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Students Rarely Frequent Museums

News Feature

By Shirin Sinnar

In a glossy brochure given to all members of the Class of 1998, President Neil L. Rudenstine puts in a strong pitch for the University museums.

"Harvard's resources in the arts and sciences are...among the most diverse and extensive of any university in the world," he writes. "It is my hope this publication will encourage [students to]...use these resources to enrich their knowledge of our civilization and the world around us."

But for many students, the 32-page booklet was the last thing they heard about the University's museums. While some use them for classwork, few come just to browse.

"The resources we have are amazing," says Adi Krause '95. "It's a shame more students don't make use of them."

Harvard's museums are mostly set up for academic use, and few work to draw casual visitors. For some museums, there is debate about their proper mission in the University community: tourism, teaching or research?

Some students say that if they had a better idea of what is available, they would visit the museums more often. Many, however, say they just don't have time to see exhibits, even on their own campus.

"People here have a set list of activities and it's hard to find time to do anything outside of them," says David C. Gordon '96, who says he has been to the Fogg just once and would like to see more.

FEW STUDENT BROWSERS

Last year, people visited Harvard's three art museums 82,379 times, according to Cynthia Freedman of the museums' public relations office.

Of these visits to the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Sackler Museums, just 6,200, less than eight percent, were by Harvard graduate and undergraduate students. Based on interviews with students, the number of students visiting is likely even lower for Harvard's non-art oriented museums, like the Peabody Museum and Museum of Comparative Zoology.

"There's a group who consistently uses the museums but there's a large population of students who don't," says Tara B. Reddy '96, a fine arts concentrator and member of the steering committee of the Friends of the University Art Museums.

"I think it's sort of a tragedy," she says. "The Fogg especially and the art museums as a whole are one of the most important art museums in the country."

Albert P. Turco '96, for instance, has never stepped in a University museum, though his younger sister once came to see the Fogg.

He probably missed the collections because of "lack of interest," he says. "You don't get a lot of art background in public high school...so you really don't have generally any interest."

Still, most students seem to get a chance to visit a Harvard art museum at least once before graduaation.

Jesse G. Lichtenstein '98 came to the Fogg early in the year. "I had some free time and I decided to stop by. I like art a lot," he says. The Fogg has "a lot of good examples of different styles," he says.

The same is not true for Harvard's non-art museums. Many students interviewed did not even know about the Museums of Cultural and Natural History located on Oxford Street.

The four museums--which include the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Botanical Museum--are all in one building. Across the street is the Semitic Museum.

"I don't know where they are or how many of them there are," says Takchun Chung '98.

OUTREACH

Many students interviewed criticized the museums' outreach efforts. They rarely know what exhibits are showing, they say, because Harvard's museums do not poster.

The museums also do not use other traditional campus publicity forums, like advertising in student publications or on dining hall table tents.

"They cater to a small group," Krause says. "I don't see postering. You don't expect museums to poster but if they did, more would come."

Krause suggests that museums reach out to students by offering a cafe on their premises.

Director of the University Art Museums James Cuno says the art museums could conduct more outreach to students.

"It's never enough," he says of the museums' efforts. "[But] it's a good healthy amount. It assumes that students, especially Harvard students, can take their own initiative to come."

Cuno agrees that postering the campus would probably draw more students.

"It's a fair criticism," he says. "That's something we should do."

Most Harvard museums do list exhibits in the Harvard Gazette and in the Crimson weekly magazine, Fifteen Minutes. First-years also found out about the museums through the glossy brochure they received.

The art museums also offer the Friends program for students who want to maintain a connection with their activities. Nearly 600 students belong to the program this year, according to Marian A. Myszkowski, who is coordinator of student and public programs for the art museums.

Members--who must pay a $20 fee--gain access to a number of museum events, from black-tie exhibit openings to study breaks at the museums featuring talks by curators.

Allen C. Soong '96, who is now a member of the student Friends steering committee, says he was impressed on his first visit to the Fogg and now visits regularly.

"It was a chance for me to actually go to a museum without getting on the T and going to the [Museum of Fine Arts]," he says. "I would never have forgiven myself for not going."

The Friends, he says, offer an alternative for beginning art lovers who don't have time for a fine arts class.

"If I can't fit any fine arts electives into my schedule...as a total neophyte to art, the Friends offer a very attractive alternative," he says.

The Friends also make some contacts with student groups, Myszkowski says. For an exhibit on women and Asian art, she says, Asian-American student organizations were invited to participate in the gallery talks and other Friends events.

The Friends are a good outreach organization because the targeted membership are not art concentrators, Myszkowski says. Only a fifth of student Friends major in arts fields, she says.

"One of our goals is to really reach out to those students that might not find an opportunity to use the museums as much as the fine arts or [Visual and Environmental Studies] concentrators," she says.

CURRICULUM

Some museums also draw students with curricular exhibits that interact with classes.

For instance, Literature and Arts B-21, "The Images of Alexander the Great," emphasizes objects in the Sackler, and Literature and Arts B-39, "Michelangelo," requires students to view art in the Fogg.

Classes even draw students to the less-popular Harvard museums.

In Anthropology 159, "Museums and Representations: Exhibiting Cultures," students use not only the Peabody but also the Semitic and Sackler.

Peter S. Cahn '96 says he enjoyed looking at Peabody exhibits in several anthropology courses. For instance, he says, he had to examine the museum's hunter-gatherer display to learn about prehistoric lifestyles.

"I felt like I was a kid again," he says. "If I got there early I would just sort of poke over exhibits."

Professors also applaud museum cooperation with their classes.

For Literature and Arts B-77, "Worlds of Music: Africa," the Peabody set up a special exhibit of African instruments.

"This was an absolutely unique experience in my career for teaching musical instruments," says Professor of Music Kay K. Shelemay, who teaches the core class. "I've never had a collection for students to see...at my own institution."

DEBATE OVER MISSION

For University museums, however, outreach to undergraduates is not always a primary goal. They have to serve a number of constituencies, particularly professors and other researchers who need resources for their studies.

In the anthropology department and the Peabody, "there's a tension between research and teaching," says Associate Professor of Anthropology Robert W. Preucel.

In a faculty advisory committee report last year, the Semitic Museum was reproached for its overcommitment to exhibits for the general public. The museum did not focus enough on the needs of researchers, the report found.

James A. Armstrong, assistant curator of collections for the Semitic Museum, says that "the museum before took very seriously its responsibility to the public at large."

Now, the Semitic has fewer exhibits, and those it has are arranged primarily by staff from the Peabody. As a result, the Semitic Museum staff can attend more to the requests for material from professors and students, Armstrong says.

He said it is easier now for students to request cuneiform tablets or cylinder seals for investigation.

"There's been an increase in student utilization [for research]," Armstrong says, especially from the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.

Officials at some museums, notably the art museums and the Peabody, say they are emphasizing the needs of their student audience.

Cuno says that with the Friends program and other efforts, the art museums have made outreach a part of their mission.

Their first audience is the Harvard community, both faculty for teaching and research and students for classwork and extracurricular pursuit, Cuno says. After that immediate need, the art museums serve non-Harvard scholars and the public.

"I certainly feel that we're a vital part of the University," Cuno says. "While we'd always like more student involvement I don't think we feel outside the Harvard student community."

Rubie Watson, associate curator at the Peabody, says the museum is trying to appeal to a broader community than just the academics and professionals who use it now.

"One of the things we're trying to do is encourage graduate [students] and undergraduates to make more use of museums than they have," she says.

But some museum officials say that while they would like to add outreach to their other tasks, they simply don't have the resources.

The report that recommended reducing the Semitic Museum out-reach commitment was written to attack the museum's more than $1 million deficit. The outreach programs, and the staff that operated them, were cut to reduce costs.

Susan M. Rossi-Wilcox, top administrator at the Botanical Museum, says she would like to link exhibits to courses in the same way that art museums do.

"We could be doing the same but we don't because we don't have the staff and we certainly don't have the time to pull it together," she says.

Some students do come to the Botanical Museum's most famous exhibit, the Glass Flowers, she says.

"There were a number of us who thought we served the public, that is, tourists," Rossi-Wilcox says. "But when we actually started to look at the numbers we were somewhat shocked by the number of in-house folks who made it over here."

But the decentralized administration of the museums of cultural and natural history helps prevent outreach efforts from drawing a bigger audience, she says.

All four museums have their own limited administrations, and they are now trying to obtain an executive director to unify aspects of all four. But that change is still in the future, Rossi-Wilcox says.

"I don't see that we're going to change anytime soon," she says.

And the majority of students will probably continue ignoring much of the Harvard museum system.

"They're probably underused, like most things at Harvard. People are really busy," Lichtenstein says. "Your really have to take time out of your day" to go there.

Soong, the Friends student steering committee member, says the museums' lack of patronage by students is unfortunate.

"I think it's a shame that students don't use the museums more because they are great resources," he says. "But on the other hand, Harvard is full of great resources."

Of 82,379 visits to Harvard's art museums last year, just 6200 were by Harvard students.

The museums do not use many traditional publicity forums to inform students about exhibits.Crimson File PhotoThe Sackler Museum

Some students say that if they had a better idea of what is available, they would visit the museums more often. Many, however, say they just don't have time to see exhibits, even on their own campus.

"People here have a set list of activities and it's hard to find time to do anything outside of them," says David C. Gordon '96, who says he has been to the Fogg just once and would like to see more.

FEW STUDENT BROWSERS

Last year, people visited Harvard's three art museums 82,379 times, according to Cynthia Freedman of the museums' public relations office.

Of these visits to the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Sackler Museums, just 6,200, less than eight percent, were by Harvard graduate and undergraduate students. Based on interviews with students, the number of students visiting is likely even lower for Harvard's non-art oriented museums, like the Peabody Museum and Museum of Comparative Zoology.

"There's a group who consistently uses the museums but there's a large population of students who don't," says Tara B. Reddy '96, a fine arts concentrator and member of the steering committee of the Friends of the University Art Museums.

"I think it's sort of a tragedy," she says. "The Fogg especially and the art museums as a whole are one of the most important art museums in the country."

Albert P. Turco '96, for instance, has never stepped in a University museum, though his younger sister once came to see the Fogg.

He probably missed the collections because of "lack of interest," he says. "You don't get a lot of art background in public high school...so you really don't have generally any interest."

Still, most students seem to get a chance to visit a Harvard art museum at least once before graduaation.

Jesse G. Lichtenstein '98 came to the Fogg early in the year. "I had some free time and I decided to stop by. I like art a lot," he says. The Fogg has "a lot of good examples of different styles," he says.

The same is not true for Harvard's non-art museums. Many students interviewed did not even know about the Museums of Cultural and Natural History located on Oxford Street.

The four museums--which include the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Botanical Museum--are all in one building. Across the street is the Semitic Museum.

"I don't know where they are or how many of them there are," says Takchun Chung '98.

OUTREACH

Many students interviewed criticized the museums' outreach efforts. They rarely know what exhibits are showing, they say, because Harvard's museums do not poster.

The museums also do not use other traditional campus publicity forums, like advertising in student publications or on dining hall table tents.

"They cater to a small group," Krause says. "I don't see postering. You don't expect museums to poster but if they did, more would come."

Krause suggests that museums reach out to students by offering a cafe on their premises.

Director of the University Art Museums James Cuno says the art museums could conduct more outreach to students.

"It's never enough," he says of the museums' efforts. "[But] it's a good healthy amount. It assumes that students, especially Harvard students, can take their own initiative to come."

Cuno agrees that postering the campus would probably draw more students.

"It's a fair criticism," he says. "That's something we should do."

Most Harvard museums do list exhibits in the Harvard Gazette and in the Crimson weekly magazine, Fifteen Minutes. First-years also found out about the museums through the glossy brochure they received.

The art museums also offer the Friends program for students who want to maintain a connection with their activities. Nearly 600 students belong to the program this year, according to Marian A. Myszkowski, who is coordinator of student and public programs for the art museums.

Members--who must pay a $20 fee--gain access to a number of museum events, from black-tie exhibit openings to study breaks at the museums featuring talks by curators.

Allen C. Soong '96, who is now a member of the student Friends steering committee, says he was impressed on his first visit to the Fogg and now visits regularly.

"It was a chance for me to actually go to a museum without getting on the T and going to the [Museum of Fine Arts]," he says. "I would never have forgiven myself for not going."

The Friends, he says, offer an alternative for beginning art lovers who don't have time for a fine arts class.

"If I can't fit any fine arts electives into my schedule...as a total neophyte to art, the Friends offer a very attractive alternative," he says.

The Friends also make some contacts with student groups, Myszkowski says. For an exhibit on women and Asian art, she says, Asian-American student organizations were invited to participate in the gallery talks and other Friends events.

The Friends are a good outreach organization because the targeted membership are not art concentrators, Myszkowski says. Only a fifth of student Friends major in arts fields, she says.

"One of our goals is to really reach out to those students that might not find an opportunity to use the museums as much as the fine arts or [Visual and Environmental Studies] concentrators," she says.

CURRICULUM

Some museums also draw students with curricular exhibits that interact with classes.

For instance, Literature and Arts B-21, "The Images of Alexander the Great," emphasizes objects in the Sackler, and Literature and Arts B-39, "Michelangelo," requires students to view art in the Fogg.

Classes even draw students to the less-popular Harvard museums.

In Anthropology 159, "Museums and Representations: Exhibiting Cultures," students use not only the Peabody but also the Semitic and Sackler.

Peter S. Cahn '96 says he enjoyed looking at Peabody exhibits in several anthropology courses. For instance, he says, he had to examine the museum's hunter-gatherer display to learn about prehistoric lifestyles.

"I felt like I was a kid again," he says. "If I got there early I would just sort of poke over exhibits."

Professors also applaud museum cooperation with their classes.

For Literature and Arts B-77, "Worlds of Music: Africa," the Peabody set up a special exhibit of African instruments.

"This was an absolutely unique experience in my career for teaching musical instruments," says Professor of Music Kay K. Shelemay, who teaches the core class. "I've never had a collection for students to see...at my own institution."

DEBATE OVER MISSION

For University museums, however, outreach to undergraduates is not always a primary goal. They have to serve a number of constituencies, particularly professors and other researchers who need resources for their studies.

In the anthropology department and the Peabody, "there's a tension between research and teaching," says Associate Professor of Anthropology Robert W. Preucel.

In a faculty advisory committee report last year, the Semitic Museum was reproached for its overcommitment to exhibits for the general public. The museum did not focus enough on the needs of researchers, the report found.

James A. Armstrong, assistant curator of collections for the Semitic Museum, says that "the museum before took very seriously its responsibility to the public at large."

Now, the Semitic has fewer exhibits, and those it has are arranged primarily by staff from the Peabody. As a result, the Semitic Museum staff can attend more to the requests for material from professors and students, Armstrong says.

He said it is easier now for students to request cuneiform tablets or cylinder seals for investigation.

"There's been an increase in student utilization [for research]," Armstrong says, especially from the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.

Officials at some museums, notably the art museums and the Peabody, say they are emphasizing the needs of their student audience.

Cuno says that with the Friends program and other efforts, the art museums have made outreach a part of their mission.

Their first audience is the Harvard community, both faculty for teaching and research and students for classwork and extracurricular pursuit, Cuno says. After that immediate need, the art museums serve non-Harvard scholars and the public.

"I certainly feel that we're a vital part of the University," Cuno says. "While we'd always like more student involvement I don't think we feel outside the Harvard student community."

Rubie Watson, associate curator at the Peabody, says the museum is trying to appeal to a broader community than just the academics and professionals who use it now.

"One of the things we're trying to do is encourage graduate [students] and undergraduates to make more use of museums than they have," she says.

But some museum officials say that while they would like to add outreach to their other tasks, they simply don't have the resources.

The report that recommended reducing the Semitic Museum out-reach commitment was written to attack the museum's more than $1 million deficit. The outreach programs, and the staff that operated them, were cut to reduce costs.

Susan M. Rossi-Wilcox, top administrator at the Botanical Museum, says she would like to link exhibits to courses in the same way that art museums do.

"We could be doing the same but we don't because we don't have the staff and we certainly don't have the time to pull it together," she says.

Some students do come to the Botanical Museum's most famous exhibit, the Glass Flowers, she says.

"There were a number of us who thought we served the public, that is, tourists," Rossi-Wilcox says. "But when we actually started to look at the numbers we were somewhat shocked by the number of in-house folks who made it over here."

But the decentralized administration of the museums of cultural and natural history helps prevent outreach efforts from drawing a bigger audience, she says.

All four museums have their own limited administrations, and they are now trying to obtain an executive director to unify aspects of all four. But that change is still in the future, Rossi-Wilcox says.

"I don't see that we're going to change anytime soon," she says.

And the majority of students will probably continue ignoring much of the Harvard museum system.

"They're probably underused, like most things at Harvard. People are really busy," Lichtenstein says. "Your really have to take time out of your day" to go there.

Soong, the Friends student steering committee member, says the museums' lack of patronage by students is unfortunate.

"I think it's a shame that students don't use the museums more because they are great resources," he says. "But on the other hand, Harvard is full of great resources."

Of 82,379 visits to Harvard's art museums last year, just 6200 were by Harvard students.

The museums do not use many traditional publicity forums to inform students about exhibits.Crimson File PhotoThe Sackler Museum

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