he UC Berkeley campus, as I have experienced it, feels largely devoid of color, natural light, and a sense of expansive space — elements that may hurt or hinder students and their creativity. Expansive spaces allow for abstract thinking — bright, colorful, and art-filled creative areas can hold great power in their ability to inspire. According to Donald M. Rattner, “for nearly two decades, scientists have been uncovering evidence that specific design characteristics correlate with improved creative thinking,” going on to state that, “since early stage ideation (think brainstorming, sketching, first drafts, etc.) relies on abstract, big-picture thinking, the greater our intimation of spatial distance, the more predisposed we will be to idea formation.”
Having been a dancer and photographer for the majority of my life, art and the spaces in which it is created have played an important role in shaping who I am. Being a nonart major, however, I have found it difficult to cultivate my artistic tendencies amid the chaos of navigating my first year at UC Berkeley. Although I have hoped to become involved in the art community on campus, it has, at times, been hard to find. I found there to be a lack of resources provided to students who wish to get involved in the arts while there is an emphasis placed on STEM and business opportunities around campus. This makes it difficult to feel supported as we attempt to get involved in the creative spaces on campus necessary to achieve balance. Recently, however, I was alerted to the presence of one open creative space on campus: Platform. Before learning about it from friends, I had no clue that spaces like this existed on campus and were accessible to all students.
Hot spots on campus where students can attend art shows and open mics, such as Platform, are crucial for students looking to express their artistic sides outside of the classroom. No matter their major, all people should be able to have a role in the art scene on campus and continue to represent the multifaceted students that Berkeley is made up of.
Platform can be found in the southern courtyard of Bauer Wurster Hall facing Bancroft Way. Although hidden behind cement and neutral-colored buildings, it welcomes attendees into a space filled with warmth, color and passion. When I visited Platform for the first time, I was greeted with smiling faces and an open seat.
The organization struck me as a safe space for students of all identities when I noticed the Pride, Black Lives Matter and peace flags draping down from the tent that covers the main sitting area. Among marigolds, potted plants and works of art, students meet with one another, laugh, create art, socialize, work, eat and drink — free snacks and drinks are provided during the open hours of the space. This quiet space is used by Platform interns, professors and students alike, to take themselves out of the starkness of Main Stacks or the crowded campus for a breather.
To better understand it, I spoke to JJ Colby and Ronald Martin, both interns at Platform, on what it has meant to them.
Located in the Department of Art Practice, Platform is a community-based space that provides interns with a place to build upon their craft and create new connections with fellow artists. Colby shared that “if someone has the motivation and self-discipline, they can make any event happen here.” There is, it seems, a certain type of student who is most likely to be drawn to programs like Platform — as Martin describes, “all of the other interns here are self motivated, driven and super talented in their own respects.”
“if someone has the motivation and self-discipline, they can make any event happen here.”— JJ Colby
These programs allow students to explore their artistic interests by providing them with opportunities such as the chance to help organize open mic events, curate and host art shows, showcase their own art, and help with featured artists installations. These like-minded interns have also formed a social group which Colby describes as “a bunch of creative people hanging out being nice.”
Martin came into Platform as an art practice major with a love of painting. As time has gone on, he has been able to dive into event coordinating and art promotion — newfound passions that he had not anticipated developing when joining the group. He has now become engrossed in these events and deeply enjoys “trying to build a community and bringing people together to perform and share their art with each other.” Due to the resources provided to students at Platform, they are able to take on new roles and projects that they may not have been able to do otherwise.
This space creates a place for students to feel secure in their abilities, to get out of their comfort zones, and become immersed in new aspects of the art world. Without grades, students don’t need to worry about their teachers’ subjective opinions around their art, but instead can do work that is fulfilling for them in a relaxed environment. This sentiment has been reiterated by interns like Colby, who feels that he has “become more open to trying new things and mediums that are daunting to me. I’m going to be doing a fair amount of wood working on the shed cafe which I wouldn’t do on my own — it’s too big of an undertaking. But there is enough of a push here that I am down to do it and excited to do it.” This circle of artists being inspirations to one another cultivates a space of artistry, growth and connection — which is felt from just sitting in on one meeting. Each student has their own voice, valued by their peers, and lends a hand to fellow artists as they present to each other different ways in which they are transforming their dreams into reality.
During Alex Art’s “Feral” Exhibit at Platform, Colby was able to see how he could present his own work “because the way (Alex) went about doing her research project and exhibiting it aligned most with how I might go about something like that.” Between Colby and Martin there is a hope for Platform to become more well-known to students and to expand.
Martin, when arriving at Berkeley, was surprised by the lack of art-dedicated spaces and believes that “(Platform) is really important because I don’t think there are enough spaces like it at Berkeley. It’s more important that we have art places on campus and places to hang out that aren’t intense artistically. It’s not a theater, it’s just a more relaxed open area where we can talk about art and do art here.” Similarly, Colby sees potential in this space becoming a known spot on campus for students to gather.
“There’s a lot that this could be used for,” he said. “I would like to see it as an active food pantry again. I’d love to see the cafe expanded, more food, more people, more events.”
The world of art is expansive and, at times, scary on your own. Spaces like Platform are vital to the Berkeley community as it creates a venue for students to find a home to build on their foundations of artistry and grow amongst fellow creators. Students are provided with an array of new skills to explore that might not have been available in the past. This allows for an open-endedness to what can be created here and new possible careers and passions for students.
Discovering Platform has reminded me of the multitude of possibilities and resources at Berkeley that help establish a sense of identity in an otherwise large, competitive environment. Through installing fellow artists’ work and hearing others’ artistic perspectives, the values of sharing one another’s art and collaboration are drilled into members — transforming a once solo career into an opportunity for community. Platform, through its enthusiasm, hospitality and sense of community, brings a pop of color to not only Bauer Wurster Hall, but also to UC Berkeley as a whole. Programs like this one hold the power to create much-needed creative spaces on campus for artists and art-lovers alike to convene and appreciate what humans can create when they are supported by their peers and institutions, and campus would certainly benefit from having more of them.