Delaying The Celebration


IIN THE Fogg Art Museum's embattled three-year effort to build a new museum across the street from its present cramped quarters, only two decisions have been praiseworthy and easy to understand. The first was the decision to build the addition, which the Fogg resolved to do in 1979 when Arthur M. Sackler, a prominent medical researcher and art collector, offered to chip in about 56 million for the project.

The second, curiously enough, was also the decision to build the addition. This time, it was President Bok who did the deciding, announcing last week that he will reverse his February I decision to call the project off if Fogg supporters raise 53 million by March 15 and agree to raise another 53 million over the next three years.

That welcome announcement, we trust, is tantamount to final approval for the museum. With about two weeks of fundraising still ahead, the museum's visiting committee has come up with more than half its goal, and it looks likely that it will raise the other half in time.

But while the memory of Bok's move to cancel the project is still fresh, we will bold off our celebration of the Fogg's long overdue good news. Two questions about that troubling decision remain unanswered and remind us that the administration's policies towards the new museum have always been impossible to predict.

First, why did Bok raise so many objections to the Fogg's plans only after the fact? Several of these factors--a hike in the cost bricks, a slight rise in architects' fees, and concern about a proposed bridge to link the new museum and the Fogg--appeared minor enough that they could surely have been overcome had Bok raised them earlier.

Most perplexing of all, once Bok had decided--for whatever reasons--that the building was inadequately funded, why did he not turn to the Fogg's visiting committee and tell them to come up with the remaining money or face the building's cancellation. Faced with exactly such an ultimatum, the committee is well on its way to finding all the money Bok requires, and several members have expressed frustration that they were not given a chance to do so before the decision to cancel.

Bok's original decision to cancel seems at best to have stemmed from undue financial caution towards building projects: at worst, it may have reflected a glaring lack of concern for the arts at Harvard. And it certainly suggests an irony in Bok's attitude towards the Fogg: that his supremely cautious outlook prompted him to act in a decidedly rash fashion.

We are glad President Bok has finally given the Fogg's plan to build a new museum his provisional blessing, and we find it hard to imagine the circumstances under which he might reconsider and cancel the project once again. But for the moment, we will go along with the Fine Arts professor who took a look at the site for the new museum last week and said. "I'm going to wait until I see a hole out there before I believe it."