In the early morning hours of April 23, before classes started at Boise State, a group calling itself Project 404 rushed up to public art installations on the quad. Armed with large white frames made of PVC pipe covered in white cardboard, members banded together four panels to make a box around the public art.
"The main thrust was to get people thinking about how we interact with art on a daily basis," said Anthony Emerson, the man behind Project 404.
The goal is to promote a broader academic focus beyond science, technology, engineering and math programs, or STEM, which Emerson said Boise State embraces to the detriment of its arts programs. STEAM, an initiative to add "arts" to the creed, has sprung up across the country at arts-deficient campuses.
"It creates a lot of division between the sciences and the arts," said Emerson. "Whereas a combined approach turns out more competent graduates."
Judging by the reactions of Boise State students on the quad, the message wasn't sinking in.
"I thought it was funny," said student Courtney Arel.
She and her friend Jess Brock laughed at the installation, and said they were unsure of its purpose. They referenced a mission statement pasted to the walls of the installation.
"No, I've never heard of STEM to STEAM. I mean they have a link to stuff online, but I think there should be more information," said Brock.
Asked if she was concerned about the temporary disappearance of artwork while walking between classes, Brock said:
"I mean we're here every day. So we're not really missing anything."
That sentiment was echoed by Kenny Maple, who was one of few who immediately recognized the STEM reference on the wall of the installation.
"In the United States, it's the opposite of Europe and other countries," said Maple. "We have the highest number of arts majors graduating because those are easy degrees. Then the STEM numbers are the lower numbers. We flooded the market with the arts. To give a bigger emphasis to the arts doesn't make sense."
Maple said he didn't think the project's goal was worthwhile. For him, there isn't the same benefit in funding the arts.
"The people who graduate with BAs don't even end up going into that field," he said. "There's too many of them."
Emerson disagreed with Maple and other critics who claim arts funding doesn't reap the same economic benefits.
"I’d say they haven’t done enough research," he said. "Adding arts and design to a research and education system of funding is an economic windfall. It leads to all kinds of collaboration. It puts potential to a peak, and it’s an achievable peak."