October 28, 2020: Community Conversations Transcript

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Joseph Helble:

Welcome everyone to our 16th Community Conversation addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, I’m the provost at Dartmouth College and I’m joining you once again from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library on this fall afternoon, Wednesday, Oct. 28. For those of you not in Hanover, I will note that when I was out on my early morning run today, there were a few flakes of snow falling so we know that winter is indeed coming, but it’s still fall and I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, from another studio here on Dartmouth’s campus.

Justin and I will be joined today for a conversation focusing on the arts at Dartmouth in this time of virtual and COVID-restricted operations by our colleagues, Mary Lou Aleskie, the Howard L. Gilman ’44 Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Mary Lou came to Dartmouth in 2017 after serving for 12 years as the director of the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Walter Cunningham, in his 18th year at Dartmouth, the director of popular music ensembles at the Hopkins Center, the director of Dartmouth (College) Gospel Choir, and the producer and creator of Dartmouth Idol, now in its 14th year; and by John Stomberg who is approaching his five-year anniversary as the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art. Immediately prior to joining Dartmouth, John was director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.

Today, we’ll follow our normal format with a campus update, live Q-and-A moderated by Justin, and then a conversation with Mary Lou, Walt, and John about what has been happening in their areas and their plans for winter term, and then ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly. Today, I’d like to provide our regular update on testing, talk a bit about the logistics of voting next week and provide the latest update on our planning for the start of winter term. First, let’s turn to testing.

Dartmouth continues to conduct approximately 4,500 surveillance tests of students and employees each week. As of yesterday, as part of this surveillance testing effort, Dartmouth had conducted nearly 34,000 tests with a total of 10 positives, a positive test rate of just under 0.03%. Information continues to be updated daily on the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 dashboard where we also report information on numbers in quarantine and isolation, as well as information on our open quarantine and isolation capacity. As of yesterday, it showed that more than 98% of our quarantine and isolation capacity remains available as it has throughout the course of fall term. Testing this term will continue in Leverone Field House through the end of the term.

Testing will in fact continue according to the same schedule for employees and graduate students even after the end of fall term through December. To accommodate election polling next week, however, there will be no COVID testing at Leverone Field House on Monday, Nov. 2 or Tuesday, Nov. 3. Hours instead will be extended to 4 p.m. on Thursday, the 5th and on Friday, Nov. 6, and Leverone will also be open for COVID testing on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so all of those who are scheduled to get their regular COVID test next week will be accommodated. Testing will also continue to be conducted at Williamson at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3, as scheduled from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Now, turning back for a moment to the results of the testing, it’s worth noting, again, this week that the data from our New England peers continues to mirror our own experience. Our New England Small College NESCAC peers remain in the 0.01 to 0.03% positive range with two NESCAC campuses slightly higher, in the 0.1 to 0.2% positive range. The University of Vermont continues to see positive test results similar to ours with their latest data reporting a positive test rate of 0.03%, and the University of New Hampshire, UNH, also remains low at 0.12%. Several research peers that we track are comparable to UNH also around 0.1%.

While many colleges and universities are making their way through fall with manageable case counts, the broader picture in our country continues to be different. Nationally, positive case counts have risen 40% in the past two weeks. In New England, that number is 70%. The baseline, however, in New England remains low relative to most of the country, but the rate of growth is something, as I have said before, that we are watching very closely. Here on campus, we’re nearing the end of week seven of the undergraduate fall term. We still have several weeks before the term ends and we do have winter ahead of us. But let’s take a moment to reflect briefly on what all of these numbers mean and mean for us at Dartmouth.

Despite a surge in cases nationally for more than a month, and despite a substantial increase in New England these past two weeks alone, as I said last week in my email to the Dartmouth community, the incidence of the virus has remained low in our community, but this is not the time to take our eye off the ball. Through your efforts, through the efforts of everyone in the Dartmouth campus community, by continuing to take precautions against the virus, masking, hand-washing, social distancing, limiting gathering sizes, and by continuing with regular surveillance testing, we can continue to be outdoors, continue to see one another at a distance and continue to maintain some semblance of human connection in an incredibly challenging year.

Looking ahead to winter, we know that we will all be spending more time indoors. We also know that winter brings with it cold and flu season, and as a result, continuing to take precautions against the COVID-19 coronavirus remains essential. To support community health through the winter and to help reduce the number of Dartmouth community members who would need to enter isolation for symptomatic reasons, seasonal flu shots are even more important this year. For the 2020 to 2021 flu season, Dartmouth therefore expects that all members of its community, including all students who are approved for winter term residential education and all employees whose work will have them on campus, even for limited time periods, to receive the flu vaccine.

I’m pleased to announce that we have already this year administered more flu shots to date than we have each year for the last five years total. Thus far this year, 2,488 students and 544 employees have been vaccinated at Dartmouth. Now, those of you who don’t regularly receive the flu vaccine may be asking how to go about it. If you’re enrolled in any of the Cigna health plans through Dartmouth College, the flu vaccine is covered under your medical benefit so you can receive a free flu shot with zero co-pay. Your primary care physician can administer the flu shot. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and local pharmacies also offer clinics where you can make an appointment, or in some cases walk-in or drive-in to get your flu vaccine.

In Dick’s House here on campus is offering flu shots to students and to those employees who are currently approved to work regularly on campus. Dick’s House flu clinics will take place at Leverone Field House every Thursday, including tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and this will continue through Thursday, Nov. 12. So, if you have not yet made your way over to Dick’s House to get your free flu vaccine at the Dick’s House clinic, I would encourage you to take a walk over tomorrow or one of the upcoming Thursdays up ‘till and through Nov. 12. Now, for any of you who may have questions about getting a flu vaccine, please contact your primary care provider.

For more information, I ask that you also visit both the Dick’s House and employee wellness sites. Information on flu shots will also be available shortly in the testing and health section of the Dartmouth Together COVID site.

Next Tuesday, of course, is election day. As I mentioned, Leverone Field House will not be open for COVID tests next Monday, nor next Tuesday, so that it can be used as a polling location from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. As per the town of Hanover, all in-person voters and everyone working in or entering the polling station will need to be masked and maintain social distancing. As per the town, anyone who is unable or unwilling to enter the polling place with these conditions will be accommodated through an outdoor location where absentee materials may be completed.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, who joined us for our last community conversation two weeks ago, has indicated recently that the town is still registering people to vote, and this includes Dartmouth students and the town will continue to do so up to and including on election day. The town is however encouraging people if they can to register before election day at town hall, and notes that one can in fact register at town hall, request an absentee ballot, fill out the ballot and submit it back to the town all in one visit.

Now over the past week, we’ve also gotten questions from a few students regarding their ability to participate locally, in addition to potentially voting in New Hampshire. Specifically, we’ve been asked whether students can help by being authorized election workers if they’ve made arrangements with a local town or through organizations, such as Vote Saver, an organization started by two recent

Dartmouth alumni, without violating the terms of the community expectations agreement that all have signed. The answer to those questions is yes. As long as students remain masked and socially distanced and do not travel outside of the area, they are allowed to participate in these vote supporting activities.

Travel is still restricted for our student communities as per our community expectation documents and our travel policies, which are accessible through our Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website. But as long as these policies are obeyed and followed, Dartmouth students are eligible to contribute to supporting election turnout.

Now, Dartmouth is also sponsoring many events associated with the election, both next week and through November. The events which are listed on Dartmouth’s website and can be found through the Dartmouth guide to election 2020 link provide information on a range of activities, including on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 3, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, along with the Office of Student Life, the Collis Governing Board and the student assembly will be hosting an election night watch party with CBS journalist Chip Reid. As the website indicates, this will be a virtual event, but some small group gathering spaces will also be available on campus by appointment.

On Thursday, Nov. 5, there’ll be an online post-election panel discussion, also sponsored by the Rockefeller Center, entitled “What Now?” moderated by Assistant Professor of Government Mia Costa who teaches classes on American politics. “Soapbox Sunday,” hosted by the Leslie Center will take place on Sunday, Nov. 8. A post-election conversation hosted by the Rockefeller Center with journalist Jake Tapper ’91 will take place on Nov. 12. In a post-election discussion of the future of U.S. foreign policy, hosted by the John Sloan Dickey Center will take place on Monday, Nov. 16.

Dartmouth is also offering a podcast series supported by Dartmouth Alumni Relations and hosted by government professor and former dean of the arts and sciences faculty Mike Mastanduno, covering timely topics related to the election in the time of COVID. New 40-minute episodes are being posted up until election day and are also available through our website.

Now, looking beyond the election and looking ahead to winter term, as I announced here two weeks ago and as my email to the Dartmouth community last Friday confirmed, the start of winter term 2021 will be delayed by a few days, specifically, undergraduate winter term classes will begin on Thursday, Jan. 7 and will end on Wednesday, March 10. Thursday, Jan. 7 will also be the first day of winter term classes for Thayer and Guarini students. Tuck and Geisel winter term programs will not be affected by these schedule changes and will begin on their planned and scheduled dates.

Now, for those students who’ll be living on campus, Dean of the College Kathryn Lively has indicated that the wait-list process for on-campus housing for winter term has been completed and that all upper year students who requested on campus housing for winter term were accommodated. Specific housing room assignments should be finalized by the middle of November, as well as arrival date assignments being confirmed by the middle of November. A reminder, again, that student arrival dates will be staggered as they were for fall term. Students should therefore await information on their arrival dates before making travel plans for their January return to Hanover.

Now, as a reminder, we’ll be utilizing the same arrival testing protocol as we did for fall term, specifically, pre-arrival testing will be conducted as it was during fall term and details will be provided to students well in advance of their anticipated late December at home testing dates. Arrival week testing will also occur on days zero, three, and seven, once again, as was done during fall term. We anticipate, however, making a change in our surveillance testing protocols for both students and employees during the winter quarter.

For the duration of winter term, we are likely to implement a twice per week surveillance testing protocol for students and for those employees regularly working on campus. This increase in frequency of testing during winter term, along with our expectation that everyone will receive the flu vaccine is an important component in our effort to support community health during winter cold and flu season. Details, including winter term testing and location, will be provided in advance of the start of winter term. For now, I simply ask that everyone anticipate that our testing frequency will increase to twice per week throughout the winter term.

Now, one final note on winter and the start of winter term, before we turn to Q-and-A, and then a conversation with our arts colleagues. Presently, Dartmouth is scheduled to close for the extended winter holiday break from Thursday, Dec. 24 through Friday, Jan. 1 for all workers, other than essential personnel whose jobs require work or on campus presence to help maintain essential services, as is the case every year and is outlined on Dartmouth’s Human Resources website.

But as we head towards what seems like a distant holiday break, I can see that everyone here on campus is pushing to the limit to support our operations, to support our students, our community; nights, weekends, and all while juggling newly complex family care challenges; working from home, interrupted bandwidth, Zoom fatigue, restrictions on travel, and all of the uncertainty associated with the national, global pandemic has taken its toll. And yet I see everyone here at Dartmouth doing this without complaining, understanding the challenge, committed to furthering the education and research training of our students, committed to keeping our community and the local community as safe and healthy as possible.

Given this, President Hanlon has therefore decided, and I am pleased to announce, that this year we will be extending our winter break by three days. Dartmouth will close starting Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, and remain closed for two full weeks through Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, with the usual exceptions for those performing essential services, including administration of any programs ending in that period. Details will be provided through HR to supervisors and employees in the coming weeks. But for the most of you, what this means is a full two-week extended break at the end of the year, to help everyone have a chance to recover from this challenging 10-month stretch that we’ve been working through.

To the Dartmouth community, thank you for all that you are doing and all that you have done to enable us to navigate this year this successfully to date. I hope we can all use this much needed time to catch our breath, to be with our families as we can, to rest and reset before stepping back into what we know will be a busy winter term.

Thanks again for all you’re doing to make this term possible and to support the education of our students.

Justin, let’s turn to questions.

Justin Anderson:

Thank you so much, Joe, and nice to see you today.


You, as well.


A lot of questions already. I’m going to put the first group of questions in the winter is coming category. And most of these questions involve whether or not there will be more social spaces for students, more mobility, particularly inside, because unlike the fall, which has actually happened to be, relatively speaking, quite warm, we can’t have the same expectations for the winter. And so, what are the plans to create more space for students to move around inside, protected from the elements?

And several people are asking about whether or not students will be able to travel from residence hall to residence hall to visit their friends. And then likewise, unlike fall term, when students arrived with everything they can carry, that’s different when you’re carrying shorts than when you’re carrying bulky winter coats and boots. And so, how can we accommodate for the very real change in what people are going to need when they do arrive?


Right. Yeah. So, thank you, Justin. There’s a whole series of good and really important questions there. And I can’t provide specifics for many of them, but I can say that there are groups actively working on this. We are abundantly aware that winter is different than fall, and we can’t utilize the outdoor spaces on a day-to-day basis. Certainly, we can’t have students or community members sitting outside in a tent having a meal most days in the winter. Things needs to change.

And so, we have a group as part of the task force that is very specifically looking at ways to provide more indoor mobility and open up more indoor spaces. One of the things that Kathryn Lively, the dean of the College, has heard over and over again from Student Assembly and from the students she meets with, is the absolute importance of having more indoor spaces where they can spread out and study, because we recognize, and we’ve heard this from our students, that if you are bringing meals back to your room, sleeping in your room, studying in your room, taking classes in your room, you could easily spend nearly 24 hours every day in your room. And we know that that’s not ideal for anyone. And so, we are working on ways to open up more spaces that students can access to just spread out and study or go somewhere different with their laptop and not be in their room. We have a group that’s looking at activities, indoor and outdoor, that can engage more of the campus in collective activity over the course of the winter.

I may have said this before, but I’m personally intrigued, as someone who enjoys the outdoors and has learned through my time here in Hanover to embrace the outdoors, even on the coldest days and even on the coldest nights, whether there are ways that we can structure activities that would give our students a chance to experience a part of winter in a way that they hadn’t previously before coming to Dartmouth, and make it something special and part of the winter term experience.

So, more details to come over the course of subsequent Community Conversations this fall. But let me just say, we are looking for ways to address all of that. We are aware of the concerns, and we want to find ways to make this a supportive experience for our students.


Joe, between the last Community Conversations, and today’s, we’ve been able to talk much more about the plans for winter term. And someone writes in asking: As we get a sense of what winter term is going to look like, do we know how that will affect the budget deficit?


Right. That’s another very good question, and I just earlier today was at a board of trustees finance committee meeting, speaking about the FY ’21 operating budget and looking ahead to the next fiscal year. And that of course is something that’s top of mind.

We have a pretty good understanding of what winter quarter is going to look like. And winter quarter is going to look like fall quarter, like fall term. And so, the loss is that we were projecting the operating losses from lost revenue, and also the increased cost associated with the measures we’ve put in place, the extensive testing regime being an important part of that, are going to continue at scale through winter term. And in fact, as I’ve announced, we are going to double the frequency of our surveillance testing. So, our testing costs are going to increase.

All of that is still within the range that we projected for fall quarter and winter quarter. And so right now, the great unknown is spring quarter. We are anticipating, as of today, that spring quarter will have the same reduced enrollment, 50% on campus undergraduate enrollment, as we’ve had fall and winter.

But there are some optimistic notes associated with vaccine development and deployment that suggests that there may be vaccines becoming accessible and on the market in the January, February, March timeframe. We don’t know how the disease is going to progress over the next six months. We may be able to, through measures such as masking and social distancing, and being better about hand-washing and adhering to group size limits nationally, bring this much more under control. These sorts of things make it possible that we might in fact be able to bring back a different number of students spring term.

So that’s a long way of saying winter term will look like fall term; the budget projections we made at the start of fall term hold through winter term. Spring term, I want to hold out hope that it might be a little bit different and a little bit better, but time will tell.


Well, speaking of spring term, we have a question about spring study abroad programs and whether or not those will be happening.


Yeah, we don’t yet know the answer to that question, Justin. Some of our viewers may have seen that Tuck, today, the Tuck School, announced that all TuckGO international travel programs would be canceled for this academic year. Most of those were scheduled to take place during the break between winter and spring quarters, but Tuck made a decision that those programs would not go forward.

Our task force and the group that works on travel is still exploring opportunities for spring quarter travel programs, off-campus programs. We anticipate being able to make an announcement by Thanksgiving. So, students will know fairly soon whether spring quarter international travel programs are going forward.

But I have to say, I think at this point, everyone who’s working on this will acknowledge that the chances that spring term international travel will be supported are fairly small. More likely, we will be able to support a small number of domestic off-campus programs, but even that is something that’s being very carefully scrutinized and assessed by the task force. So, I hope to have an answer by Thanksgiving, but I will say, in the spirit of transparency, that it’s not looking likely for undergraduate off-campus programs either, at this point in time.


Joe, we spent a lot of time at the end of the summer talking about the logistics of moving in, and we’ve already started talking about the logistics of moving in in winter term. Somebody writes in and asks: What about moving out? And what are the logistics and what is the plan for leaving campus at the end of fall term?


So that’s a question I will have to defer to the Dean of the College area, to Kathryn Lively and Mike Wooten, because I honestly don’t know, Justin. My anticipation and expectation was that students would be moving out as they finish in a way that they normally would. We will be asking students to continue getting surveillance testing right up until the time that they depart, because we would like them to know, and we would like to know, that they are healthy and free of COVID-19 as they are stepping off campus to begin their travel plans. If they are not going to be back winter term, we are asking them to take their belongings with them as we would in a normal transitional period.

I think because we have some flexibility of a few days around the end of the term, we are expecting that the move out will be spread over a few days, but it’s a really good question actually, and so let’s make a note to ask Kathryn and Mike to communicate that a little bit more directly to students, because I don’t presently know the details of the plan.


Well, I’m going to ask you this next question, realizing that it also may be one that we have to defer to our colleague, Lisa Adams. I mention Lisa Adams because this question is about wastewater testing, which I know is something that she, when she was on Community Conversations, she spoke about it with a fair amount of excitement. And so, someone writes in to ask what we have learned from wastewater testing so far. We’ve talked a lot about the testing that’s happening in Leverone, but what about the wastewater testing?


Right. So interestingly, Justin, this is something I do know a little bit about. I don’t have this week’s data, but as of a week ago, we had had no detections of the virus in the wastewater samples that we were collecting over the course of the term. And that’s not surprising in many ways because our surveillance testing of students living on campus has picked up a handful, literally single digit numbers, of positive tests over the course of the term.

So, the wastewater testing is very helpful and sensitive in being an additional early warning sign of an outbreak, if there are several individuals in a residential community who are shedding virus and shedding virus at high-load. What our surveillance testing has done is enabled us to catch it at early stages of infection and move individuals into isolation. So, we haven’t seen, as I understand it, the spikes that would occur in residence hall wastewater if the students had not been moved, had been allowed to remain in the residence halls and had not been moved to isolation. And so, in some ways, it’s working as expected, it’s consistent with our very low numbers of positive cases and our ability to identify those very quickly and move the students out and into isolation.


Joe, we have time for one more question before we transition to the guests, and I’m going to ask this of you, but I suspect that each of our guests might be able to chime in because this question is about the student experience during the pandemic; living on campus during a pandemic and their ability or inability to really do all of that much. And how are we thinking about ways to further engage students outside the classroom, so to speak, to keep them engaged, to keep them energetic, to enable them to meet and interact with both friends and new people? So, I’ll put that question to you, realizing that hopefully we’ll hear answers to those kinds of questions from our guests.


Yeah. So, thank you, Justin. And let’s be sure to put that question to our guests as well. And I think just very quickly, it’s a multi-part answer.

First, as I answered in response to one of the earlier questions, we are looking at ways to give the students opportunity to potentially gather in larger groups, state public health regulations allowing, during winter term, certainly in larger organized, structured groups, and enable them to do things outdoors and then do things in groups that we’ve not been able to do so far. So, we’re looking to expand those activities.

We’re looking to find ways to give students more outlets outside of the residence halls, and the student programming group, and the Dean of the College area is also working hard at this and things that they might be able to do, as are the house communities.

Several months ago, I convened the centers and institute directors, and Mary Lou and John were part of that conversation, and asked them, given their role of providing intellectual engagement and artistic engagement outside of the curriculum, to think creatively about things that we might do to provide opportunity for students to learn, to socialize and to take part in all that this campus has to offer.

They’ve all come up with some pretty creative things, and I know they’re thinking hard about how they can continue and build on that during winter. And so, I’m optimistic about there being more opportunity for students to engage in and participate in outside the classroom in January and February. And I think we should turn to our guests and ask them what they’re doing specifically.

And so, with that, and that question, thank you, Justin. And thanks to all who wrote in with some really good and interesting and thoughtful questions, including one that I couldn’t answer, but we will work on getting back to you with the details on that.

I’d like to turn now to ask my three colleagues to join me. So appearing with us on the screen should be Mary Lou Aleskie, who’s in her fourth year as the Howard Gilman ’44 Director of the Hopkins Center; Walt Cunningham, who is in his 18th year at Dartmouth as the director of popular music ensembles, director of the gospel choir and producer and creator of Dartmouth Idol; and John Stomberg, who is in his fifth year as the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art. So, John, Walt, Mary Lou, great to see you all. Thanks so much for being with us today.

John Stomberg:

Thanks for having us, Joe.


So, I’m going to ask a few questions. I’m going to ask questions of each of you. I’m going to move around a little bit rather than going in any particular order, as you know if you’ve seen prior versions of Community Conversations. And then I’m going to turn it back to Justin in a few minutes and we’ll see what questions are on the minds of our audience. And so, with that background, I’d like to start with you first, Mary Lou. Just speak a little bit about what’s been happening at the Hop.

We all know that performing arts organizations everywhere have suspended live performances because of COVID, and my recollection is in fact the last live performance that the Hop conducted, I remember being with you, Mary Lou, and you, Walt, at the finals of Dartmouth Idol back in March. But rather than standing still when we had to take the extraordinary step of closing the Hop to live performances, you and your colleagues pivoted really quickly and created the Hop@Home series. So, can you tell us a little bit about that? What were you hoping to accomplish? What inspired you, and how has it worked out?

Mary Lou Aleskie:

Sure, Joe. Thank you. And yes, March 6 it was. And actually, that final Dartmouth Idol event gave us a little bit of a springboard into what the future might look like. That night, Dartmouth Idol was oversold, and we knew that the pandemic was emerging, so we offered live streaming to anyone who had a ticket if they wanted to stay home and see the event. And it was a very high-quality streamed event. And the good news was that the audience actually grew because there were so many people who joined us online. That gave us an instinct that coming together, being a community together, and sharing the things that we love was going to be an important thing for us to do going forward. So very quickly, rather than thinking about what it was we were programming, we were thinking about how we program. How do we program in a way that creates the sense of community that we always have when we are together in the Hopkins Center? Was our primary goal.

So, our goals were, how do we bring together our far flung, isolated community? Because at that point we had all been dismissed into our worlds of isolation. How do we have a live or seemingly live experience that’s participatory and that was distinctive? At that point there were many, many opportunities to see high-quality artistic work happening from the archives of famous organizations all around the world, but we wanted ours to be Dartmouth-centric. So how could we bring our community together and make it feel like it was a Dartmouth experience?

And so, we went about developing ways in which we created live experiences that our community could come together and chat in the chat while they were experiencing watch parties, and really interact. And lo and behold, what we learned was that there was almost a larger audience for Hop programs beyond the Upper Valley than there was in the Upper Valley. And in some ways, it was also some of our Upper Valley community that just wasn’t mobile enough to get to the Hopkins Center. So right now, we know that over 50% of our audience for Hop at Home, which is the virtual stage that we created, comes to us from beyond the Upper Valley, and 10% comes from international communities. So, alumni, students, parents of students all coming together in a way that we wouldn’t be able to convene if we were in the Hopkins Center only.


That’s really interesting, Mary Lou. And so, you’ve, in many ways, extended your reach or extended the reach of the Hop because of being forced to make this pivot and doing it creatively.




Thank you. So, Walt, I want to turn to you next with a quick question. Although I am going to ask you about Idol, I wanted to start with a question about the gospel choir. It’s an incredible ensemble, longstanding at Dartmouth. You’ve done so much with them through the years, but it’s an understatement to say that having to operate in this COVID environment where we can only get small groups of students together, have to do things virtually makes it harder to work with ensemble groups that are singing groups. Tell us a little bit about how you’ve been working with the choir the past eight months. Are you doing everything virtual or do you have a mix? And how’s it coming together?

Walt Cunningham:

Well first, Joe, thanks for having me. I appreciate being invited. Yes, we’ve been totally virtual. The realization was that doing synchronous music making was really not a reality, and so we had to embrace, how do we go about providing the same opportunity for artistic creation and to do it in a way that respected our limitations and our realities? And so interestingly enough, the gospel choir, like my colleagues with the other ensemble, continued meeting on a weekly basis. In fact, we met twice a week.

And what we learned is that the meeting was particularly important for providing for our students and our constituents a chance for connectivity and community. And I think what we realized as ensembles, we could provide that differentiation for our students. We realized that while we had to be socially distanced did not mean that we had to be emotionally disconnected.

And so, we continued to gather and continued to provide opportunities, albeit in the virtual world. But interestingly enough, I’m pretty proud that my colleagues and I had the opportunity to still produce these virtual artistic offerings. And so when you think about the end of year events, Joe, particularly the conferral of degrees as well as the baccalaureate, my colleagues and I, Coast Dartmouth, wind ensemble, the symphony, glee club, and the Dartmouth dance ensemble, we collaboratively had an opportunity to produce all the artistic content for end of year. So virtual gathering, while it did have its limitations, did have its silver linings. A few of those, if I may elaborate. The first of which is that we can involve, like Mary Lou said, our constituencies grew. So, people who could not be on campus because they’re either off term, or a lot of the alums, we just saw that expansion happen exponentially.

And these were people that longed to stay connected, but now this virtual world provided that opportunity to do so. Another silver lining of this virtual environment was that our upperclassmen could rise to the level of leadership, because in this opportunity not only could they assist with outreach, but they could also assist in this virtual world when we go into various breakout room opportunities. They could be in leadership capacity with that. So, I think it’s been a very interesting challenge, but we’ve been able to really rise to the occasion. And now in this hybrid opportunity we’ve allowed for a paradigm shift, and my colleagues who are in person can assist those of us who are not. And by utilizing the tent capacity that you’ve so generously set up they can meet with students and can connect the virtual students with people on campus. So, it’s working out for us.


Right. That’s fabulous. I didn’t realize that the gospel choir was using some of the tents to combine the virtual and the live. That’s great. That’s exactly the kind of thing we hoped might happen spontaneously and creatively when we put these tents in place. Thank you all. So, John, let me turn to you. And I want to ask actually first about one of the things that you’ve been doing outside of the Hood, and that’s engaging utilizing public art as a way to get the community to explore and think about the art around them. So, tell me how that came about and if there are one or two interesting things you’ve learned in setting up this programming through the Hood.


Sure. So, first of all, the community is the key word there. The re-emphasis on public art came through our work with K-12 education and teachers in the community, because that’s really one of our big audiences, is families in the Upper Valley. And we realized they couldn’t come into the museum. How were we going to continue to help out with the teaching work that the teachers in the area do? And of course, it came to us that of course everybody can go outside and look at this artwork that we have on campus. At the same time, we were getting a new, great sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard, which is now standing next to Rollins Chapel. That’s a tremendous piece.

And as we worked further, we realized that of course our students on campus, as they are spending 23-and-a-half-hours a day in the dorm room, needed to get out and have that kind of interaction with art before the museum was opened up again. So, we’ve been sending up rather casual encounters with the public art in small groups. It’s a member of the Hood staff and three to five people walking around and having deep conversations about art in the context of public art. And I think it’s been really enriching for a lot of people. And we’ve also been able to share that with Hanover schools, Lebanon schools, and other people in the area who can actually come in, stop their car, and go engage with these works of art.


Great. Thank you, John. I’m going to come back to you with my next question. And I’m also mindful of time and want to make sure we give the viewers a chance to ask questions, so I’m going to ask each of you one more question. I’m going to ask you to be brief in your answers, and then we’re going to turn it back to Justin. So, John, starting with you. I know you’ve done; we’ve talked about this over the course of the past few months, some pretty creative things to engage small groups of students and even allow them to have access to the museum off hours. Tell me a little bit about what inspired that and how that’s working.


We got to thinking, “OK, we can’t have 300 people in the museum at once. We can’t have that kind of mass visitation, but we can make some really great experiences for a few people at a time.” So, we’re open for about five people at a time. They set up. Sometimes it’s just two people, it could be a date. And they get to either have a really mediated tour. I myself am doing these tours and I can talk ... . Big surprise, I can talk for a long time about the art, or I can let them know and they can just have their own conversations. But the idea is to let people feel like they really own the Hood, because one of our mantras has always been, this museum is here for the students. And as you can see, there’s lots of room. So that’s really what we’re trying to do, is have small groups have great experiences.


A curated tour led by the director. That sounds fabulous to me. Will that continue during winter term, and how do students sign up?


Absolutely. They can sign up online. We’re using Eventbrite. As Mary Lou and Walt were saying, we’ve really adapted to the whole virtual world as well and so we’ve had to start using new tools that we didn’t used to have to use, that these guys are long familiar with like Eventbrite. But they can sign up and have a tour. And so far, it’s been a lot of fun, at least for us.


Great. Thank you, John. Mary Lou, let me turn to you next. And as we met over the summer and talked about the challenges imposed by the quarantine that students had to encounter initially, you immediately raised your hand and said the Hopkin partner with the Montgomery Fellows program, with the Dickey Center, with Rocky, with others around campus. And we will put together programming for those first two weeks. And you had a great series of welcome week events where you brought in alumni who were active in the arts and journalism. What brought that about? How did that go? And are you thinking about doing anything like that winter term?


Yeah, it was really an exciting opportunity for us to not only bring in broader audiences but add interesting perspectives to the conversations. Our alumni were so generous. We collaborated with Jake Tapper ’91 and Rocky and Chris Miller ’97 and Phil Lord ’97 with the film society, and then Montgomery Fellows with Trevor Noah. I think first and foremost it was really wonderful to be able to have students involved in those events. All of them had students as the lead questioners and hosts of those events. And so, there was a sense of agency among the students to bring those events together, which was really fun. And the other thing was that we had an opportunity to see these alums and these speakers from a different perspective. Although Jake Tapper was with us to talk about his book, The Outpost, and the film that followed, we got to hear about his work from a political perspective and a governance perspective by collaborating with Rocky.

So those are the kinds of things we want to do again. They were wildly popular and among some of our most attended and viewed events. And now we’re working on things that we might do with Collis Programming Board to try to have some recurring social events that are available in the fall and then into the rest of the fall and then into the winter term. In fact, we’re launching something called Tent Hop. Thursday nights are always fun nights at the Hopkins Center. So, we’re going to do a three-tent visit starting on this Thursday night, celebrating the Day of the Dead. And we’re going to hopefully celebrate many, many things over the course of the winter term as well on Thursday nights in various places. So yes, those collaborations have been great. We’ve been able to leverage a lot of resources in terms of doing things together and generating larger audiences and deeper exchanges.


That’s great, Mary Lou. Are the details on the Day of the Dead tent hopping program on your website? How can the student find out about those?


Absolutely, it’s on the website. Yep.


All right, thanks. Walt let me turn to you with the last question before we turn to Justin. And I can’t let you go without asking about Dartmouth Idol. It’s certainly on my mind, I’m sure it’s on the mind of many. It’s very different this year. It’s been virtualized. And I understand that you have, is it the semifinalists? Is it auditions or semifinalists coming up soon? Why don’t you tell us just very briefly about that and how it’s going to work, and how students can watch.


Sure. We’ve got auditions coming up. And typically, Dartmouth Idol unfolds in the winter, but we realized, because of it being virtual, we need a larger timeframe. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to start auditions. In fact, you can start auditioning with submitting a virtual audition, whether you use your phone, iPhone, computer. You submit it. You can go to the Hop website to find the link to do so. And then what we’re going to also do, Joe, is because it’s virtual we’re going to bring people behind the veil, so to speak, so they can come and see what this process looks like.

So, we’re going to create compilation videos to give people insight as to what is happening. Then, Joe, on Nov. 13 will be Dartmouth Idol semifinals, virtual. And again, that’s going to be part of the Hop@Home offering, and people can come and see it and still be able to vote online. And then finally, that is all happening. When we finish in the fall term we will identify the six finalists and we will go into the winter, and the winter term we’ll started episodic approach to Dartmouth Idol finals, where you’re going to see Dartmouth Idol in episodes, again, all being virtual, and we’re creating much of the experience in the filming. So, we’re excited. Tell folks that they can still be involved. It’s still going to be the usual Dartmouth Idol experience but done virtually.


That’s fabulous. Thanks. It’s been incredible, Walt, to see how it’s grown over the 16 years that I’ve been here. And I look forward to something new and creative every year, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what unfolds this year. Thank you. Thanks all of you for the discussion. I now want to turn to Justin who will be relaying some of the questions that have come in from outside. Justin?


Thanks a lot, Joe. I’m going to stay with Walt and stay with Idol because that is such a popular topic. And one question, which actually is a question that I had in addition to the person who sent it in, this person acknowledges that Idol is usually if not always sold out. So, by doing it virtually, does that mean that an unlimited number of people will be able to see it and an unlimited number of people will be able to vote?


Again, the silver lining of virtual, the answer is yes. And that’s particularly exciting because we’re not limited by the confines of our in-person, even though Mary Lou mentioned we had streams offered in previous years. So yes, it’s unlimited, people will be able to partake. And again, we want folks to not only be able to take part of the actual end goal of the show, but also, we want to give them insight into the making and the process, which also can be incredibly entertaining.


John, I’m going to you with a question about visiting the museum. Clearly, you are in the museum right now, unless you have the best office on campus. But a person writes in asking about access to the museum. Is the museum open? And also, can the public go to the museum right now?


Yeah, so we have a very, very limited occupancy possibility for the museum right now, and we’re reserving it just for students. So, for now, we are open, but only for students. The numbers are so tiny that to turn away students would be heartbreaking. So, we ask everybody to have patience with us. Every exhibition is being extended, even the really important ones, ReconstitutionForm and Relation, these are canon-busting, major exhibitions. They’re all being spread out to be year-long events, so everybody will be able to see them eventually. Nobody will miss our shows.


Mary Lou, a question for you. One of the things that we have asked faculty when they come on is what they have learned during this experience, teaching virtually, that they’re going to bring with them to the classroom when they ultimately return. And somebody writes in and asks how you will incorporate virtual when you return to live performances with a big audience. Are you thinking about this as a way to expand the reach of the Hop and to share what’s happening with the Hop with more people on a regular basis?


Absolutely. I think this experience has changed us. It will leave us changed forever. And that’s a good thing because it creates increased accessibility. So, I could see us doing live performances in the venue with streamed opportunities at home. I could also see us doing a lot more conversations with artists and a deeper look at the behind-the-scenes kinds of things that even Walt is talking about as it relates to idle, but also visiting artists who might be here for a longer period of time, making things with our community and letting our community sort of visit backstage and look under the hood a little bit and see what the sausage-making looks like. So, I’m really hopeful about the future because I do think we’ll be able to engage more people more directly.


Walt, a question for you. And this is a really, really good question. “I wonder if Walt Cunningham has been inspired by this very strange time when pulling together songs and themes for his singers.”


Wow. That’s a great question. And I’m glad someone asked that because what this has caused me to do with my particular artistic offering is to be more intentional and purposeful. Obviously, it’s not just around quarantine, but it’s around the treatment of underserved, underrepresented communities and the inequities and the injustices, and I have been inspired. And so to speak, what I try to do thematically, I’ve tried to do it in the past, but more intentionally now, in the spring, because of the fact that we were socially distanced, I looked at trying to pick songs that had messaging around connectivity and unity.

Now in the fall, and we’re looking at greater levels of divisiveness and we’re looking at a challenge where our country is divided, I’ve looked at a message of healing. And I was particularly motivated by the mother of Jacob Blake, who said, where she clearly went and could’ve said, “I’m praying for healing for my son,” when she was on television, she said, “I’m praying for healing for our country.” And so, it has inspired the work and it clearly is the impetus behind everything that I’m trying to do moving forward, is how can it be thematic and be impactful, and hopefully ultimately bring about meaningful and lasting change. So yes, it has. Absolutely.


John, if I could go back to you. A questioner is asking about how faculty are able to use the Hood collection to teach students when folks can’t physically be in the Hood all together.


So, the Hood is based around the idea that object-based learning is very effective learning. The virtual shift hasn’t changed that. In fact, we had a Professor Kawiaka in here recently doing three-dimensional modeling live with her students. And by the way, the cinematographer was one of our museum guards who is now a cinematographer. So, we have this whole shift in what people are doing here, but we have turned the Bernstein Center for Object Study into three studios where we can do live filming. And we like to joke that it’s now the BBC, the Bernstein Broadcast Center.


Mary Lou, a questioner asks about students who are performing or rehearsing in the Hop. How are the safety precautions affecting students’ ability to do that? I remember when we were talking about coming back in the fall, we talked a lot about the importance of allowing students who are in the performing arts to be able to come together, because it was such an essential aspect of studying the performing arts and being in the performing arts. So, what are the safety precautions like at the Hop to enable that to happen?


Well, right now, Justin, we do have some of our students performing together live in our tents. And our singers actually have what we call Broadway masks, which are designed for an additional catchment to make sure that they are well protected. And of course, distancing is a big part of that. We’re in the process of trying to figure out how to translate that to an indoor environment for the winter. Our wind players are also looking at ways to bag the bells of their instruments and their mouthpieces. So again, that is happening in the tents now, and we’re looking to figure out how to translate that into the winter experience.

The other thing is that we do have a lot of students who love our workshops, and they have been so successful in reaching out to students and delivering maker kits to students directly, and then hosting talks and demonstrations so that we can still have jewelry and ceramics and woodworking going on. So, it’s still at a distance, but we’re getting closer and closer and learning the science behind it.


Walt, I’m going to go back to you with a question about ... it’s sort of a two-part question. One is how are you motivating students right now during this period? And how are you doing that virtually, basically? How do you motivate students, inspire students to perform in this sort of unnatural way for groups that come together literally in the same place to perform? So how are you handling that?


Again, another very good question. I think that part of the thing is ... I think something we can’t take credit for; I think art and involvement in our performance is motivating in of itself. I think that we are the differentiation for many students. When you’re looking at the opportunity of being zoomed for long days, I think that they come into our world and it’s kind of a breath of fresh air. And that’s it, the academic experience is not one that’s refreshing, but nonetheless, when they can come into our world, it’s something different. So that’s the first aspect. But secondly, I think by tapping into deeper purpose of our work. Particularly, I know I tried to tap into the activism aspect of much of what I’m doing personally. So, I try to make it not be just about the deliverable of a music or an art product, but what is the impact that that particular offering has? And hopefully, tapping into a deeper sense of the purpose of their work beyond the experience.

But I think the other thing we have to do is recognize that this virtual execution is hard. It’s new. Many of these participants for the first time have to self-record themselves using technology and software and data that they’ve never done. So, we give them permission to say, “This is hard. This is not comfortable.” And what we do is, by utilizing our leadership, our student leadership, our alum leadership, each other, we walk them through, we provide tutorials, we create learning guides and we just try to inspire them and say, “You know something? Try it.” We get it’s going to be hard, we acknowledge that, but we just try to encourage them. And so, that’s kind of the way we try to approach it, and hopefully it’s been working.


We have time for just one more question. And I’m going to go back to you, John, for the last word here. This is not so much a question as an observation, but it’s so interesting that I can’t help but bring it up. Someone writes in and observes that, for your first two or three years here, the Hood was closed for renovations. And now, we find ourselves in the pandemic and you continue to be somewhat limited in how you interact with the public and with students and share the Hood’s work. So how do you feel about that, and how are you reckoning with that? And might you write a book about this experience?


First, I don’t want to get known as the museum director for closed museums. I mean, that would really be a terrible place. But honestly, I think that the belief that the Hood is not just a place, it’s an idea, it’s an experience, it’s a series of engagements and there’s lots of ways to get that Hood experience. When we were closed for renovation, we had the Hood downtown. And we have other galleries, we also have public art, and it’s the same thing now. And we have discovered that the virtual isn’t ersatz, it’s simply virtual and it’s a really amazing experience. And it has allowed us to include a much broader audience.


Well, thank you for that. And the virtual is an amazing experience. So, I think we’ll end right there. Thank you, John, thank you Mary Lou, thank you Walt, for everything that you are doing for Dartmouth and for Dartmouth students. It’s so appreciated and valued.


Thank you.


My pleasure. Thank you for having me.


Likewise. It’s been a joy.


Thank you, Justin, and Mary Lou, John and Walt. Thanks again to the three of you. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with each of you over the years, and it’s really exciting and, in many ways, inspiring for me to see how you are creatively engaging students and the broader community here on campus, and also at a distance. And not just keeping the art alive but thinking about new ways to expand the audience and expand the reach of the work that you do. So, I’m, no pressure, really looking forward to seeing what you’re going to put in front of us come winter term. Thanks so much.

So that’s all, everyone, for this week’s episode of Community Conversations. Thanks so much for joining me and joining us. We’ll be back in two weeks on Wednesday, Nov. 11, and my guest will be President Phil Hanlon ’77, and we’ll have an opportunity to have a far-ranging conversation about leadership in the time of COVID, about the budget challenges that Dartmouth has been working through and making good progress on, about his long-term vision for Dartmouth as it heads into the seventh year of his presidency, and also a chance to talk with him a bit about what it’s like teaching a math class virtually in the midst of COVID this fall term. So, thanks again, everyone. Stay healthy and stay safe, and I look forward to seeing you again in two weeks. Have a good day.