Art Student Bans Coffee At Amherst College To Highlight “War on Drugs”

May 9, 2001
Director of Media Relations
413/542-8417

AMHERST, Mass. - Andrew Epstein, a senior art major at Amherst College, convinced the college administration and dining hall to "ban" the sale and distribution of coffee at Amherst College, as part of a performance piece created to encourage thinking about the war on drugs. Epstein will discuss his work with the public in the Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall at Amherst at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 10.

Epstein created posters and pamphlets that announced the prohibition to students, faculty and staff in the dining hall and snack bar early Tuesday morning, citing health concerns. "Pushers" were prepared to deal with coffee addicts' suddenly illicit needs, and "treatment centers" were set up to help headache sufferers. At an afternoon press conference Epstein said "This is a momentous day for Amherst College, and every American who cherishes the values of a drug-free environment." The ban ended as scheduled at midnight Tuesday, although the posters had hinted it was permanent.

Epstein, who will graduate with a degree in fine arts in December, created this event as a final project for a senior seminar at Amherst in "Social Sculpture" (Fine Arts 92-04). He described his "performance of conceptual art" this way:

"Typically set outside the gallery, art that intrudes on our space beckons us to consider its possibilities, its meaning. I have removed this substance from a sanctioned, daily routine and provided an appropriate alternative in the same form given to any prohibited substance--illicit street distribution. I hope that after the initial shock, members of our community will consider their own substance use, how prohibition stigmatizes even casual users as 'deviants' or possibly 'addicts' and the arbitrary criteria by which some drugs are deemed destructive."

DeWitt Godfrey, assistant professor of fine arts, says that his course aimed "to explore, through studio work and discussion, art and artists who blur the distinction between life and art." Students were required, in addition to textual and critical studies, "to formulate their own body of practical work, exploring and utilizing alternative art forms such as performance, text-based, installation and other hybrid forms."

Epstein says, "It was necessary to construct an environment of prohibition of an illicit and abused substance in order to comment on the issues of substance abuse, addiction, and our nation's current drug policies. Today's ban contains the same elements that evolve from a true drug prohibition, including literary propaganda, political pundits, a black market and a privileged class that is not effected by this ban due to its status." (Coffee was available in the faculty dining area by order of the Dean of Faculty.)

This event was an individual statement by Epstein, sanctioned by the student government with the support of the administration, and dining services cooperated accordingly. But the event does not reflect the views of Amherst College, the Amherst College Student Government Organization or Amherst College Dining Services.

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Contact

Peter Rooney
Director of Public Affairs
(413) 542-2321
prooney@amherst.edu