As a member of Hampshire’s first entering class, Linda Earle 70F found herself in the midst of an evolving campus, a place where new ideas were transforming the meaning of a liberal arts education. 40 years later, as the executive director of the New York Arts Program, Earle is surrounded by students who seem to embody many of those same curriculum-expanding ideas.
“I find many students think naturally now the way Hampshire tried to get us to think then. That was the first place I encountered cross-disciplinary studies. It was encouraged, and fed into the whole experience,” she says. “I love it when people, especially undergraduates, find connections that are not necessarily linear. I hope to encourage that here. The more different kinds of arts exploration we have, the more interesting this community will be.”
Earle’s passion for literature merged with a study of cybernetics at Hampshire, though her interests led her to explore numerous other fields as well. The arts have always been an essential part of her life. She earned an MFA in Film from Columbia University, and later worked with the New York State Council on the Arts and the Skowhegan artists’ residency program in Maine, where she spent ten years as executive director of programs. At the New York Arts Program, she works with a core faculty of arts professionals to design seminars and connect college students from around the country with internships and apprenticeships designed specifically for them throughout New York City. They learn real world skills they can then bring back with them to their liberal arts studies.
“This is an introduction to what it means to be an artist in New York. There’s no specific path. You have to invent your life,” says Earle, who has greatly enjoyed her interactions with the students. “It’s so exciting what some have done this semester. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and thrilled with how serious students are, and how much they grow in confidence and understanding of their own skills over a semester.”
Earle has found many parallels with Hampshire through her research into the history of the program, which opened roughly three years before she arrived with the first class at the fledgling school.
“This was a time of great change in education, and it was product of some of the same forces that shaped Hampshire,” she says. “My education at Hampshire [has] really affected me throughout my life, the choices I’ve made and the challenges I’ve looked for. It made me supportive of other people who are activists for their own education and who are looking for new ways and new things to learn.”