Bringing Art To Allston

The community’s concerns about the planned museum are unfounded

Harvard ALLSTON Development group

The building forms in the proposed master planning framework are not designs, but diagrammatic capacity studies for the available development sites. Development on the land owned by Charlesview Inc. in Barry’s Corner is contingent on the outcome of negoti

Modern art can be controversial. So, apparently, can modern art museums. Since December, Harvard has been receiving feedback from the Allston-

Crossing The River
First in a Four-Part Series

Part one: Bringing Art To Allston
Part two: A Community Endeavor
Part three: Defining 'Allstoned'
Brighton community about its plans for a new art museum that will be located in Barry’s Corner, right in the middle of what Harvard hopes will become the Harvard Square of Allston (see map below). The comment period, which ends this Friday, has sparked a lively debate about the museum’s location and function, and a number of locals have expressed doubts about Harvard’s intentions.

We are glad to see the Allston residents getting involved. The developments will dramatically affect their neighborhood, and they stand to benefit from good planning, so Harvard should—and wants to—hear their thoughts. In the case of the Allston art museum, however, concerns put forth by community are misplaced.

At a meeting held two weeks ago at St. Anthony’s School, locals criticized the new art museum for being, as the Boston Globe put it, a “glorified warehouse.” But they have the wrong impression: The new museum will contain 14,000 square feet of public gallery space, only slightly less than the Fogg Museum’s 18,000. The proposed floor plans, included in the publicly available Project Notification Form (PNF), show that there will be an entire floor dedicated to galleries and a dramatic sculpture garden. There will also be a study center, a classroom, and a multi-purpose room for events, all of which will be open to the public. The museum is planning to host school groups, and it will have a café and a gift shop. Although the building will also include conservation labs, offices, and storage space, it will offer the public a lot more than a “glorified warehouse.”

Perhaps part of the misunderstanding comes from the new museum’s initial role as a temporary home for the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums’ collections. The two museums will be undergoing several years of renovations beginning in the summer of 2008. When the Allston museum opens, it will host part of the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger collections until the renovations are complete; after that, it will acquire its own modern art collection. Once again, this does not amount to the new museum acting as a warehouse. Even while it is hosting collections from the other Harvard museums, the best of Harvard’s 250,000 piece world class collection will be on display for the public. And when the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger reopen, the museum will be home to Harvard’s modern gems.

The museum will be the first Harvard building built at Barry’s Corner. The Allston Master Plan calls for the area—at the intersection of Western Avenue and North Harvard Street, just past the Harvard stadium—to be the nexus of Harvard’s expanded campus and the surrounding area. Residents complain that, if Barry’s Corner is to become a commercial center, it is no place for an art museum.

The community is right in one regard: A lot more than an art museum and its café and gift shop will be necessary to transform Barry’s Corner into the social and cultural hub that the Allston Development Group has envisioned. But construction has to start somewhere, and building the art museum is a sound choice that balances the University’s interests with those of the community.

It is not merely a practical decision for the University, which is looking for a temporary home for two of its collections. The art museum is intended to be “inherently a public amenity and is expected to be the first step at creating a permanent cultural presence in Allston,” according to the PNF. It will offer a cultural center to the entire community and will complement the retail venues that will eventually populate Barry’s Corner. Further, it is at the heart of an overall compelling vision for Allston.

In this context, the community backlash is particularly surprising. Our best guess is that it was caused by miscommunication. We are, however, optimistic about the future, as both Harvard and the community seem to have recommitted themselves to finding a mutual understanding in the wake of the recent disagreements.

Allston residents have every reason to take an interest in the museum’s design and construction, but in this instance their fears are unfounded. We are confident that Harvard’s Allston planning team has thoroughly considered both the building’s location, design, and usage plans, and that the resulting art museum will benefit the Allston community and be a positive start to the development of Barry’s Corner.