Art for Art’s Sake

Slope Studio carves out space for student creativity.

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On a Thursday night last winter, two floors deep in the labyrinthine Willard Straight Hall, students are crowded around a table, webs of yarn dangling from their wrists as they struggle to learn the craft of “arm knitting.” The windowless room has white walls, colorfully painted heating pipes, and art supplies galore. A large table in the center is surrounded by stools, and a lounge area to the side offers comfy chairs that invite students to sit and stay awhile. It’s a typical evening at Slope Studio, Cornell’s new student-run art space.

Brush strokes: Last winter, Slope Studio held a painting class designed to help students relieve academic stress. Photos: Lisa Banlaki Frank

Students can come in seven days a week to use or check out art supplies including acrylic and watercolor paints, pastels, charcoal, fountain pens, origami paper, a camera, a sewing machine, and more. In addition to supplies, Slope Studio also offers workshops on topics like figure drawing and colored pencil portraits. “I was starting to develop an interest in art, but was held back by the cost of supplies,” says Ahmed Ebrahim ’15, a biology major who comes to the studio a few times a week. “It gives me a chance to experiment with lots of different mediums and figure out my strengths.”

Until Slope Studio’s grand opening in August 2014, access to art supplies and a studio space at Cornell required taking a formal course—often difficult for non-majors due to fees of $40 to $135 and three-hour classes that can be hard to fit into an already packed schedule. Founder Sofia Hu ’17, a double major in biological sciences and the College Scholar program, recognized this gap when she matriculated as a freshman. “It can be hard to find the supplies, the place, or the time to make art,” Hu says. “I wanted to simplify it so people just have to find the time and come here.” She pitched the idea to CU Collaborate, a contest for ideas to improve Cornell, and garnered some start-up funding. The studio found its home in a former ceramics studio turned storage room, which students transformed over a summer of cleaning and renovations. It has since attracted dozens of amateur artists from a variety of majors and backgrounds.

If future funding allows, studio organizers would like to increase their supply offerings, recruit local Ithaca artists to teach workshops, and possibly move into a bigger space. “Finances are a struggle,” says the group’s treasurer Naomi Edmark, a dual major in art and Africana studies who expects to graduate in 2018. “We’re a new club so we don’t have any kind of safety net.”

In December, Slope Studio held an artists’ market where students came to browse and buy art from their peers, including photography, paintings, and jewelry. In addition to offering a forum for students to explore their creativity, the studio emphasizes art as a form of relaxation; it has partnered with Cornell Minds Matter, a group that promotes mental health on campus, to offer a respite from the stresses of coursework. Says Hu: “I envision this becoming a lively community where you can come and run into friends, meet new people, and paint together.”

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