President Denise Battles made the decision this past semester to end Geneseo’s financial support for the Finger Lakes Opera Company. Putting up high-quality, professional productions of famous operas like Bizet’s “Carmen” and Verdi’s “La Traviata,” FLO was a valuable asset that not only brought art to the community, but also employed many Geneseo students.
FLO also provided internships—40, to be exact—in areas such as marketing, arts administration and technical-theater, and it allowed music students to perform in the opera’s ensemble.
The decision to defund FLO—effective Nov. 11, 2016—was met with an outcry among students both inside and outside the music department. Many of these students took immediate action by hanging flyers around campus to raise awareness of the situation, by petitioning door to door in the Geneseo neighborhoods and by speaking out at Student Association meetings.
Now as the new semester has begun and Battles’ decision remains firm, there has been a marked change among the student body. The response to the defunding of FLO has created an atmosphere of heightened resilience and awareness of the possible threats to the arts at Geneseo. Even non-musical groups, such as SUNY literary magazine Gandy Dancer, have come forth with statements of support, emphasizing the importance of a true liberal-arts education. A few months have passed since the decision went into effect, but the passion from students seems just as strong as ever.
As a result of these changes, some Geneseo students have been affected more than others and are now scrambling to deal with the consequences. Vocal performance and history double major senior Noah Chichester and vocal performance and communication double major sophomore Nicole Rizzo were some of FLO’s biggest proponents last semester, spearheading much of the awareness effort and attending SA meetings together.
Rizzo’s academic experience has perhaps been among the most affected by Geneseo’s disassociation from FLO. Rizzo’s interests and career goals are specifically in arts administration, and an important part of her decision to attend Geneseo was the opportunity to work with a high-caliber opera company like FLO. Now that this is no longer an option, Rizzo’s academic plan has been derailed.
“One of the school’s values is ‘inclusivity: fostering a diverse campus community marked by mutual respect for the unique talents and contributions of each individual,’” Rizzo said. “You can imagine my frustration with this statement.”
Since the decision, she has been forced to apply to other schools with the programs that she needs.
“I would just really like to see the college attempt to be more transparent,” Rizzo said. “I don’t want future students to be stuck in my situation.”
Rizzo won’t be the only one who will be inconvenienced. As of 2016, the SUNY system has researched and implemented a new “Applied Learning” initiative, designed to strengthen and increase the use of internships and other hands-on learning experiences. For Battles to cut FLO in the face of this initiative has baffled and saddened students like Rizzo and Chichester.
Battles’ reasoning behind the initiative was to “utilize the money in the Geneseo fund for scholarships for incoming students,” according to Chichester.
This sounds all well and good, but what about the students that already attend Geneseo who hold the expectations that their interests and needs will be valued?
“I didn’t find that to be a convincing enough reason,” Chichester said. “I think it’s sad that her business model for Geneseo is to run it based on whatever will be the most profitable.”
FLO’s Founder and Artistic Director and professor of music at the college Gerard Floriano has future plans to fundraise in order to turn FLO into a certified non-profit, according to The Livingston County News. In addition, the company will present Puccini’s “Tosca” in a special performance at Canandaigua Academy this August.