‘We have lost a significant part of the student experience on campus’: LNYF pushes forward despite Gargoyle setback
The annual Lunar New Year Festival performance will kick off Feb. 7 and 8, marking the group’s first set of shows since the loss of the Gargoyle rehearsal space.
Washington University notified student groups in March 2019 that the Gargoyle, one of the few free-to-reserve venues on campus, would no longer be available for student use, citing the University’s need for new office space. The space is currently transitioning to house offices for the academic mentoring team, the writing center, the college writing program and the Title IX office in the Gargoyle’s former space.
The Gargoyle had previously been a staple rehearsal venue for cultural performances such as Lunar New Year Festival (LNYF), Diwali and Black Anthology.
“There was very little transparency in the administration’s decision and a lack of thought put into the rapid provision of comparable alternatives, even though this decision had been made months prior,” LNYF Director of Performance senior Kristine Xu said. “We had to scramble to find a place for auditions that would accommodate our needs of availability, capacity and features.”
After the Gargoyle’s closure, LNYF participants said they had difficulty finding a space that fit all of the necessary constraints of their performance. LNYF choreographers also had to coordinate with the schedules of 10 to 16 performers for each of the various dances and then compete with other student groups and departments in order to reserve rooms for rehearsals.
“The Gargoyle was critical to the operation of our show,” Xu said. “It was the primary space for performers to prepare, practice and warm up and bond with each other. It was convenient for performers to get backstage as well, since the Gargoyle and Edison Theater are in the same building.”
Jiyoon Kang, one of the executive directors of LNYF, felt that the University’s decision reflected an insufficient appreciation for the importance of the show.
“I wish Wash. U. didn’t take us as a token Asian show, where we’re used for just banners for diversity and advertisement to incoming freshmen,” Kang said. “It takes a significant amount of effort from around two hundred people to make the show happen, so Wash. U. taking down the Gargoyle was a huge disappointment for us.”
In addition to LNYF, many other shows, student groups and individuals relied on the Gargoyle space, and according to Xu, the University’s decision demonstrated a general lack of consideration.
Former Social Programming Board President junior Adin Ehrlich was among those involved in last year’s efforts to save the Gargoyle.
“Although SPB used the Gargoyle mainly for [Happy Hour] and a few concerts, we were always working with other student groups who had reserved the space for dance performances, cultural shows and event space before and after our events,” Ehrlich said. “These groups provide some of the most exciting performances on our campus and are enjoyed by members of the student body, faculty and community members. With the Gargoyle gone, we have lost a significant part of the student experience on campus.”
However, Ehrlich remained optimistic, adding that in his current role as a senator, he continues to speak with University administrators about finding a new space for students on campus.
Moving forward, Xu suggested that the University adjust its approach to include more input from student groups on such momentous decisions and to implement a longer transition period to find alternative spaces.
“The University administration could also construct more spaces that are large, free and fully mirrored for all performance groups on campus to use,” Xu said.
Despite the challenges posed by the Gargoyle’s absence, participants in the show agreed on the continued importance and beauty of events such as LNYF. Cultural shows are often highlights of the college experience for the performers as well as being both fun and educational for the audiences, according to junior Richard Ni.
“It really does provide a space for minorities to have a presence on campus, tell our stories and show the beauty of our heritage,” Ni said. “I think they’ve become a core part of the Wash. U. experience, not just for people performing in the shows but Wash. U. students in general.”
This year, Ni served on LNYF’s executive board and also wrote and performed in the skit. Being so involved in the show gave him ample opportunity to appreciate its warm and welcoming environment.
“It’s a place where we can embrace our culture and feel proud of that part of identity,” Ni said. “At the same time, it gives us a space to learn something fun and new outside of class and showcase our abilities as well as our cultural heritage. For me, it has also been a source of community full of people who have similar backgrounds to mine.”
The reach of LNYF goes far beyond the University. Because it is an event celebrated by a community of various different backgrounds, Xu said, reaching out to a broader community is important. This year the show will donate all proceeds to Variety, a charity that supports St. Louis children with special needs by providing them with access to medical equipment, therapy and programs that help them explore their passions.
“To be able to share all of our culture and tradition to everyone on campus and to the greater St. Louis is such a special moment and something to be grateful for,” Kang said.