Campus News

Exhibition examines UB’s Tolstoy College

College F graphic.

Image: Collective Question, F: Reconstituting Tolstoy College (study), 2021. Courtesy of the artists


Published September 10, 2021


“F: Reconstituting Tolstoy College,” a research-based exhibition examining the genesis, lifespan and eventual dissolution of College F, an anarchist educational community known colloquially as Tolstoy College that operated at UB from 1969-85, opens in the UB CFA Gallery with a reception from 5-7:30 p.m. Sept. 16.

The exhibition, organized by the artist collective Collective Question and Liz Park, curator at UB Art Galleries, runs through March 12.

Tolstoy College was part of a larger initiative of experimental colleges aimed at presenting UB as the “Berkeley of the East.” It was designed to align an institutional desire for reform with the increasing anti-war and civil rights activism taking place across the United States in the late 1960s. As an academic unit with utopian, communal impulses, Tolstoy College engaged these current issues in the classroom and at the grassroots level off campus.

Basing their activities on questions asked by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, such as “How to live?” and “What to live for?” College F faculty designed and led a curriculum that centered the personal and subjective experience of students. For members of Tolstoy College, anarchism was enacted by organizing trusting collective groups that came together to work toward a common goal of honesty, frankness and informality. 

The exhibition brings together archival research, oral history, and a design and construction workshop to look at Tolstoy College’s activities and impulses, and weigh the possibility of such an anarchist pedagogical experiment happening today.
“F: Reconstituting Tolstoy College” includes a short film, made in collaboration with filmmaker Ben Balcom; a series of furniture sculptures built alongside participants from Assembly House 150 (Quincy Koczka, Adrienne Massey, Frances Parson and Meaghan Rolle-Heldwein); and an installation by writer, educator and artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed.

“F: Reconstituting Tolstoy College” is one of the exhibitions being supported by a $100,000 grant to the UB Art Galleries from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The two-year program aims to advance art as inquiry and draw from UB’s resources and faculty expertise.