On July 19, Dean of Campus Life Laura Kane emailed Mayer Craft Center instructors informing them that Craft Center courses would be suspended for the 2021-22 academic year. Kane explained that space and staff limitations had forced the College to repurpose multiple buildings across campus, including the Craft Center.
“We must focus our resources on initiatives that impact a broad student audience and meet the most acute needs,” Kane wrote.
Kane noted that the suspension of Craft Center courses presented an opportunity for the College to reassess the co-curricular interests of students, pledging to gather information this year and share plans for programs by the end of the spring semester.
In an email to the Collegian, Director of Student Engagement Mick Steiner wrote that spatial limitations, such as the use of Weaver Cottage as isolation housing, created the need for additional student meeting space. Since its suspension, the Craft Center has been repurposed as an event space, namely as the new location for Weaver Wednesday.
However, opponents to the Craft Center’s closure argue that repurposing the Craft Center would be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking as the building holds thousands of dollars of machinery and equipment.
“A studio that has been dedicated to, say, clay or woodworking, would require a very deep cleaning to use it for something else. To switch them to something else would require a lot of planning and engineering and time to reconstruct the space and money,” an anonymous Craft Center instructor said.
The Craft Center has had a long history on Kenyon’s campus. According to a now-defunct page on the Kenyon website, the Craft Center was founded in the 1960s as the “Experimental College,” where students and community members could take practical, hands-on training in skills not available in a typical college curriculum.
“If you look into the history of what the Craft Center is, and why it was established, and what our purpose and our mission statement is, it’s not an academic affair,” the instructor said. “It’s purely a student enrichment project that anybody can take part in. You don’t have to be talented athletically, you don’t have to be an extrovert on the stage, you don’t have to have a good singing voice or musical ability. You just have to have an interest in learning something new about a craft.”
For Lev Rosenbush ’23 and Molly McLaughlin ’23, the Craft Center’s closing came without warning. Both students first learned of the closure from emails sent by their craft instructors.
“The way that this was done, where they didn’t tell anyone about it, and then it was just announced that operations were going to be suspended with no real concrete plans for the building, was just pretty disappointing,” McLaughlin said. “Not great for the campus community.”
Over the summer, Rosenbush started a petition to keep the Craft Center open, gathering signatures from a number of other students, and sent it to Kane. The petitioners argued that the Craft Center offered Kenyon students a place where they could express themselves as artists away from the daily stresses of college life.
But despite Rosenbush’s efforts, he never heard back from the administration, making him question whether he wanted to return to Kenyon.
“I was convinced I wasn’t coming back to Kenyon because [the Craft Center] was a really big reason I chose Kenyon,” he said. “I’m on the soccer team, and none of the other schools that I had offers from soccer-wise really had this option. Not many schools in general have this option.”
Simone Holzer ’16 spent time at the Craft Center, where she worked as a student manager throughout her time at Kenyon. While a manager, Holzer organized registration for craft classes and worked on the Empty Bowls events — pottery fundraisers for food shelters — in addition to other events and workshops. She ranks the Craft Center near the top of her list of Kenyon experiences.
“From talking to friends who have attended other colleges and universities, I know that the Craft Center is something that is unique to Kenyon and part of the fabric that makes Kenyon such a special place,” she said.
As the Craft Center remains closed, the instructor fears that students will continue to miss out on a vital Kenyon experience.
“To make this worse, now you’ve got two years of the student body who will have no clue what they’re missing, if this gets taken away from them,” they said. “There are lots of us who don’t want to see that happen.”