Intersection for the Arts

Thursdays at the Handwerker series inspires student expression.

By Luka Starmer ’11

The tables and nooks at Gannett Library fill up on any given evening like New York’s hippest supper clubs, exuding a deafening roar of academic diligence between the bookshelves. But as it nears six o’clock on certain Thursdays throughout the semester, some of those scholars shoot knowing glances back and forth while putting away their laptops. They leave through the heavy doors and down the stairs, the din of educational rigors reverberating, then fading, behind them.

They head to the basement of the same building, toward the warm light of Ithaca College’s Handwerker Gallery. With starry eyes, they enter Thursdays at the Handwerker, an arts and literature series hosted by the College.

The gallery has established a longstanding relationship with the Department of Writing, evolving out of the department’s formal annual faculty reading, held at various locations on campus. Over time, the performances have progressed into thematic readings delivered by one professor and one student, followed by open-mic sessions.

“It’s very much the student voices that now dominate,” says Anthony Di Renzo, associate professor of writing, explaining the usual course the series takes. Typically, the director of the Handwerker gives the evening introductions, then a faculty member frames the theme in a reading. “But the real star is the student,” he says.

The series also welcomes performers from the theatrical and musical arts. “The idea is we want an intersection for the arts,” says Erika Fowler-Decater, assistant director of the Handwerker Gallery.

Each event embodies its own atmosphere, with the podium tucked in among evocative art exhibitions. As the semester progresses, six o’clock sees varying dusk lightings from atop South Hill, setting the mood differently each time. And then there’s the colorful performances themselves.

This semester’s Thursdays performances kicked off on February 3 with a reading titled “Riot Girls: Fiction from Tompkins Square Park.” Writing professor Eleanor Henderson and Malti Jones ’12 read scenes from their works, enveloping the audience in the romantic chaos of the infamous protests of 1988 in New York City that erupted after neighborhood residents resisted local redevelopment efforts.

“One thing I really value about this series is that it brings together professors and students in a way that you don’t ordinarily see,” says assistant professor of writing Katie Marks. “There’s nothing else where students and professors are reading together.” Marks is a 1998 IC alumna who was hired by the department in 2005. She was featured alongside assistant professor of writing Mary Beth O’Connor on February 17 in the second Thursdays forum titled “Waking Up.”

On March 24, IC’s slam poetry group Spit That! showered Thursdays fans with rhymes and stream of consciousness rapping on themes ranging from the personal to the sociopolitical. The performers displayed their own style and character, letting expressions crescendo to anger or tears, laughs or smiles.

After the scheduled shows, the invitation for the open-mic forum always generates a clamor. There is usually no shortage of participation, and the horizon opens to all forms of performance. The dynamics of an evening can escalate to energetic artistic jam sessions reminiscent of the legendary Six Gallery reading that ushered in the Beat Generation.

“I think one of the things the series does is it helps young writers in the College form a voice and a community,” says Jim Stafford, assistant professor of writing. “They’re all listening to each other when they get up to read."

 See a video of a few of the sessions here.