Students Rarely Frequent Museums

News Feature

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.


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 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.

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