It wasn’t until we reopened late last year that the museums finally added our most essential element—people. Whether Harvard students and faculty, visiting scholars and artists, museums staff, or community members and tourists of all ages, people were the missing piece to allow this dynamic institution, housed in a stunning facility designed by an award-winning architect, to realize its full potential as a 21st-century laboratory for the arts. This is a moment to savor, one we have carefully planned for and eagerly anticipated for more than six years.
Of course, we are not done. We have only begun to scratch the surface of what will be accomplished in the new Harvard Art Museums, but we have a powerful roadmap that guides our work and is already bearing fruit. Here are just a few of the early ways in which individuals are activating this magnificent facility.
First and foremost, Harvard students are becoming the new face of the museums. Our student guide program, for instance, which kicks into high gear in mid-February, will allow fifteen undergraduates from a wide variety of academic disciplines to share their perspectives on our collections through guided tours several days a week. Depending on when you visit, you could receive a tour from a student of anthropology, neurobiology, classics, art history, or another field—informed by conversations with our expert staff and delivered with that particular guide’s unique point of view. It’s a wonderful program that encourages students to deepen their knowledge of our collections and share their views with the public.
Faculty, too, are taking advantage of the museums’ limitless possibilities to support and enrich the academic experience. Music professor Richard Beaudoin has done just that, asking his students to compose original works inspired by objects in the collections. Those compositions were recently brought to life by cellist Neil Heyde of the Royal Academy of Music in London in a concert held in the Calderwood Courtyard. And in the University Teaching Gallery, Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, and Melissa McCormick, Harvard College Professor and Professor of Japanese Art and Culture, worked with our staff to organize an installation on Japanese Genre Painting to complement their courses this spring. These are just two examples of the strong partnership between the museums and all disciplines across the university.
Museums staff are coordinating a robust suite of events that highlight our teaching, research, and learning mission. Visitors can attend In-Focus talks: thirty-minute, drop-in gallery talks about specific works of art, which will be offered weekly by our own curators, conservators, and other experts. And for more in-depth experiences, Up-Close Seminars feature expert-led group discussions in our expansive Art Study Center. With topics ranging from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum's illustrated Islamic manuscripts to the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s Bauhaus collections, these sessions bring visitors face-to-face with original works of art.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of our vibrant Collections Galleries, where installations are regularly updated. Already, many works on paper that were part of the inaugural displays have been rotated out and replaced—just one of many important tasks performed by our curators and collections management staff as they, too, experiment with fresh configurations and new propositions to unlock the museums’ vast potential.
Finally, there’s you. Whether or not you are part of the Harvard community, this is your new Harvard Art Museums. We need you to be active and engaged participants—our partners—in this thriving new teaching and learning machine.
Thomas W. Lentz
Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director