ARCH has been undergoing renovations through the “Reimagining the Arts Research and Culture House” campaign over the past year, following decades of student advocacy. The first reopening of the building was in September 2022, which marked the end of the first phase of the “reimagining” project. Since then, additional renovations including the redesign of rooms, furniture, and aesthetics of the building have been completed.
The renovations, which are part of the third phase of the project, include new furniture, decor, and more spaces for student groups. Natives at Penn — which was originally assigned PAACH’s printer room after students advocated for a formal space for the group — obtained a new space on the second floor of the ARCH building as part of the renovations, according to Wharton junior and Natives at Penn ARCH representative Ryly Ziese.
Natives at Penn is looking forward to having a physical space on campus they can call theirs, Ziese said. The group is planning to use the space to host movies, dinners, and community events for the Native American community at Penn.
“We're just really focusing on community and showing students that it's okay to be Native on campus, there are students who are thriving here, that are Native,” Ziese said.
Other renovations include the addition of a resource library, an updated and dedicated prayer, meditation, and reflection space; and a satellite office for the the Greenfield Intercultural Center's inaugural associate director, who will advise Natives at Penn.
Over the past year, students sitting on the ARCH steering committee, which included student leaders from 7B groups and members of the Undergraduate Assembly, advised University leadership — including Associate Vice Provost for University Life Will Atkins — on the ARCH renovations.
“Students have been a part of the process from the very beginning," Atkins said. "We have students on a steering committee, and so every approach that we've taken we've always received input and feedback throughout the process."
ARCH planning meetings occurred throughout the last school year, roughly once a month during the spring. However, students told The Daily Pennsylvanian that communication between students on the committee and administration was not always streamlined.
“In the fall semester, it was almost a weekly or bi-weekly thing, like very regular meetings. You knew what time our steering was going to happen," Flaherty said. "And then we felt as though in the spring, we never knew when it was happening, and never would get the first email of the semester about it until like two months into the semester.”
Communication was particularly lacking during the summer, they added.
“When we came back to school, we weren't quite sure about ARCH,” College junior Taryn Flaherty, an Asian Pacific Student Coalition member and ARCH committee representative, said. “There was no follow-up on their end to us about things.”
ARCH steering committee members were invited to do a walk-through of the building early this school year. After visiting the building this year, Flaherty said some plans for the building that had originally been discussed were not executed — such as a cafe or vending machines on the first floor intended to draw students into the building. Additionally, Flaherty said a large glass conference room had been planned for the first floor of ARCH.
“One of the biggest things that spaces on campus are lacking are these large conference rooms that can hold large groups of people,” Flaherty said.
While administration has been receptive to certain components of the renovation, such as the type or color of furniture, they have been less responsive to other components, Flaherty added.
Additional student concerns include building logistics, such as doors, which are often locked, and a lack of support staff for the building. In response to student criticism about staffing, Atkins told the DP that there is a team of staff focused on addressing student needs.
“We do have a full-time dedicated staff member who is working in the ARCH," Atkins said. "That person also has a team of a team of folks who help with the setup and configuration of the space and we also receive support from specialty events."
Atkins said that Penn administrators plan to visit other institutions with cultural centers to gather ideas on how to continue to improve ARCH.
While the steering committee has not yet met this year, Ziese said that she was looking forward to the committee's work this year.
“It's really cool to see that this space is a fruition of all the students coming together and asking for something that they wanted and working for," Ziese said, adding that it has been rewarding to "finally [be] able to sit in that physical space we've been talking about for two years."