Bridges, not boundaries.

April 15, 2015 at 8:48 AM


Merli V. Guerra. Photo: Kristyn Ulanday Merli V. Guerra '09. Photo: Kristyn Ulanday


When reflecting on the work I’m accomplishing today and thinking back on the building blocks Mount Holyoke provided, naturally there are professors and courses that come to mind. Yet when asked what Mount Holyoke gave me that is 100% invaluable and irreplaceable, the answer is simple: Autonomy.

Mount Holyoke trusts, respects, and encourages its students to utilize its resources beyond the classroom. It’s this respect—this gift of autonomy—that helped me most during my time on campus and has served as a launching pad for the confident, independent, and ever-inquisitive professional artist I am today.

In my senior year at MHC, I discovered my love of video projection. Signing out equipment and lugging cameras and projectors across campus became my weekly ritual, with Tech Support soon learning my name and offering me tips on what I needed. While I typically cringe at the art world’s overuse of the word “explore,” that is exactly what these weekly sign-outs offered me: An opportunity to fully and freely explore.

I plugged that projector in everywhere—from hallways to stairways to auditoriums, and ultimately set up an experimental lab in my fourth floor single in Porter Hall where I studied how light interacted with glass, mirrors, fabric, and even across the bodies of my (extremely patient) hallmates. Soon my “studies” took me outdoors to Mount Holyoke’s beautiful amphitheater. Emboldened by the College’s support of independent thinking, I marched my way down to the Facilities Management building, requested an evening for the amphitheater power to be turned on, set up my equipment outside in the dark, and created my first dance-on-camera film Synchronic—which four months later won Best of Dance-on-Camera, Best of Mount Holyoke, and Best of Festival at the 2009 Five College Film Festival. I was floored, amazed, and grateful for the trust Mount Holyoke had given me as an individual student excited by all around me.

Fast-forward to September 2013: I’d just moved into Arlington, MA, and found myself creatively quagmired with just two weeks before my annual cultural outreach project proposal was due… I also found myself standing in front of an awe-inspiring water tower. Within two weeks, my proposal to project 60-foot-high images onto the tower for a night of art, dance, and architectural celebration was submitted, and after a full year of pursuing permits, tracking down equipment, presenting to committees, and becoming a thorn in the side of nearly every local government department (Police, Fire, Safety, Board of Selectmen, Parks and Recreation, and the MWRA, to name a few), my Night at the Tower project became a reality.

It was a tremendous success, and four months later, Night at the Tower was chosen as one of just three events (out of the 5,000+ government-funded projects across the state in 2014) to receive the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s 2015 prestigious Gold Star Award.

Funny how the projects that were initially met with the most adversity are the ones I now rank among my most successful.

And this is why, when looking back, I am continuously grateful for that autonomy—for that unwavering support and understanding that each student must pave her own road. Mount Holyoke isn’t looking to produce cookie-cutter graduates at the top of their fields, but rather to set forth a new group of minds who aim to reshape their fields. We are not only thinkers, but doers, and as a new class of graduates nears its exit from MHC’s campus, I encourage them to continue this mentality in the professional world, turning challenges into bridges—not boundaries.


Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer and an award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. She is co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), production manager of Art New England magazine, and dance critic for The Arts Fuse. Learn more at or


MHC Development

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