It was minutes into the Fourth Monday of Block 5, and the doors to Worner Campus Center had just closed for the night.
The notice for arts and crafts registration, however, had been posted on the Student Digest for days, and was clear about the time window students had to enter the building.
“The line forms in front of Worner Desk — get in line early for a spot in the class of your choice,” the notice read. “Please be aware that Worner Center closes at midnight each night. You may stay in the building if you enter before it closes.”
That’s why, several minutes after midnight, there were over 30 shoes in line in front of the Worner Desk. Students were curled up in sleeping bags on every couch, and groups of people staked out the darkest corners. There was even a student sleeping in a hammock in the basement, hung from the railing a full story above.
It was the start of a stressful week, but the atmosphere in Worner was almost cheerful. Barefoot people moved around the art studio, dyeing yarn and felting. Later in the night, a group of girls huddled around a loom in the back of the studio and talked about ordering pizza.
My friends and I inflated our sleeping pads and curled up in our sleeping bags in the hallway leading to the studio — a prime spot because we could close the doors and turn off the lights. A janitor walked in and turned the lights on at 5:30 a.m., but we were still able to sleep until a few minutes before sign-up began. There were nearly 50 shoes in line behind us.
The arts program has existed since the start of the Block Plan in 1970. At that time, it was considered part of the “Leisure Program,” something professors thought necessary to complement the newly immersive and intense Block Plan experience.
When Jeanne Steiner, the arts and crafts director, came to the college in 1984, the Arts and Crafts Program was still open to the community.
“It was overrun with local potters, with only a few spots for students,” Steiner said.
So Steiner, with the help of her coworkers, transformed the program into something dedicated exclusively to students. Faculty and staff can sign up beginning fourth Friday, but it’s rare that any spots are still open by then.
“There’s been a resurgence in the appreciation of the handmade,” Steiner said, explaining that in the 1980s, during the start of the computer age, interest in arts classes was at an all-time low. Now, however, interest in the arts program may be at an all-time high. The number of people who stayed in Worner overnight for this most recent sign-up was the most ever reported, according to Steiner.
The difficulty of getting into the most popular art classes — namely pottery, weaving, and jewelry — has led some students to comment that the arts program is not as accessible as it’s meant to be.
“The art studio is supposed to be a really open space,” said Koki Atcheson ’19, a felting instructor in the studio. “But when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, it’s really exclusive.”
The problem, according to weaving instructor Savannah Snell ’19, is that people keep coming earlier and earlier every block. While people often attach strings from their sleeping bags to their shoes to minimize cheating, people used to just put their shoes in line and then gone back to their dorms to sleep.
But it’s hard to think of viable alternatives. Online sign-ups would unfairly favor people with faster internet connections, while giving upperclassmen priority would make it virtually impossible for underclassmen to get spots. A lottery system would make it impossible for people who want and need art studio space the most to guarantee a spot by sacrificing their sleep.
“It kind of sucks, but you learn to live with it,” said Snell.
Offerings vary every block, depending on instructor interest and availability, and certain blocks — like Blocks 1 and 8 — tend to be less popular. If you’ve never thrown clay, or need to make sure you have a loom, arriving several hours before sign-ups begin may be necessary. But classes like knitting and felting tend to remain open until at least after breakfast, and even classes like clay and weaving remain open every so often.
So if you have extra time in your block, or need distraction from a difficult class, it might be worth stopping by the Worner Desk on Fourth Monday to check the arts offerings, or even dragging a few friends along to spend the night.