Of all the random nooks and crannies on Lewis & Clark’s campus, the Coop definitely has the most confusing name. (“Coop” as in chicken coops? Or “co-op” as in groceries?) It is also incredibly versatile: it’s equipped for music shows or coffee service and is centrally located between several dorms. However, it has been going through some renovations, which meant it hasn’t been used to its full potential.
Marco Dregni ’21 and Kenzie Wingard ’21 worked together to serve coffee out of the Coop every Friday morning last semester.
“It seems like it could be used more than it is,” Dregni said.
Wingard agreed that the space could be better utilized, and that it would be nice to revive the Coop.
“They used to have kids working there everyday, making food and other things,” Wingard said. “There’s not a lot of spaces to hangout on campus, that aren’t necessarily in dorms or the library or outside when it’s raining, so I think that’s a nice area where it’s neutral and big enough.”
The Coop used to be open for student use during most days, but as of now, the organizers and campus security have to grant special access for those who wish to use the space. While it was great for students to come and go as they pleased, it had some negative impacts on the space itself, according to the Coop’s Finance Coordinator, Ella Crawford ’19.
“People started to abuse the space,” Crawford said. “Two of the speakers are broken and that was because students didn’t take care of them … no one takes responsibility for this, and then it comes out of the Coop budget every year.”
It makes sense why the door was locked, but Dregni and Wingard had some frustrations with the fact that people just couldn’t get in. The two students had to open the door for every person who wanted to come get coffee, because leaving the door open would cause the alarm to go off. But this precaution is necessary to protect the Coop, according to Crawford.
“Part of the responsibility of maintaining the space is maintaining who’s in and out of it,” Crawford said. “That’s why we’ve sort of had to keep the doors locked, unfortunately. I don’t like that, I wish it could be a different way, but it is what it is.”
After some damages to Coop equipment and the general neglected mess it had become, Crawford and her fellow coordinators, Lila Winfrey ’19 and Alya Suresh ’19, had a lot of work to do. Facing a taped-shut, molded over freezer, random jars of mayonnaise lying around and furniture that posed a fire hazard, the three students worked through a long bureaucratic process to make the Coop into something usable.
“We had quite a few hoops to jump through the last two years,” Crawford said. “Now that our space is up and running, and I’m sort of getting through the process of getting our sound equipment up and running, we’re hoping to have more and more clubs using it.”
By day, the Coop can function as a chill coffee shop. But by night, it transforms into a venue for musical performances. Nick Wolff Harwayne ’21 remembers being persuaded to come to LC after he attended a concert at the Coop as a prospective student. Now, he performs his music in that very space.
“When I was visiting they had a show there and … I was so stoked on it and that’s probably a big reason why I came here,” Wolff Harwayne said. “I very nearly went to music school, but then I was like, oh, there’s hella opportunities here for playing and networking with people and stuff.”
Last year, Wolff Harwayne played at a Coop open mic show.
“When I played there it was like, indie pop-y, guitar-y stuff,” he said. “A bunch of people there ended up being music friends now that I make stuff with a little bit.”
While it offered an amazing opportunity for him, Wolff Harwayne has run into some roadblocks working with music through the Coop.
“Last year I was supposed to play another show, and the then (Area Director) was very grouchy anytime somebody wanted to use that space. It was loud, and I get that, it’s your house, but also it’s a student performance space,” Wolff Harwayne said.
Crawford recognizes this issue, too. She said the Coop coordinators have and want to maintain a good relationship with the Area Director.
“We have to be respectful, and want to be respectful, of the fact that this is someone’s living space,” she said. “And a drum kit is very loud!”
Beyond the noise concern, Crawford said substance use is a problem for the Coop.
“There are very strict rules on campus about certain substance use, and … I don’t know the details of it but … there have been events in the past,” Crawford said. “The administration finds out and the space gets shut down. So a year and a half ago the space was shut down completely for a semester, and the coordinators didn’t have access to it.”
As a result of those events, Wolff Harwayne said shows have been restricted out of concern for student health and wellness.
“What I heard is (the school) thought (Coop shows) would encourage drinking and smoking,” Wolff Harwayne said. “But it’s a college. It really just felt like it was more anti-art because of perception than it was
pro-student-sobriety or anything like that.”
These students’ experiences prove the value of the Coop as a community space, but also point out the obstacles to making use of its full potential. Still, Crawford, Winfrey, and Suresh have made great progress, and are optimistic about the coming months. The Coop plans to extend coffee hours, organize a capella and open mic events, and even a student-run art gallery. Crawford said they also plan to engage the athletic side of campus more, and the new projector will be perfect for sports viewing events.
“I think just making students aware of the fact that it is open for use and it is actually quite cozy in here now is really important,” Crawford said. “I feel excited about it more so than I ever have before.”
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