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At a recent conversation with students at the Harvard Advocate, Martha Tedeschi, director of the Harvard Art Museums, asked whether we felt it is important for the museum to actively make itself a place for the wider Cambridge community, as opposed to a primarily educational museum for Harvard. The question initially struck me as the deceptively open-ended kind that has one correct answer—how could we say that we did not want the museum to open itself up to the community?—but also made me realize that I had never conceptualized the Harvard Art Museums as a place “for us.”
Tedeschi spoke in a room around which flowers had been scattered to welcome the warm weather, with the windows overlooking an afternoon distinctly colored with spring—the asphalt roads warm gray, the sky flushed generously blue, passersby walking without wintertime’s wind-defying shoulder-clench. The strange surprise that came with her question, the reconsideration of a space I frequent, felt inextricably associated with the season.
In the past two years, the weeks from mid-October to the end of March have seemed to me to vanish in an icy haze, circumscribed by the same vistas: library, dining hall, classroom, bedroom. But, come spring, expanses of outdoor space suddenly reenter our consciousness. The snow-obscured, inhospitably cold places are free: now we can play frisbee and spikeball, sit by Weeks Bridge, go for a run, or idle on a roof. In the sunlight, an afternoon at the art museum, a student production, a musical performance, or a film festival seems like a natural use of an afternoon rather than something that we “should” be doing. There is also the mental prospect of change, in both the literal and figurative sense. We move out of our rooms, to new places for the summer, into new institutions or the “real world,” home. Everything comes unbolted—daily rhythms, the intent dash from heated building to heated building; relationships anchored in the needs of the semesters; perceptions of the place around us, filtered through exhaustion or habit. Warm weather makes the campus new, strange, and more ours.
The conclusion the students attending the talk arrived at was that, of course, the Harvard Art Museums should make concerted efforts to bring the public in. However, we also all admitted that we went to the art museum far less than we wanted to. The question’s premise caught me off guard because during the semesters, even as I did homework in the café or took ten minute walks around the galleries to recharge between classes, I had somehow forgotten where I was.
There are so many lovely places for us, and/or open to us. Through the last stretch of the semester, we will survive projects and finals just in time for us to realize how little time we have here. So, study when you must, but wander when you can. Read in the Child Memorial Library, the Woodberry Poetry Room, the film library at the top of Sever. Walk around the Harvard Art Museums and the Carpenter Center. Sit in the sunken garden outside the basement of CGIS South, the benches outside the Barker Center at the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Quincy, or Dudley Garden behind Lamont. Go across the bridge to the Business School and admire Baker Library. See your first show at the Repertory Theatre. Walk around the Harvard Book Store; go downstairs for the used books, or stay for an author event. And then maybe walk to Fresh Pond; take the free M2 shuttle into Boston for the Public Gardens, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the harbor.
Material settings, and their inhabitants, shape us. I have spent the semester writing about how individual spaces have influenced my thought, but I will never have the time or omniscience for every experience you could have. Go out and get to know the people and places that surround you. There is time now—as always, though it may not always feel like it—to surprise yourself.
Emily Zhao ’19, a former Crimson Associate Arts Editor, is a History concentrator in Cabot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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