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PAHB arches intentionally ambiguous, better for it

UMBC shows same dedication to arts and humanities as it does to STEM

By Allison Opitz

Contributing Writer

 Though many were initially taken aback by the construction of the PAHB arches, students and faculty are appreciative of UMBC’s commitment to the arts and humanities.

Rumor has it that no one on campus understands what the arches outside of the new Performing Arts and Humanities Building are, why they’re there or what they’re for. Where did they come from? How do we use them? Why don’t we know anything about them?

The state of Maryland recently passed legislation that required all major construction and renovation projects to include public art, and UMBC’s PAHB is the first institution to comply. The school commissioned sculptor Thomas Sayre who intended the arches to be “a composition reminiscent of classic academic cloisters where light and shadow dance across the highly textured surfaces.”

The installment was commemorated at the PAHB Grand Opening Ceremony on October 17, but until then, no one quite understood their purpose. Many students and faculty alike were initially taken aback by their appearance. Anissa Sorokin, lecturer and Writing Center director, said that the arches are “not at all” to her taste. Still, she says that “art is a deeply important part of the human experience, and I’m pleased to see that UMBC recognizes that.”

Alex Reeves, a junior theater major, “didn’t like that the color clashed” with the crisp, modern PAHB exterior. “It’s not the most beautiful, but it is a practical way to show the kind of work we do.” The theater program at UMBC is doing “transformative” work, she said, and liked that it could be used as a performance space.

Another theater major, Jeff Miller, said that he “feels like it’s starting to fit in” after initially not being thrilled about the installation. Neither Reeves nor Miller had a solid understanding of who created the arches or what their intended function was, but Reeves said they were a “really nice way to show commitment to the arts.”

Some feel that the installation doesn’t express its purpose well enough. Christopher Varlack, an English lecturer, believes that true art “is intended to evoke thought and serve as a source of inspiration for its intended audience … the deeper meaning behind the installation still eludes me.” He suggested a plaque, describing the arches’ intended purpose to help students interact with them.

The artist, Thomas Sayre, said at the PAHB Grand Opening that the arches are “a venue to appreciate art outside of the customary setting … it is a museum without walls.” He meant for us to ask what the arches were for and how to interact with them; he had hoped that people would “respond with spontaneity — a challenge to try something new.”

UMBC has shown its commitment to the arts and humanities by investing in a $160 million facility — the fruit of 10 years’ worth of planning and construction. Sayre wanted the “functions of the building to leak out into its front yard,” so let’s ask ourselves how we want to use it.