This is the sort of epiphany that Lynne A. Stanton wants Harvard undergraduates to have. As coordinator of public education with the Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM), Stanton is charged with getting more students to explore the University’s enormous collections—an objective that will be increasingly difficult given the fact that the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger Museums will close this summer for four years of renovations.
The looming closures notwithstanding, Stanton says that undergraduate interest in the art collections has increased in recent years, in large part due to the efforts of the Organization of Undergraduate Representatives of the Harvard University Art Museums (OUR HUAM), a group dedicated to increasing undergraduate interaction with the museums.
OUR HUAM has become popular for their “Night at” events, which have drawn up to 400 people and involved many students intimately with the museums. Because of the upcoming closures, OUR HUAM hosted a final “Night at the Fogg” yesterday at 32 Quincy St., the large facility that houses the two museums. The event featured performances from the Krokidiloes and the Harvard Ballet Company, and between 500 to 600 people were expected to attend.
“We think it’s important for people to see the Fogg the way it is now to pay tribute to it,” says Nora K. Lessersohn ’09, president of OUR HUAM, “because it will never be this way again.”
Kathryn L. Blackstock ’10, vice president of OUR HUAM, hoped the significance of this “Night” would draw a record crowd.
“We’re trying to really push it this time,” she says. “At eight we’ll have a toast to the Fogg. We’ll also talk about our plans for the future, because it will be the night that the torch of leadership is passed to Nora and me.”
Though supporters of the museums lament the closures of the Fogg and Busch Reisinger, they add that 32 Quincy St. building is badly in need of repairs.
“I think it’s a shame that a generation of students is going to lose access to that really great resource,” Kristina Ranalli ’10 says, “although the improvements are probably for the better.”
HUAM spokesman Daron J. Manoogian notes that the building has structural problems—such as leaks—that should have been addressed several years ago.
During the repairs, some of the artwork will be available for viewing at the smaller Sackler Museum, Harvard’s third major art museum that is located across the street from the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger.
“The challenge of the smaller space of the Sackler will allow the curators to be more creative with the space,” Blackstock says.
Though after this summer no current students will be able to see the Fogg or the Busch-Reisinger during their undergraduate years, HUAM officials say that increasing student interaction with the museums remains a top priority.
“What we’re working towards is much greater access for undergraduates,” Manoogian says. “There will be larger gallery space, and there will be an expanded study center space with one dedicated to each museum.”
The study center space is where visitors can examine a piece of art that is not currently on display and examine it privately under the supervision of a museum staffer. “It’s a unique way to interact with works of art in a very intimate environment,” Manoogian says.
Once the renovations are complete, the collections from the three museums will be moved over to the facility at 32 Quincy St., compared to the current situation where the collections are split across Broadway Street.
“Academically, we want these collections less separated, particularly because the Sackler houses some of our most important pieces, but it receives only one fifth of the visitors to the other museum,” Manoogian says.
And even in the immediate future, the closure of the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger may not be all bad: in addition to allowing patrons to see a test case of “how the collections look side-by-side” at the smaller Sackler, it may also allow for more undergraduates to develop an interest in the art.
“It gives us a good opportunity to expand our group beyond the ‘nights,’” Lessersohn says.