Seniors plan cross-campus “Totem Fest”

While there is no shortage of creativity, talent and dedication to artistic development on campus, there are not always accessible opportunities for students to both create and appreciate art in its various forms. In May, Memo Rodriguez ’16 hopes to change that by introducing the “Totem Festival” – a weekend long celebration of art on campus.

The Totem Festival will serve as Rodriguez’s senior capstone project. When he began thinking of ways to culminate his work within the theater major, Memo was inspired by the creativity of his peers.

“For a long time I’d been thinking about devised work and interdisciplinary collaboration, so I’d been thinking about doing a show or something like that,” Rodriguez said. “The idea just kind of came through talks with people – just seeing how talented people are across the board.”

Rodriguez began brainstorming ways to incorporate the artistic talent of the St. Olaf community. He researched events that could include display, performance and audience participation.

“I was looking around on the internet and I found South by Southwest,” Rodriguez said. “The festival is made up of a wide array of people, and even though it is an industry festival you still get people who aren’t in the industry coming to it. I thought: St. Olaf could use something like that.”

At this stage in the planning process, much is yet to be determined. Currently, Rodriguez plans to host the festival the weekend of Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1. The St. Olaf community will have an opportunity to show off their talents through art, music, literature, dance and theater. The events will take place around campus, and Rodriguez hopes the festival will help Oles see new spaces as venues for artistic creation.

Rodriguez acknowledged that many students do not consider themselves as members of particular on-campus artistic communities, and he hopes Totem will allow the St. Olaf community to come together in innovative ways. He explained that breaking into artistic circles can be daunting.

“We [in the theater department] have these shows, and we get people to come but part of the reason attendance could be bigger is that there is a lot of intimidation that comes with going to theater shows — I think it’s the same with going to art shows or concerts. When I go to theater shows with non-theater people they always say something like: ‘I don’t know if I’m smart enough to go to these shows,’” Rodriguez said. “So the festival is trying to get people from different disciplines to come together and make this cool festival to welcome all people and take away that feeling like you need to earn your spot there.”

The name of the festival comes from Antonin Artaud’s idea that there are latent forces in every form “unreleased by contemplation of the forms for themselves, but springing to life by magic identification with these forms.” Rodriguez, inspired by this philosophy, anticipates that the Totem Festival will bring out art on campus from unexpected places.

Rodriguez wants the festival to be a highly collaborative project. He has already begun connecting with artists of varied mediums on campus, in addition to developing his own performance piece. He is working closely with Maya Gorr ’16 and Les Poling ’16 to develop the more formal structure of the event.

“Totem is basically Memo’s brainchild and passion project,” said Poling. “He 100 percent believes in collaboration and universality when it comes to art, so to see him throw himself into this idea and give all the time and effort he has to make it happen is really inspiring. This is a vision that he absolutely buys into and he is working pretty much all the time to make it reality.”

“I hope that Totem will bring together different art in non-traditional spaces and help students realize that art and theater aren’t restricted,” Gorr said.

As the project progresses, Rodriguez hopes to continue working with more students.

“I think the most exciting thing about Totem is that it holds the possibility of a total collaborative celebration of our college’s creativity that isn’t limited to one specific discipline or genre or whatever,” Poling said. “A lot of times people and their work go unnoticed because of the separation in different branches of art and the lack of a universal platform that isn’t limited to ‘music,’ ‘theater,’ ‘poetry’ and so on. I hope that Totem opens everyone’s eyes to the huge variety of creativity and art that has always been around.”

Performing a play, organizing a meal, hosting a water balloon fight – these are just a few ideas for events Rodriguez hopes to include in the Totem Festival. Students who are interested in participating or who have questions about the project can contact him at For more information on the festival in general, check out the website,

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