An Inspiring Vision

April 14, 2014
Jessica Martinez, director of the Division of Academic and Public Programs, works with students on a word portrait by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Michael Jenkins) (1991).

How can the Harvard Art Museums’ collections be more accessible? How can we use art and education to make our community more meaningful? How can Harvard’s art museums help make this the greater Boston we dream of? These are just some of the provocative questions that Greg Cook, arts reporter for WBUR’s The ARTery, posed at our fourth installment of the popular In-Sight Evening: Preparing for the New Harvard Art Museums, held last week at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum lecture hall. In his speech, Cook referred to the Harvard Art Museums as a machine for “seeding ideas through our communities.” He linked the role of arts in the community with a healthy democracy, as espoused by John Adams in the Massachusetts Constitution. Adams claimed, essentially, that “we need Harvard and the arts because they help us think better,” Cook said.

Cook’s framing questions helped guide the discussions that followed. Jessica Levin Martinez, director of the museums’ Division of Academic and Public Programs (DAPP), spoke of the many opportunities the new Harvard Art Museums will offer not only to Harvard students and faculty, but also to the broader community. “When you have expanded galleries, an unparalleled Art Study Center, a renowned conservation lab, and world-class collections of art all under one glass roof, you can create environments and atmospheres where everyone can look closely and where art has a fighting chance to inspire and reveal entire worlds,” Martinez said.

She reinforced how the museums support cross-disciplinary collaboration, creative thinking, and critical thought. For example, Dr. Richard Beaudoin, preceptor on music in Harvard’s Department of Music, has challenged students to use art as inspiration for musical composition.

Mary Schneider Enriquez, the museums’ Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, as well as Harvard students in the museums’ Student Guide Program introduced the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and discussed the project that led Harvard students to help create and realize the newest iteration of his word portrait Untitled (Portrait of Michael Jenkins) (1991).

Other students shared their hopes for the museums once they open this fall. Andy Gelfand (Harvard Class of 2015) noted how he’s “looking forward to being able to stand in one gallery and see artwork across the courtyard . . . to see artwork from different times in conversation.”

Gabriel Villalobos, a graduate student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, added to this sentiment: “I’m excited about the opportunity to create relationships between art and other disciplines, because art helps us understand culture in general.”