually amazed,” said President Kim Benston of the space. “I’m taking it all in just like everyone else. … The energy and cross-pollination that will take place in the building across disciplines and media, sensibilities, and points of view, all of that speaks to Haverford’s ethos in a contemporary mode that is very exciting.”

“I like the fact that behind the walls, there is a sort of connective tissue of audiovisual capability,” said Vicky Funari, HCAH visual media scholar and visiting assistant professor. “What I mean by that is that from any video-capable room in the building, you can send video and audio to any other video-capable room in the building. This gives us many possibilities for performances, art installations, expanded documentary and experimental media work. I also like that there are some empty rooms that are designed to be flexible, just waiting for art installations, exhibitions, and performances to fill them.”

“The maker space has 3-D printers, laser cutters, and a bunch of fun machines that can make things,” said Kent Watson, the maker space coordinator, “and my role is to work with faculty and staff on coordinating coursework that utilizes the space, to work with students doing workshops here, and to teach the students how to use this technology.” (More after the gallery.)

The students in attendance were equally invigorated by the opportunities made available by this new space. Saket Sekhsaria ’20, who has taken film courses with Funari, was particularly excited about some of the new camera equipment that is now available to check out from a counter that was built from reused lockers from the former gym.

“They have a Blackmagic camera in the A/V check-out, which is very hype,” he said. “It’s one of the best cameras to work with.”

“I think this is an incredible space.” said Cole Praff BMC ’18.  The English major and visual studies minor is pleased to be taking two courses, “Race, Realism, and Photography and “Introduction to Visual Studies” this semester in the VCAM building.

Currently on display in one of the building’s four possible exhibit spaces are stills from Bertoia, a film about the noted sound-art sculptor and modern furniture designer by Harlow Figa ’16 and Sarah Moses ’16. The documentary, which they made with HCAH support, will screen in the VCAM facility later this semester.

The building is not only home to visual studies and the HCAH, but also three co-curricular initiatives. The Summer DocuLab is a donor-funded five-year pilot that helps develop student-faculty documentary film work. The Philadelphia Area Creative Collaboratives Program (PACC), which is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, fosters partnerships between the College community and local organizations and artists. And the Haverford Innovations Program (HIP), created with donor support, works to develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on campus.

Praxedes Quintana ’18 is looking forward to HIP, in particular. She hopes to take advantage of its platform to help add a visual component to her anthropology thesis, which she researched last summer, with funding from HCAH, in her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado.

“Because all my summer research was interviews,” she said, “I have to transcribe all it, and I want to couple my thesis with a visual representation to reach a wider audience.”

“I’m looking forward to HIP’s inaugural year where my focus is on supporting innovation across the disciplines,” said Innovation Program Manager Shayna Nickel. “All the students I’ve interacted with thus far are so incredibly bright, driven, and brimming with exciting ideas… and I know this is just the beginning!”

“VCAM satisfies needs we’ve had for a while—a central campus gathering space, a proper screening room for film, facilities for student exhibition projects, an artist-residency studio,” said James Weissinger, associate director of HCAH and VCAM operations manager. “These spaces and others will support the great work that students and faculty have already been doing for some time at Haverford. But I’m interested to see what new desires the building will inspire—who will walk through the doors and think, ‘Wait, what can I do here?'”

Some of the exciting things to look out for in the coming weeks include the Black Extra/ordinary symposium, the HIP Design Thinking workshop series, and upcoming regular screenings that will be held in the new theater. And please join us for the VCAM building’s dedication during Family & Friends Weekend on Oct. 28.

Photos by Rae Yuan ’19.