Students and alumni at CVPA in ‘disbelief’ over leaving New Bedford

Aug 15, 2023

The news that UMass Dartmouth’s College of Visual and Performing Arts will vacate its historic location at the Star Store in downtown New Bedford has rocked the university. 

The decision, which has prompted statements of criticism and support from state legislators, has current and former students not just concerned, but confused.

Where [expletive] is it all going to go?” said Molly Frackleton, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from CVPA in 2018. “Is main campus CVPA completely changing to make room for all these majors?”

Graduate students are actively working in the fourth-floor studios of the Star Store, and said they don’t understand how their equipment and work will fit anywhere else. 

“Our whole program is run through this building,” said Fallon Navarro, a third-year ceramics MFA student. “From our first-year classes to the thesis show [that] was supposed to be down in the gallery.”

Anis Beigzadeh, a second-year ceramics MFA student, said the kilns needed for her large ceramics are nearly impossible to move because they were assembled brick by brick within the Star Store building. 

“The facilities are very important,” Beigzadeh said. 

Jillian McEvoy, a second-year ceramics MFA student, added that even if the kilns are able to move, two weeks won’t be enough time to do it.

“We are really worried about where we are going to make the [artwork] we came to this school for,” said Navarro. She and the other students agreed that the facilities were a major reason they chose to attend the UMass Dartmouth arts program. 

The issue of moving everything back to UMass Dartmouth’s main campus leaves the ceramics students wondering if it is worth their time to continue working on their projects, which rely on the Star Store’s facilities. 

Beigzadeh has an exhibition in the building that showcases her large ceramic pieces. She said she does not have the space to keep the works in her home, which the university recommended, and even if she did have space, the process to get them there would be too expensive. 

Beigzadeh wonders what will happen to students’ work if they are unable to claim it until they return for the fall semester.

Navarro pointed out another logistical snag: some students came to school without cars and now walk to the facility from their New Bedford apartments. They will now need to commute to the Dartmouth campus. 

“We will help each other, but it shouldn't fall on us to need to set that up for each other,” said  Navarro. 

Cicero, who received a BFA in Art Education from CVPA in 2014, said they “loved the space and easy access to [New Bedford’s] trash” but “hated the travel back and forth” between New Bedford and Dartmouth campuses, especially having to take the shuttle. 

While the change might not be as impactful to incoming students, Frackleton said, current students “will definitely be impacted.” She worries that students won’t have the same opportunities to participate in New Bedford’s monthly AHA! nights, and that the downtown New Bedford art scene will shrink. 

“It was such a staple of being a CVPA student,” Frackleton said.

With the news so fresh, the path forward still isn’t exactly clear, even for the administration.

CVPA Dean A. Lawrence Jenkens said the school aims to meet the same standards of education and community participation even without the historic building and location, but it’s not clear exactly where all those classes and programs will go. 

“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m going to do away with anything,” Jenkens said. “We are committed to starting this semester, and students that were scheduled to take semesters at the Star Store will have them somewhere else.”

UMass Dartmouth students have started a petition titled “Save the Star Store!”, which had 619 signatures at the time of publication. 

State Senator Mark Montigny criticized the university and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which handles state properties.

“The 20-year lease contained a $1 purchase option for the university that was repeatedly ignored by DCAMM and UMass,” Montigny said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed that DCAMM and the university neglected multiple opportunities to meet their basic responsibility to protect taxpayers and students by failing to secure the building.”

State Representative Christopher Markey, by contrast, said in a statement that he appreciates why the university decided to “re-center the CVPA on campus,” and that neither the legislature or the university can be blamed.

At the moment, the Visual and Performing Arts building on UMass Dartmouth’s main campus seems to be the most likely option for housing the students and supplies.

“It is just scary and heartbreaking. [We are in] disbelief,” McEvoy said. “I still don’t totally know how to feel because we just don’t know the solution yet.”