Near the end of last semester, I met with Preston Ossman and Zachary Taulp. They are two of the club heads of SMOG, along with Eve Alpert, Kasra Sarikhani, and Mebe Wilson. Being the most frequently used student space on campus and the only completely student run venue besides the Root Cellar, their job is mostly administrative.
“We’re essentially creating precautions to keep the space safe and keep the students safe,” Preston told me.
This is partly because in the past SMOG had trouble with doing just that. But since then, they have worked with administrators and students to keep SMOG a space where students can freely express their creativity and their love for music and art.
“Obviously a few years ago SMOG was on the verge of being shut down and nobody wanted that to happen,” said Zachary. “So once we got past that, we really established our legitimacy. Now is the time when we can really establish how great of a space we can be.”
The student body has a share in this, too. Both Zachary and Preston felt that people have the tendency to take SMOG for granted. There aren’t a lot of schools that have a similar space.
“I think SMOG is like a great space but it definitely gets trashed, and I’m sick of people being disrespectful to it,” said Preston.
But what makes SMOG so unique? Let us count the ways. It’s run by students, for students, and because the SMOG club heads work hard to fund and pair bands with students willing to host them, there’s an event at SMOG almost every night – and certainly every weekend.
It’s also the only place students are allowed to tag. Banned everywhere else on campus as vandalism, graffiti is just one of the ways SMOG celebrates Bard creativity. But, Zachary was quick to remind me, only on the inside. When people tag the outside of SMOG, B&G needs to take the cleaning fees out of the club’s funds, money that could be better spent revamping the space and funding bands.
Preston told me that even though SMOG has come a long way, there is still room to improve.
“I just want it to be reliable. And I want to be proud to bring bands there and have them play and have it sound good and have people enjoy it and have people stay,” he said. “I just know that some of my most amazing experiences at Bard have been at SMOG, just bringing, like, amazing music there and enjoying that music.”
It’s times like that, Zachary said, that really make him proud to be at Bard.
I asked them what they wished to see more of at SMOG.
“Performance,” said Zachary.
“Definitely performance,” said Preston.
Sometimes that does happen at SMOG. Occasionally seniors or moderating students will hold their shows in SMOG, but Preston and Zachary said would love to see more, especially since SMOG is essentially a black box theater… just with bad acoustics (something they’re working on this semester). But mostly what you see at SMOG are rock shows, and Preston and Zachary are eager to see more variety.
“It could be used for anything, students just have to be creative. And we want to encourage people to come to us and we want to be able to make that happen,” said Preston.
For instance, when the Surf and Skate club approached SMOG about building a skate ramp, SMOG was happy to work together with them. The two clubs have since built a strong friendship, and the skating community has been supportive and respectful.
But everyone can’t build structures in SMOG. There are other ways to use the space. If you can bear the cold, SMOG would be a great place to hold a movie screening.
SMOG is currently going through the slow process of improving the space, including acoustic foam and possible new lights. The updates won’t be cheap, but they both agreed that it will be worth it.
“I think if we invest more money into SMOG students will treat it with more respect,” Preston said.
At the same time, they’re making some improvements to their sound support.
“Right now I’m currently running a how to guide for our techs,” Said Zachary. “Even though we train them they still don’t always remember everything to do. So just to get a solid, steady line of audio techs who know what they’re doing and know how to trouble shoot. It’s very important–step one.”
Anyone wanting to be involved in SMOG, or who has a new idea on how to use the SMOG space can email email@example.com. And of course, if you’re planning to hold an event in SMOG, make sure to stop by the SPARC office (Room 218 in the Campus Center) to register!