Students crying in the Intercultural Center, walking nervously into the McDonough School of Business for an interview or meticulously editing a resume at the Cawley Career Education Center: These vignettes, taken as a whole, encapsulate the immense pressure placed on students that stems from applying to and attempting to join clubs on campus.
On a campus that routinely finds itself struggling with the pervasiveness of academic stress and all-consuming anxiety, these groups also promote student well-being by offering a way to disconnect from the strain of classes. As these groups continue to forge creative spaces on campus, Georgetown University students reckon with art’s role on campus and seek to support the longevity of art spaces to show that they are vital to the long-term prosperity of the student body.
As the preprofessional culture perpetuated by many of Georgetown’s clubs takes hold of campus, student-run groups that encourage artistic endeavors of a wide range of media, from visual art to music to poetry, offer subversive and restorative spaces for the creative to unwind and reflect. While they may not necessarily offer the resume boosting capacity that other campus clubs tout, these organizations can craft valuable spaces for representation of otherwise marginalized identities and reprioritize self-expression as a healthy and restorative part of campus life.
Creating Creative Opportunities
In a crowded townhouse, string lights glow warmly throughout the room as an enraptured audience attentively listens to a student performing their latest original song and art appreciators thoughtfully inspect the student-made art hanging on the living room walls. Creating open, cozy and creative spaces like this one is a goal of the Georgetown University Collective of Creative Individuals.
GUCCI was founded as a Facebook group in mid-2016 and has since grown to include over 1,500 members. The group functions as a hub for like-minded creatives to form connections, which can become increasingly difficult to make in a hypercompetitive college environment.
GUCCI also hosts monthly events including open mics, performances by local bands and even album release parties for students on campus; next semester, the group will be an officially recognized club to gain institutional support and make planning events easier.
The group helps build community among artistically minded students and offers events that differ from the usual club board meetings and speaker events, according to Max Dunat (SFS ’22), a GUCCI board member.
“GUCCI provides an outlet for students to share their talents with people while also giving an alternative for things to do around campus,” Dunat said.
In addition to building a creative community, groups like GUCCI can help foster relationships among people with different backgrounds by bringing people together over a shared love and appreciation of art, according to Dunat.
“You probably wouldn’t get a better representation of all different types of people and all their different backgrounds than you would at a GUCCI event,” Dunat said. “We offer a place for people to share their own life experiences and background in a way that is just not as easy to do in other settings.”
Similar in structure but with a distinct purpose and mission, Art Beyond the Margins is a self-described “artivism” club that, since this year, operates through the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service to build a welcoming community that recognizes the value for artists to share their musical or performing talent.
The club seeks to empower artists with marginalized identities,recognizing that Georgetown often not only undervalues the arts, but also especially fails students who must also grapple with societal and systemic oppression, according to Maya Gabby (NHS ’21), president of Art Beyond the Margins.
“What we’re doing is — in a predominantely white institution, on a campus that does not do a lot for arts but especially for people of color, queer folks, people with differential ability status — making sure that art is accesible to them,” Gabby said.
Art Beyond the Margins emphasizes its function as a safe space for folks not welcome in other spaces on campus to either perform their music and poetry or display their visual art around the venue at open mics and community gatherings, regardless of skill level, according to Gabby.
“I’m really passionate about Art Beyond the Margins because it’s a place where a lot of people perform for the first time,” Gabby said. “As a freshman, the first time I did spoken word was with Art Beyond the Margins.”
Artistic expression itself is a social justice issue that involves a performer’s identity and own needs — something a club like Art Beyond the Margins can address and work toward, according to Gabby.
“The way that we function as a social organization is that we empower artists to make art,” Gabby said. “A lot of what we’re grounded in primarily is a social justice outlook, but we don’t see them as separate — we see them as together.”
Finding Space on a Crowded Campus
Bossier, founded in 2016 by Tiffany Tao (SFS ’19) and Michelle Dale (SFS ’19), is another Georgtown organization that provides an outlet for artistic students and highlights feminist topics in a publication that releases two issues per year. With this distinct angle, Bossier can directly and explicitly address harmful stereotypes perpetuated against marginalized groups.
This organization is a publication that gives womyn, femmes and their allies a place to display their creative written and visual work, and the group also hosts events that coincide with each issue’s release.
The appeal of publications and groups like Bossier lies in their ability to create a space that pushes against the rigid norms and pressures of social life on campus, according to Aires Miranda-Antonio (COL ’21), editor-in-chief of Bossier and co-president alongside Olivia Jimenez (COL ’20).
“Part of the power of Bossier and other non-normative publications on campus is just being able to give you room to create for the sake of creating instead of creating for a grade, for a project or for work,” Miranda-Antonio said.
Uncommon Grounds, one of the locations of Students of Georgetown, Inc., commonly referred to as The Corp, has also taken steps to make space for student performers and visual artists in their cafe with a philosophy that every person on campus can get involved in the arts, according to Roya Wolfe (SFS ’21), the events coordinator for the coffee shop, which hosts frequent open mic nights on the Leavey Esplanade, the courtyard outside the store, at which anyone is welcome to share their poetry or music.
“You can do anything, as long as it’s respectful — we can have any art expression you want,” Wolfe said. “There is no secret passcode you enter to become an artist; it is available to everyone.”
These spaces have given student artists a platform and spectators an array of performances and pieces to admire and even be inspired by, empowering artists to create, according to Jaden Kielty (COL ’22), who was motivated by Uncommon Grounds’ art displays and submitted her artwork to be placed in the shop.
“I talked to some of the artists whose work was up and they told me that students’ work gets put up on the walls,” Kielty said. “I thought that was so dope, so I wanted to have my art up there, too.”
Institutional Support and Shortcomings
As groups like Art Beyond the Margins and Bossier work to empower artistic communities, they can also pave the way for artists to make a lifelong career out of the work that fulfills them in light of few other similar opportunities on campus, according to Gabby.
“We are really trying to uplift students who are artists and who are trying to make those professional connections,” Gabby said. “We don’t see a whole lot of professional development, especially for artists of color and queer artists on campus.”
The more people who get involved with these students groups, the greater their prominence on campus and the more change they can enact in campus culture, according to Miranda-Antonio.
“The stronger the community is campuswide, the stronger that Bossier is internally,” Miranda-Antonio said. “It’s about being able to not just have community within the group that works on the magazine, but bringing in people not just for art, but bringing them in for silly things like going to see Rocky Horror Picture Show at E Street Cinema during Halloween.”
For now, though, these groups continue to host their own events with occasional collaboration, according to Miranda-Antonio.
“We’re assisting GUCCI with an album release party this month,” Miranda-Antonio said. “We’re doing some interactive art pieces and pulling some other previous pieces that align with the album’s mission just for the space, and GUCCI is the one hosting [the event.]”
At their core, campus art groups and spaces seek to give students a way to explore their identities and act as a powerful source of enjoyment on a stressful campus, according to Miranda-Antonio.
“Groups like GUCCI and Art Beyond the Margins do an incredible job of creating spaces,” says Miranda-Antonio, “and I feel like we’re aligned in order to not only facilitate tough discussions, but also create a space for joy.”