It’s a wintry November night on College Avenue, and the cold autumn leaves are half-frozen to the sidewalk. I walk past Voorhees Mall, dark and empty, wishing I hadn’t left my scarf on the bed at home. From around a big green bush, I spot the School of Arts and Sciences Honors House, which looks like it’s been there since Rutgers was first erected in the 1700s. A guy on the porch shows me in, and I’m greeted by a table full of cookies and a hug.
The SAS Artists Collective Coffeehouse happens once each month in the living room of the little-known Honors House, which is located directly next to Scott Hall. It’s one of the most diverse Open Mics I’ve seen here–from poets, painters, guitar players, piano virtuosos, and even rappers, it’s a great display of the University’s collective creativity.“Everybody’s welcome and it’s always a good time,” says host Evangelia Psarakis. “The atmosphere is different. The living room setting and ambient lighting are very comfortable. The stage is a giant couch.”
Psarakis, a second-year SAS student in the Douglass Residential College, has been heading the Coffeehouse since early September. She was elected by advising Dean Julio Nazario for her musicianship and appreciation of the arts, and is in charge of “providing cookies and coffee and performing.” As a history and political science double major, Evangelia plans on attending graduate school for education. Contrary to her apparent success as a singer-songwriter, she does not intend on pursuing a career in music–she’s “open to all kinds of musical experiences,” though.
In the two hours that I spent in the homey gathering, I saw nearly twenty performers, most of them playing original works. Paintings and framed photographs lined the walls, displaying the visual end of Artists Collective’s student base. The audience was welcoming and responsive, at times singing along and clapping, or filling in when the player had fudged a lyric. An ongoing stream of artists circulated through the doors, casually laying their gear by the coffee table, then squeezing into the living room to watch the show.
Ryan Tomczyk, a SAS Third Year and Psychology major, is a regular at the Artists Collective. “It’s more diverse than most open mics. There’s a wide range of people that perform, and it’s a very small, personal venue.” Tomczyk has been all over the open mic circuit, first performing stand up as a first year, then moving along to music as of late. “The Artists Collective helped me connect with other musicians and find other places to perform on campus. It encourages you to put yourself out there every month.”Dean Nazario, who I noticed milling about the audience with fellow Deans, stresses the significance of organizations like this. “Most of these students are majoring in the biological or social sciences, and these areas don’t provide an opportunity to engage in creating art.” He also noted that most of the visual art that is displayed in the Coffeehouse is the work of biology majors. Nazario, in addition to advising the open mic, hosts regular drawing sessions, cultural trips to New York City, and exhibitions in the main lounge “gallery” space of the SAS Honors building.
“I want to keep people performing,” Psarakis says. “It’s important to make people comfortable with their music or art.” The turn-outs have increased steadily each month, starting from a moderate 20-25 students, to an overflowing audience of 50 or more. And, as always, there’s a jam session in the end, which Evangelia says is “not always successful but always fun.”For more information on the Artists Collective, visit the SAS Honors website. By: Dominick Nero