Unprecedented protests erupt in Juilliard
The joyful sounds of dance, theater and music is usually found in the halls of the Juilliard School. But this week, many of these gifted student artists are taking to the streets as part of ongoing protests – including the prestigious conservatory’s first sit-in in recent memory – against the pandemic tuition hike for the next academic year.
Thursday, June 10, in front of where pianist and Juilliard teacher Emmanuel Ax and graduate students performed outside as part of Lincoln Center’s Restart Stages initiative, students protesting outside the main building Irene Diamond were in their fourth hour. one day demonstrations on a tuition increase of $ 1,970. The wave of protests and occupation over the past week, first reported by the blog Pianos Park Avenue, was organized by members of Socialist penguins, a group of students, formed in 2021, that “works to build collective power and radical consciousness” for arts workers in Juilliard and beyond. With a full-time student body of around 840 students and fewer people on campus due to the pandemic, even the efforts of a few students can create waves. âThe good thing is that when our students are upset, they are upset,âSarah Ma, first year violinist and founder of The Socialist Penguins, says Rolling stone. âBecause we are all artists, our passion is channeled through something. When there are eight upset musicians, there is going to be a lot of overwhelming music in school.
Since Monday, demonstrators spanning the school’s three divisions of dance, theater and music have gathered outside to play jazz, sing protest songs, dance and chalk; despite the heat, a dancer gathered the energy to deploy a split in the air. In the building, students dropped off, posted signs and picketed in the face of ongoing disciplinary investigations. They say the increase will leave many – including a quarter of Juilliard students from households earning less than $ 30,000 a year – embarrassed. “[Two thousand dollars] It’s the difference between being able to get enough groceries for two months, âsays Ma, adding that, along with other students, she faces food insecurity and housing despite being funded. âIt’s the difference between being able to commute for a year.
In a period that has ravaged the performing arts and exacerbated the difficulties of paying to live in New York City, students say the school’s proposed tuition increase of $ 1,890, at an annual cost of $ 51,230 $, especially in light of the tuition freeze at sister schools, is untenable. The dissonance between the school’s pristine branding of late and its response to student outcry has encouraged a level of protest that students and alumni say is unprecedented in the school’s history. and, to their knowledge, in conservatories across the country. .
Juilliard’s history of such an organization is sparse. In 1940, 80 students organized against the dismissal of Howard Langford, professor in the university department of Juilliard, for questions of salary and tenure. Thirty years later, when then-president Peter Mennin announced that the school was considering abolishing the dance division for lack of funding, a wave of activism organized by the division’s founder, the dancer and educator Martha Hill, kept the program on the books; the school then named an award after Hill. More recently, after a 2019 effort by the Juilliard Students for a Fair Wage group, the school announced it would hit the city’s $ 15 minimum from $ 9 in fall 2021.
Protesters and their allies argue that a drastic shift in Juilliard’s receptivity to economic and political change is long overdue, and that the school’s response after their occupation has been far from satisfactory. (Juilliard did not immediately respond to Rolling stonerequest for comment.) Photos and images of the protests illustrate how, over the dismal sounds of a practicing trombonist nearby, the students first expressed their concerns to Juilliard President Damien Woetzel and others members of the administration, and the following Wednesday on the second floor. During this picket line, students described confusion over a perceived attempt by school security to lock the doors on them. “Our experience of the door not opening, coinciding with the fact that they didn’t give any information about what they were doing, was enough to make me very uncomfortable,” said Carl Hallberg, student. in first year of drama and member of the Penguins.
At least fifteen of those identified as picketing were later told that their access to the Diamond building had been revoked as the school investigated “possible violations” of the code of conduct, including a report that an employee had felt in danger. Anger, shock and fear set in as students rushed to email teachers about missing rehearsals and end-of-year classes. For conservatory students, loss of access to the building can mean not only academic repercussions, but also loss of access to instruments, practice spaces and essential supplies. âI have friends who need to make reeds and can’t get into the building,â says Ma. The students, who say they haven’t heard of previous cases where the school has denied access to the building. building for disciplinary reasons, recount the pressure of last-minute locker cleanings and, for students who don’t have an air conditioner at home, a day of practice stifling Heat.
All of the students interviewed mentioned that the idea of ââ”the artist as a citizen” – the oft-vaunted notion of the school, coined by former Juilliard president Joseph Polisi, illustrating the relationship between art and social conscience – has become ironic amid the protests. âThis phrase, as taught to us, means that we must be engaged in our art as citizens,â says Jacob Melsha, fourth-year jazz trombone student in the five-year BA / MM program and member of the Penguins. “It’s funny to me that by the time we do this on school property, we are doomed.”
Although the Penguins report that similar organizational efforts are rare in the culture of most conservatories, students and alumni of schools across the country have indicated their support for the Penguins both in public and in private. For the students of Berklee College of Music, who have started their own chapter of the National Food Justice Organization Uprooted & Amount in August of last year, the Juilliard protests were a harbinger of a change in attitude towards the organization among conservatory students. âMusic culture and art have such a political history, but when you enter these schools, [itâs] almost entirely retired – you are taught music in a vacuum, âsays Omisha Chaitanya, a junior specializing in electronic production and design (EPD) and member of the Berklee organization. Radicalization at Juilliard, said Chaitanya, “is a huge shift in the narrative of what we tolerate and what we don’t.”
Some students expressed frustration with the school’s response to the pandemic as a whole. Ryan Jung, first year master’s student in piano performance and member of The Socialist Penguins, says the school’s branding over the past year has not sufficiently recognized the concessions students have had to make. do to make art during Covid – whether it was bags on wind instruments that required adjustments in sound production or masks for actors that limited their scope of expression. âWe are grateful that we have the opportunity to be able to do this more in person now, but with all of this, we have to put in a lot of extra effort as artists to overcome this obstacle,â Jung said. “What really shocked us was how little of that was shown to the public.”
Ronen Segev, pianist and president of the Park Avenue Pianos store that founded the Juilliard student council as a student in 1999, recalls the council’s fear that the administration, no matter how well-meaning, would target them. for speaking. Segev, who as an alum helped efforts to preserve Juillard’s Music Promotion Program (MAP), a Saturday youth program for minority musicians from disadvantaged backgrounds, says in a year of emotional and financial trauma, the bravery of the protesters stands out . âThere’s something simmering in their bones,â he says. âSeeing these young students full of passion, fearless and determined and who want to make their voices heard the same way we did, is inspiring. While I can see things from the other side as well, I support them. “
The protests against the tuition hike are a testament to tensions in the cultural sector, compounded by the pandemic and growing awareness of racial injustice, which go far beyond Juilliard – starting with a neighboring institution. At the Metropolitan Opera, whose building now presides over what amounts to an Astroturf welcome mat in Lincoln Center‘s main plaza for summer audiences, musicians and staff, a number of whom are Juilliard professors, remain in talks with management on the salary cuts. âAs young musicians, many of us see our teachers and mentors fighting for fair pay,â says Lee Cyphers, a 2020 Juilliard graduate horn and co-founder of the student struggle for a minimum wage of $ 15, so that the struggle between artists of all stripes ended up seeming united.
After a year of isolation in their respective divisions due to pandemic protocols, Penguin members said students of all disciplines and years have found community and solidarity in the protests. âThese past few days have been truly extremely liberating for me and a lot of my friends,â Ma said. âWe were able to learn from each other in ways that we weren’t in the classroom.â Whatever the outcome of the protests, she adds, she and her peers are proud of the work they have done: âIt will show students that they can come together for things they need and that they want.