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Harvard Art Museums Spotlight: Art Study Center

By Abby L. Noyes, Crimson Staff Writer

As President Faust took the stage the morning of Nov. 7 at the newly renovated Harvard Art Museums, she described the museum as a place to “bring Harvard’s world-class collection together in a space that inspires engagement.” While the entire museum, from its architecture to the way it arranges its various collections, seeks to encourage this engagement, perhaps no space is so completely dedicated to this as the new Art Study Center.

According to Mary Lister, the study center manager, the 5,000-square-foot oasis on the museum’s fourth floor will give visitors the ability to access the museum’s expansive works of art first hand. “One of our goals, by all means, is to have an engagement with the artwork in a really lovely, intimate setting,” Lister says. “Close viewing, I think, is our key.”

Lister and her staff are excited by the center’s ability to give visitors access to “the depth of [Harvard’s] collection,” with most of the pieces held in storage available for viewing upon request. This personal accessibility is a major facet of the museum’s philosophy; Faust describes the entire space as a “teaching machine.” Lister says “The Arts Study Center really is a public facing…representation of our dedication to education, to learning. I keep telling my staff, ‘We are just about learning on this floor.’”

While museum director Thomas W. Lentz says the conceptualization of the newly renovated space is due “to more than a decade of new thinking about the museum,” its commitment to first-hand interaction with art is by no means new. Both the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger Museums included study centers, and the Sackler Museum worked to accommodate requests for individual viewing as they were received. “The concept of the study center is historic. It’s really intertwined, I feel, with all of the museum’s philosophy,” Lister says. “Now we’re able to merge all of the collections in one facility and share the space among all the collection pieces. It’s just an amazing time to be here.”

The Art Study Center also represents another goal of the Harvard Art Museums: engagement with the wider community. Students, faculty, and community members alike will be allowed to utilize the center via an online request form, available on the Museums’ new website. While Lister warns that they may not be able to accommodate all of the requests they receive upon opening, she says that the entire staff is committed to “ramping up” their services as time goes on. As for what to request, that remains purely in the hands of the visitor.

—Staff writer Abby L. Noyes can be reached at

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