Briee Editor of the Magazine

It is a strange thing to be an editor of an alumni magazine at this time. Alumni magazines aren’t made to break news, and yet covering anything other than breaking news seems so misfit. Alumni magazines aren’t made to challenge or confront, and yet challenges are all around us and confronting them feels like the only right thing to do. Alumni magazines are birthday cakes and champagne. They are made to celebrate. They are not supposed to roar as much as rah-rah. Which is why, in the midst of a pandemic that shut down the campus and everything else, in the midst of a racial justice revolution, in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since The Great Depression, I received exactly no submissions when I asked the campus community: What have you made in this time away from campus?

I should not have been surprised. I was asking students who had spent one of their Bennington terms sheltered away from campus, from friends and mentors, from labs and studios, from libraries and classrooms. I was asking staff who were working longer and harder than ever before to keep up with a treadmill of changes and crises. I was asking faculty who were teaching, mediated by a screen; making up new ways to connect from afar. I was asking seniors whose Commencement had been virtual and postponed to share what they made, to reflect on how they used this time.

I am grateful no one asked me, “Are you serious?”

This year, the visual arts senior show was online, as was senior work in all disciplines. I love the title students gave it: A Hole to Climb Into. The opening graphic is a black circle on a white background. These seniors are serious. These seniors are marking this moment like it is—a black hole on a white screen; drawing a map to the place we all are, if we were lucky enough to have a hole to climb into.

There’s a piece by Aiden Barger ’20 in the senior show called, I Don’t Know How to Make Art: A Series of Disruptions. The opening image in that piece (black type on white background) reads: “I don’t know how to make art when I might be homeless next month.” At first, I read this as a question, not a statement. “How do I make art when I might be homeless next month?” I should have asked readers this question instead, I thought. I wanted to ask Margaret Holloway ’74, MFA ’78, a homeless Shakesperian actor who died in May from COVID-19: How did you do it? How did you make art when you were homeless? Teach us. I wanted to ask Milford Graves, who keeps drumming to keep his heart beating, who keeps drumming to heal and understand: How do you do this? Teach us, Professor. I wanted to ask Mary Lum, who painted the testimony of children in cages, abused, taken from their guardians: How did you do it? I wanted Liz Swados ’73 to be alive and well. I wanted her to tell us how she made art that saved people when she was toppling with despair, depression, unseeable demons. Teach, preach, tell us everything you know about how to make something when it feels like everything is ending.

I take my last question back, readers. I don’t want to know what you are making. I want to know how you keep making when you’re homeless, when your heart is failing, when you are being tear gassed and taken away in unmarked vans, when you’ve lost your mother, when 210,000 people are dead and there is no going back to the place we were. How do you make anything at a time like this?

Two years before Ron Cohen died, two years after he retired, he was talking with me about the idea of gifts at his granddaughter’s birthday party. On a picnic bench in the middle of a cacophony of excited kids who were so close to drowning out Ron’s signature-soft spokenness, I leaned in to hear what was on his mind. He talked about generational gifting. He explained how parenting was a way of gifting, how grandparenting was also. He was talking about the bow and ribbon of wisdom and how the gifts are returned and given again with each new generation guiding the next. He was talking about teaching as a gift, loving as a gift. He was talking about giving as a way of not ending.

We need these gifts now more than ever. Gifts that teach us how to make something, how to give something, how to keep going when we are homeless and helpless and hopeless. Is this too much to ask, readers? Will my inbox be empty again? I hope not. Because I need to know too. Send us what you know, wise Bennington. Send us how you do it, artists. Send us directions to a new place.

I am waiting for you.

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Briee Della Rocca

For this next issue, I am eager to speak with readers interested in discussing how you keep going, keep making when it feels like everything is ending. I invite readers to schedule a time to record an interview with me on this topic that may be included and featured in the next issue. Readers who would prefer to send a direct response to the question should submit a response by Monday, January 4, 2021 for consideration. I welcome conversations, essays, art, music, assignments, and any other way you wish to engage in this question.