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University tells student photo club to move out of their offices

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The University at Albany is moving a student-run photography organization out of the office they have occupied for over 50 years.

On January 15, University Photo Services received a notice from Campus Center Management stating that they must vacate their office by February 15, 2019.

The university hopes to make space for two new initiatives on campus: Purple Threads, a donated professional clothing space, and a student food pantry mandated by Governor Cuomo’s budget.

UPS, which has documented student life on campus since the 1960s, began a campaign to resist the move out of their offices. Last week the university extended their move-out date until the end of the semester.

The current offices in Campus Center 305 hold equipment like lights and backdrops, a darkroom, and archives of 50 years’ worth of TORCH yearbooks, which UPS was responsible for producing until funding ran out in 2014.

President of UPS Sabrina Flores and others insist that the size and resources of the current office are what allows for club activities like group photoshoots with large backdrops.

More than just a workspace, CC 305 has become a second home to members of the student group.

“Our studio has created a little photography family amongst students in the University,” said Vice President of UPS, Jarron Childs.

The replacement office that the university offers is CC 337, an approximately 9 by 10-foot empty space, also on the third floor of the campus center.

UPS members decry the closet-like size of this office in comparison to their current space, pointing out that 337’s back wall can barely fit one of their photo backdrops.

“Our studio space is definitely a safe creative space for all of us,” said Erin Connorton, current treasurer of UPS. “We provide both a space and resources for all students, regardless of major or skill level, to create and express themselves through photography.”

Purple Threads, the gently used clothing donation center, opened on February 1st in a different room, CC 323.

There are also several other vacant offices on the third floor of the Campus Center, which UPS argues could house the new initiatives.

The initial letter UPS received from CC Management states: “Understanding the unique needs of photo service we [CC Management] will continue to offer lease space within the Campus Center.”

However, new lease space won’t include the current office’s built-in darkroom.

Gary Gold, one of the founders of the organization, helped build walls within the office to create the room and equip it with tools necessary to develop film.

For several years, University Photo Services has not used the darkroom. President Flores attributed this to budget cuts – from $10,700 in 2015 to $2,200 this year.

“To leave our club would mean that we couldn’t create the same art that we’ve been doing for the last 50+ years,” said Childs. “Our darkroom has been helpful in bringing in members too.

University Photo Service alumni started sending emails to university administration after student leadership reached out to them.

An online petition to “save UPS” that has received over 700 signatures in the first three days. The organization has also received media coverage by the Albany Times Union and WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

UPS still hopes to convince the university to let them keep their offices for good. At a Student Association senate meeting Wednesday, a bill of resolution in support of keeping the space passed 40-0-1.

According to Flores, if UPS loses their unique room, it puts the existence of their organization at risk.

“To get rid of this space would mean to be erasing history,” said Flores.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that UPS had a $60,000 budget in 2015. Student Association allocated Torch Yearbook $10,700 for the 2014/15 year.

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