Art Show Attempts To Build 'Networks'

David E. Stein

Matt Weinberg, a non-resident arts tutor in Adams House, helps sets up “Networks,” an art show held this week in the Adams House ArtSpace. The show is the product of a joint effort by House arts tutors.

The wood-paneled floors of the Adams House ArtSpace normally present a sharp contrast to the dazzling white walls of the converted squash courts.

But this week the floor is cluttered by a rainbow of canvases, sculptures and photographs.

By Saturday, arts tutors from Houses across campus had installed their exhibition—“Networks”—in the two-room ArtSpace.

Adams House Resident Tutor Jennifer Mergel ’98, who curated the show, says it attempts to introduce students to Harvard’s many arts tutors.

Budding student artists say that the limited resources and small size of the visual and environmental studies (VES) department means that the House tutor system is sometimes the only place they can turn for mentorship, networking and exhibition space.

But students say that the availability of these resources varies greatly from House to House.

Multimedia

Adams House—with galleries, studio space, a printing press and an artists’ “lounge” available to its residents—is regarded as the cream of the crop.

By contrast, some students in other Houses say their arts tutors are much less accessible and helpful than Mergel—and some Houses do not have arts tutors.

“Networks,” according to Mergel, is the first visible product of a recent initiative to bring the arts tutors together and improve the quality of the system. As recently as last fall, many of the tutors hadn’t met their counterparts in the other houses, she says.

“This exhibit is less about curating an original collection and more about bringing resources together,” Mergel says, gesturing towards a graphite panel and an acrylic painting waiting to be hung. “The graphites are Joan Mullen’s, an arts tutor in Mather, but that brown-striped acrylic canvas belongs to Jen Johnston, an arts tutor in Eliot. And that’s the point—to show side-by-side who’s available to assist the artists in the community.”

Filling the Gap

Like all the House system’s academic tutors, the House arts tutors are designated mentors—usually themselves part-time artists—who offer guidance and support to student artists. While their individual responsibilities depend on the physical resources available in their House, an arts tutor’s daily routine includes procuring student exhibition and studio spaces, critiquing student work and curating student shows.

Mergel says tutors can form more informal relationships with their students than VES professors or Office for the Arts officials who give out grant money.

“Arts tutors are…resources and advisors who are interested in the arts and students’ artistic endeavors,” Mergel says. “We’re just people who care about our students, who look forward to eating lunch with them, talking to them and making them a cup of hot chocolate.”

Matt Weinberg, a non-residential arts tutor in Adams House who helps set up installations in the ArtSpace and teaches a weekly figure drawing class in Adams, says the tutors serve an important role in finding space and materials for the students.

“Our job is to get students more involved in the arts, whether they’re interested in pursuing a professional career as artists or not,” he says. “By curating and installing student shows and bringing students into the studio, we develop a creative relationship with the artists in our Houses and we become colleagues.”