Five College Arts community benefits students

Photo Courtesy of Jim Coleman  Smith College students dance to a medley of Jimi Hendrix songs in the Five College faculty dance show in November last year at Mount Holyoke.

Photo Courtesy of Jim Coleman

Smith College students dance to a medley of Jimi Hendrix songs in the Five College faculty dance show in November last year at Mount Holyoke.


Daphne Gauthier ’20 is one of the many Mount Holyoke students who takes full advantage of the various Five College arts communities at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Hampshire College, UMass Amherst and Amherst College. As a member of the UMass Marching Band Color Guard (UMMB), she gets to practice and perform with the team.“Being involved in the UMMB has been without a doubt, the greatest experience of my life,” said Gauthier. 

“[I joined] because I did color guard in high school but Mount Holyoke doesn’t have a marching band or color guard. I love being able to perform and do what I love but I also love the family aspect that the color guard has. A few of my friends from high school go to UMass and are in the band and guard so it’s nice to be able to see them even though we go to different schools,” said Gauthier. 

There are many ways students can get involved in off-campus arts. Em Chae ’18 participates in the Five College Early Music program. Annie Ryan ’18 is taking a Contemporary Poetry class at Smith College, and frequently attends readings and engages in Q&A sessions with poets. Rachel Murgo ’18 and Evelyn Kirby ’21 are both taking dance classes through the Five College dance department. While these students spend their time in different parts of the consortium, they all have one thing in common:  

The Five Colleges boast a 30,000 student population. Five thousand of those undergraduates cross-register in the over 5,000 courses offered annually in with a significant portion of those courses in performance, visual and media arts and creative writing. Mount Holyoke students have performed in Five College theatres. Others have been featured in galleries, shown films at screenings — including the Five College Environmental Film Festival and the Five College Film Festival — shared their own work at readings and conferences, performed in music groups and concerts as well as attended lectures and screenings from special guests speakers. 

For some, the opportunities to socialize lead to lasting friendships. “My favorite part of this experience has been the friends I have made,” said Gauthier. “My least favorite part is probably the travel time it takes to get to UMass… It does take a pretty big chunk of time out of my schedule, but it is one hundred percent worth it.”

For Gauthier, joining UMMB was more than just a way to get off campus; it was a way to travel outside of the state. The marching band and UMMB have traveled as far as Pasadena, California to participate in the Tournament of Roses parade. While the color guard is known for using flags, rifles, sabres and dance in the band’s football field show each fall, they also headline other events throughout the Valley and across the country.

For others, the consortium provides a formal setting for establishing partnerships and professional collaborations. One of the most collaborative communities is the Five College Dance Department (FCDD). Visiting dance Professor Barbara Diewald, whose latest Five College collaboration was “Five College Faculty Dance: Collective Tissue,” said she encourages her students to take dance classes on the other campuses. “The FCDD enlarges my network of colleagues, and surrounds me with other artists and educators who understand the value of the work that I do,” she said. “I have many friends, collaborators and mentors who teach in the FCDD, and it bolsters the dance ecology in western Massachusetts to have such a rich group of artists making their work here.” 

Some students find a sense of community in extracurricular activities. “Dance is such a community-based activity,” Murgo said. “So being able to share experiences with people across the other colleges and connect with that community a little bit has been really exciting and I feel really lucky.” Murgo is currently taking a Renaissance and Baroque dance class at Mount Holyoke, but said she was collaborating with a fellow Hampshire student to perform a Hampshire lute recital. 

“Through doing all of this I’ve kind of been ushered into this really interesting, closely connected early music and dance community that I probably wouldn’t have seen without the Five College interchange system,” Murgo said. 

One of Kirby’s favorite parts of the FCDD is that, despite being constructed of five dance departments, it acts as one organization. “It is really easy to audition for pieces and performances at any of the five schools,” she said. “And there is so much diversity in choice and opportunity. Going to Mount Holyoke, where the dance department is not limited, has really expanded my options for what choreographers I can work with and what styles of dance I can participate in.” 

The FCDD is just one group out of many that offers a range of activities creating a vibrant and interconnected consortium that is of particular significance to art communities. Whether students want to explore the college towns of South Hadley, Amherst and Northampton or are seeking the purely academic and campus-oriented benefits of a consortium, the ability to access different perspectives and a wide range of people in each field proves to be enriching for the community.

Professor Diewald emphasized the benefits of the Five College system: “As a consortium, the FCDD offers so much more to our students than any one campus could on its own.”