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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

SMFA student clubs enable passions, help friendships thrive

Clubs engage in birdwatching, ceramics and sustainability at the Boston campus and beyond.

Eco-Art Club members are pictured making spore prints.

Eco-Art Club members are pictured making spore prints.

It can take effort to pursue extracurriculars on top of a college workload and the other demands of life. SMFA student clubs based at the Boston campus provide opportunities to dive deeper into activities such as birdwatching, ceramics and sustainable crafts.

Stephen Green, associate director of student life at the SMFA, explained that SMFA clubs are all sub-groups of the SMFA Student Government Association — an official body funded by the Tufts Community Union.

The SGA essentially works as a smaller version of the TCU [Judiciary] and they fund organizations that have primary interests at the SMFA,” Green said.

According to Maiyah Rivers, assistant director of student life at the SMFA, while SMFA clubs are not directly recognized by TCU, they are encouraged by staff to mimic the setup of clubs housed at the Medford/Somerville campus.

Clubs are encouraged to create a page on the JumboLife portal or to request a table at the annual Student Organizations Fair on the Academic Quad, which can open up SMFA clubs to broader student participation.

Clubs based at the SMFA are established by SMFA or combined-degree students, but students enrolled at any one of Tufts’ schools are welcome.

The SMFA-based Eco-Art Club is a group focused on sustainability in the art world, often using nature as the muse and material of their work. It was founded by its current co-heads Laura Harvey and Zoee Blossom after being inspired by a class they had taken together.

Eco-Art Club members are pictured on the Appalachian Trail, spring 2023.
Courtesy Zoee Blossom

Eco-Art Club members are pictured on the Appalachian Trail, spring 2023.

“Laura and I met taking an SMFA class which [was] called Relational Placemaking, and it was all about choosing some natural space that you’re in and taking inspiration from it, making art in it, making art out of it,” Blossom said. “We really, really loved that class and didn’t want to lose the conversations we were having and the community that it built.”

For Blossom and Harvey, who are both from relatively rural areas, Eco-Art Club was born out of a desire to connect to the natural world while at school in an urban environment. The club also leans into an aspect of artistic practice they felt was underrepresented in their curricula.

“In that class, we were talking a lot about craft and different indigenous practices, and we were thinking a lot about how SMFA tends to be more fine art-focused,” Blossom said. “We wanted to try and build a space where we could explore craft a bit more and lean … more towards materiality.”

Similarly, the SMFA Clay Club was created by combined-degree student Zelda Mayer to supplement the array of courses available at the SMFA. She has had some help from Cathy Lu and Jennie Jieun Lee, SMFA professors of the practice.

A Clay Club member is pictured at a potter's wheel.
Courtesy Zoee Blossom

A Clay Club member is pictured at a potter's wheel.

“I think, the SMFA, they offer [such] a breadth … of 2D-making classes, like drawing and painting, but the reality is incoming SMFA students are interested in 3D work in some kind of a way,” Mayer said. “The classes are … not caught up to this wave of craftspeople that are coming in who are sculptors or 3D-makers.”

Clay Club is a space for students to play with clay in a fun-filled environment where they can access free materials, tools and instruction. Despite having only started in the spring of 2023, Clay Club has experienced a sudden growth in popularity, tallying around 30 members.

Mayer, who is drawn to pedagogy and has had formal experiences teaching ceramics at local schools, finds Clay Club to be a very rewarding experience.

“Becoming a dependable figure in … a smaller community of ceramicists is exciting as well, because ceramics is such a medium that relies on education,” Mayer said. “There [are] opportunities for students and students to share knowledge between each other and really participate in the way that craft knowledge is passed down.

Last semester, Clay Club hosted a community cup-making event which attracted the participation of students, faculty and MFA employees. These mugs that were handmade, painted and fired were then featured at a Clay Club tea party.

The SMFA Bird Club does not shy away from special events either, especially because the group is centered around birdwatching. The club was founded last semester by SMFA student Eliot Swift — who is now the club president — and Ria Brodell, a part-time lecturer at the SMFA, who taught Swift in a class called Flora and Fauna.

Bird Club organizes outings to places such as Franklin Park Zoo and Arnold Arboretum. Last semester, they collaborated with the MassArt Bird Club for a visit to the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, an accessible ecosystem with paved trails and bird-spotting opportunities.

“The most important part is getting out somewhere with our cameras or sketchbooks or binoculars, or just bringing ourselves there, and walking around in nature and seeing what there is to see,” Swift said. “And there’s a surprising amount that you can get to by the T.”

Contrary to popular belief, leading a student club is not a position reserved only for extroverts. For Swift, Bird Club has been a way to connect with like-minded peers as well as to seek respite from the city, having grown up in a rural area.

“I tend to be a little bit of a reclusive personality, so I need to make an effort to get myself out and about to do social things,” Swift said. “I found myself missing some environments that were like home, and … greenery [is] great for my mental health too. So it’s sort of a healing thing, it restores my energy.”

Eco-Art Club has played a similar role in Blossom’s time at Tufts. It allowed her to build a community during her freshman year amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as develop her art practice.

“In terms of my art practice, [Eco-Art Club] has influenced it a lot. I was already interested in these sorts of natural processes, but it gave me a concrete space to explore it, and because it’s a club and has a budget, we have a lot more opportunities to do bigger projects,” Blossom said.

This past spring, Eco-Art Club took a trip to Maine, where they embarked on hikes and found natural clay deposits to make art with. On a more regular basis, the club enjoys foraging at natural sites in Greater Boston and meets on the Medford/Somerville campus to engage in activities such as eco-dyeing.

Eco-Art Club members are pictured eco-dyeing in the Crafts Center.
Courtesy Zoee Blossom

Eco-Art Club members are pictured eco-dyeing in the Crafts Center.

Eco-Art Club is currently working to transition out of the umbrella of the SGA to seek recognition from TCU. Blossom hopes that this will better accommodate the growing number of members the club is attracting, but the transition process has not been easy.

“SMFA clubs have a much more lenient application process. TCU involves a lot more paperwork … and we were sort of struggling to find all the necessary steps to make things official,” Blossom said. “There’s a lot of nuance in terms of when you can start, how long you have to be active in order to be registered and things like that.”

Managing a student club comes with a learning curve too, and according to Swift, the necessary steps have not been readily accessible, prompting them to contact others for advice.

“Figuring out how to run a club has been a little difficult,” Swift said. “There’s no club handbook that I can go to for all the answers to the questions that I need, so it’s been a lot of asking other people who already have experience in clubs and sending lots of emails.”

Regardless, it seems that enthusiasm is the main ingredient driving students to create and participate in clubs on the SMFA Boston campus. The clubs serve as vital spaces for friendships, hobbies and skills to flourish.

Families and friends are welcome to attend a Sidewalk Sale on Oct. 14, where some student clubs will be sharing their work outside the SMFA.