Department of Fine Arts, Neglected Gem

“Yeah, I’m really grateful for choosing to live in this neighborhood. It’s a side of Burlington that most students don’t know,” UVM artist Daniel Arlein, better known as DJ BLT (Born Like That), told me as we left his house, crossed North Winooski Street and entered The Radio Bean. He mixed a perfect amount of sugar into my heady brew and sat down in Burlington’s very own attempt at recapturing the environment that birthed the subterranean howl found within the pages of an used Jack Kerouac novel (with the very post-Beat addition of wireless internet), to show me his current exhibit and discuss undergraduate life as an artist in Burlington and the condition of UVM’s art department.

Living in “a different Burlington” than the UVM triangle, from campus down to the Green/Isham/Loomis student ghetto and over to downtown, has created a balance that few students manage to find. For one, Arlein has maintained one of the most highly-reputed shows on UVM’s independent radio station, WRUV, ‘The Gadonkadonk Happy Hour,’ now in its third year. His behind the one-n’-twos technique, hip-hop sensibility, clairvoyant taste and deep crates have also made him a staple of Burlington nightlife. However, a crisp mix is not the only thing Arlein creates on a regular basis. BLT has become a prominent fixture in Williams Hall since his sophomore year when he decided to pursue a major in the arts.

When speaking about his direction, Arlein reminisced for a moment, ” I grew up in a creative environment.” Arlein’s mother is a botanical illustrator and his father, a potter on the side. His grandmother has produced a lifetime of watercolor paintings. “Art is in my blood.”

Yet, becoming an art student at UVM does not always prove so natural a decision. As Arlein and fellow Williams titan and Radio Bean patron, Sarah Rutherford, explained to me, space is extremely limited in UVM’s art department. Positions in art classes, one of UVM’s top ten most popular majors, are highly sought after. “Sometimes juniors and seniors cannot even get in to necessary courses,” Arlein lamented.

This lack of space is “detrimental to the school. There is so much talent that is neglected at UVM because of limitations,” Arlein furthered. Several students have dropped out of the art department or the university all together to pursue other interests or other schools with better funded fine art programs.

Rutherford and Arlein also stated that the confines on space create laziness and repress the growth of a strong UVM art community, resulting in Willams hall being a stagnant environment at times. “Students become discouraged because classes, which take up all the facilities in Williams, run all day and into the night. This does not allow much time for students to work on projects outside of class,” Rutherford confessed. Since the facilities are rarely available, many students forego working at Williams all together, opting to create at home. This produces an apartness they both lamented. “It’s so isolating,” Rutherford sorrowfully stated.

Discussing the times when he does work within Williams, Arlein said, “Sometimes you hit a block and need to throw around ideas, you need input, but no one is around.”

As well, Burlington’s lively art community, manifested in the annual city-wide Art Hop, the Firehouse gallery, and The Radio Bean, remains largely independent of Williams Hall and its aspiring students.

Yet, relations are lacking within the UVM community. Both students want more cooperation between the departments and schools of UVM. “There is a serious lack of outlets for art students. Hardly anywhere on campus, let alone Williams (due to space), do you see displays of student art. Public displays would reward the artists and create a more inspiring air on campus.”

Arlein also mourned the lack of facilities in general. One staple of an art education, oil painting, is denied UVM’s art students because the department lacks a proper ventilation system. As well, the space is lacking for students looking to engage in independent projects. “Enthusiasm can only get a student so far,” Rutherford noted.

However, Arlein and Rutherford are quick to note that the addition of fresh faculty members over the past few years have provided necessary “young blood,” whose inspiration and experience go a long way.

Arlein gave high praise to the faculty, “the faculty makes up for what the building lacks, definitely.”

Further, Arlein maintains that the overall situation of the UVM art student promotes a self-motivation and determination that go a long way in preparing students who do endure the Williams experience for the difficulties of becoming a professional artist. “Things aren’t always given to you in life. The skills I’ve learned in promoting myself and my art around Burlington have been beneficial, no doubt.”

However, Arlein believes that the University should take a more active role in the development of the UVM Art Department. “There is so much being done to the campus right now to beef up the university and its reputation, but Fogel has failed to make the art department a part of his vision for UVM,” BLT professed.