It was well after five o’clock last Thursday, Sept. 7, and the Harvard Art Museums pulsed with life.
Hundreds of students sipped berry spritzers in the Calderwood Courtyard, bobbed to the ambient music, queued up to see brightly colored Andy Warhol prints, and milled about sculptures and paintings at the Museums’ Student Late Night. With offerings like miniature chocolate mousse parfaits, laptop sticker giveaways, and a live DJ, the annual event has continued to draw students since the Museums reopened in 2014. “We really believe in a generous welcome here, and this is our first chance to do that,” said Martha Tedeschi, director of the museums.
Throughout the night, visitors participated in undergraduate-led tours, viewed the Museums’ current exhibitions, and tried out image transfer techniques in the Materials Lab. All the while, DJ/rupture (Jace Clayton ’97) spun his electronic music in the Courtyard. His smooth jazz nudged people together in small clusters, and, later on, his house-music-style beats prompted a brave few to dance. “You’re putting all of these sort of different sounds and styles into a shared space, and you’re kind of creating a narrative of your own,” he said during an interview before the event.
Students from across Harvard’s schools swayed in the courtyard and trickled upstairs to the galleries. Chao Gu, a student at the Graduate School of Design, said he typically frequents the Museums to break up his day, relax, and perhaps find inspiration. “I spend like an hour or two here. You need that sometimes,” Gu said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised by Thursday’s crowd. “I didn’t expect so many people. It’s like a whole ocean. It’s amazing.”
Nearby, Jessica S. Edwards ’21, Cassandra J. Marando ’21, Anna Kate Cannon ’21, and Sarah K. Lucioni ’21―new visitors to the Museums―chatted around a slender cocktail table cloaked in orange. “I had no reason before today to check out the Harvard Art Museums,” said Edwards, who learned about the Student Late Night during freshman orientation programming. Smiling and laughing with her friends, Marando said she was enjoying the night’s swanky vibe. “I feel classy. I can’t wait to walk around,” she said.
In addition to setting the evening’s soundtrack, Clayton curated a Spotify playlist in conjunction with a new exhibition which features Enlightenment-era artifacts from Harvard’s past. The exhibition—called “The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766-1820”—showcases paintings and prints; animal, mineral, and plant specimens; scientific instruments; and other natural philosophy artifacts. Chris Molinski, the Museums’ Associate Research Curator for Digital Initiatives, helped orchestrate the sonic collaboration with Clayton. “[Clayton is] one of the leading thinkers imagining what the role of sound is in culture, in our lives, and in our creative lives,” Molinski said during an interview before the event, adding that Clayton’s work allows visitors to consider sound in addition to the visual art on display. “How can we use sound as part of the daily experience, walking through the galleries? How can we use sound to engage in playful ways, in scholarly ways, in ways that spark our imagination, and in critical ways?”
Tedeschi said the staff intended for the after-hours event to make the Museums accessible and comfortable, encouraging students to return. Before even entering the galleries, some students might have to work up the courage to approach the building’s physically imposing facade on Quincy Street, Tedeschi said. “If you don’t really know what’s in here, and you have lots of other choices for how you might spend your time, you know, what’s going to bring you in here? Well, if you’ve had fun with your friends here and if you found a few things you love in the galleries, you’re much more likely to feel comfortable coming back.”
—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.
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