Performing arts students not feeling “at home” in MB building

The university is inviting media to tour its recently-completed facilities for performing arts this Thursday, but not all fine arts students are sharing in the enthusiasm over their new premises.

“It does not feel like home anymore,” said theatre and development student Deborah Forde. “In moving [downtown] we have lost our community, our green spaces, and we are split between performers here and designers [at Loyola]. It was a much more humane community; here it has become very bureaucratic.”

Since summer 2009, Concordia University has undertaken the task of progressively moving the theatre, music and dance departments from Loyola to Sir George Williams, temporarily relocating classes to the John Molson School of Business building for a few years until the entire Faculty of Fine Arts is moved to the Grey Nuns property.

Praised by the university for bringing students closer to Montreal’s artistic scene and offering state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, the move has left several students feeling skeptical of the advantages.

Most of all, Forde and her fine arts classmates occupying the 7th and 8th floor of the MB building, tend to feel like “invaders” in a building that often seems “hostile” to arts students.

“A good example of the friction between fine arts and business students is the door connecting the 6th and 7th floor that also leads to a lounge section and vending machines,” said theatre student Christine Bellerose. “Only business students can open the door because it is a ‘business floor’. They can come study here when it is quieter but we cannot go there.”

In the face of such problematic interactions, theatre professor Annabel Soutar and her students decided to put on a play called Theatre___Business: Fill Us In. The play, set to run from Feb.16 to 19 in the F.C. Auditorium, is an attempt to connect with their co-tenants, tackling the real issues and conflicts that come with theatre students occupying a business building.

Some, on the other hand, are mindful that the MB building is only a temporary solution until the Grey Nuns motherhouse project is completed.

“The transition from Loyola to SGW is both an overall improvement in our lives and still very much a work in progress,” said acting chair of the department of theatre, Mark Sussman. “The final destination will be great, but we’re not there yet.”

The MB locale also offers considerable improvements in terms of contacts with other departments, equipment and location.

“Loyola had a few more practice spaces than are now available,” said music professor Kevin Austin. “But JMSB is on the metro and saves most students from 30 to 90 minutes a day in travel time. The downtown facilities are new, clean, bright and can be booked online. None of this would be used to describe the situation at Loyola.”

Music student Tristan Henry agreed, saying he enjoyed having classes in spacious rooms with brand new equipment.

Built in 1871, the Grey Nuns Mother House is a major ongoing restoration project at Concordia, with an architecture and site planning competition set to launch this year.

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