The old squash courts lie in almost complete vacancy these days awaiting their destruction come January, when the Alumni Athletic House will be gutted to make space for the new University Center. The 14 old courts have not been completely abandoned, however; in addition to sporadic squash matches, students have used the free space for thesis projects and club meetings.
One court in particular, number 12, garnered the most attention when several members of the Zombie Art Collective attempted to illegally turn the space into their home. Up to three students lived there at a time, and one student, Brendan O’Connell ’08, lived there for more than three weeks.
The Zombie Art Collective, an open organization recognized by the WSA, provides students with a budget of about $1,000 to buy art supplies and a communal space to do alternative art, according to club founder Stephanie Carlisle ’05. The group meets weekly in court number 12, which also serves as its base for supplies.
Group members began getting attached to the space during these meetings as the court became filled with individual art projects. A bubble wrap project led to colorful pillows strewn throughout the space, a cardboard project resulted in the construction of miniature fortresses and a paper mural adorned the wall. Eventually a hammock appeared, hanging precariously high above the ground.
For O’Connell, the space was so nice that he decided to move in.
“I just thought it would be a neat place to make art,” he said. “At the same time, I was like ‘that space is really amazing.’”
He promptly took the mattress from his one-room double in WestCo to court number 12. There, he could enjoy the other art projects, like improv group rehearsals or the set building for the recent thesis play “The Terrible Parable of Leni Riefenstahl,” going on in the nearby courts.
“It was like a circus; you never knew who you’d find there,” he said. “It was a cool, collaborative art space. I was just the boarder.”
People came in a few times a day, sometimes to play squash, and O’Connell would hear the echoes of the ball hitting against distant walls. He said one day a few squash players paid him a visit but promptly left when O’Connell began to play music.
Court number 12 became nicknamed the “Squat court,” according to Zombie members.
Sometimes other students slept there, too.
“It was like a humongous loft,” Litwak said. “It was pretty cool.”
The adventure came to a halt during Homecoming and Family Weekend, however, after the Zombie Art Collective created a mock “WesMilitia” in protest of two new members of the Board of Trustees. During the event, members of the collective unfurled a banner not sanctioned by the group from the roof of Fayerweather.
During the investigation of the incident, which resulted in both students receiving five community service hours from the SJB, Public Safety officers searched the campus for the materials used to make the banner. During their search, Public Safety officers found what looked like a bedroom on the top floor of the squash courts. They notified Richard Whitmore, the Assistant Athletic Director, who sent an e-mail to O’Connell explaining that he was not allowed to live in the squash court. The next week, O’Connell moved out the mattress and agreed not to spend the night in the court.
Whitmore said the removal was trouble-free and said any students caught in the squash courts without permission in the future will be treated as trespassers.
“I wasn’t concerned for why they were there,” Whitmore said, explaining that he cared more that a student was trying to sleep there. “It’s not a dormitory.”
For now, the squash courts remain the base for the Zombie Art Collective, another film student’s thesis and a new Wesleyan bike collective called LEGIT that Carlisle also founded. The group meets on Saturday afternoons and students can bring their bikes for repairs, Carlise added. Whitmore said those groups are the only ones allowed to use the court space for non-athletic purposes.
Next month, Whitmore will lose control over the facility when the University begins its plans to reconstruct the space. As for the Zombie Art Collective and other groups currently using the space, they will have to look for alternative areas.
Carlisle said she and other members have already begun their search.