As I progress through my final year as an undergraduate at Harvard, I’m acutely aware of the most remarkable parts of being a student here. Among the things I’ll miss, the Harvard Art Museums’ Student Late Night event ranks high.
Each year, on a night in early September, hundreds of students at Harvard pour into the Renzo Piano–designed building on Quincy Street after hours. At this year’s Late Night—the fourth I’ve attended—there were beats from DJ /rupture echoing off the walls of the Calderwood Courtyard. Students sipped brightly colored mocktails and snacked on chocolate sweets before perusing the galleries.
This intimate late night visit to a premier art collection highlights the unique access that Harvard students have to the museums’ resources—something I’ll miss intensely when I graduate next spring. Being a student at Harvard has allowed me to see a Degas or Pollock between morning classes, rent a signed Warhol print for my bedroom, and hear evening artist talks just a two-minute walk from my dorm. The Late Night’s timing early in the new academic year jump-starts the student-museum relationship that is uniquely available to Harvard affiliates.
Ejin Jeong ’22, a freshman, spent part of the evening looking at one of Degas’s ballerinas. “The last time I saw one of those was at a museum in Chicago. Coming to this event made me love Harvard more and think, wow, it’s a real privilege to go here,” Jeong said.
Mahnoor Ali ’19, a senior, agrees that the event encourages Harvard students to notice the artistic treasures that lie just off the Yard. “It’s an incredible privilege to be so close to this space of creativity and to the cultural archive that stands so near our dorm. To come from a suburb in California, where it’s an hour’s drive to get to a museum, to a place where I could in an instant surround myself with art is such an amazing revelation that occurred to me my freshman year,” Ali said.
Another purpose of the event is to show students the ways they can get involved at the museums. Ali is a student tour guide and has spent a considerable amount of her Harvard career at the museums. “One of my dreams for Harvard’s future is for students to feel like not stepping into the museums on a regular basis would be a waste of this amazing resource. There’s a Van Gogh just down the street—go see it! Student Late Night is a great event because it brings in students that may not normally come to the museums. I think the hope is that it will foster a long relationship between students and the museums,” she said.
Some of the pieces students could look at throughout the evening were curated by student Maia Suazo-Maler ’19, a senior history of art and architecture concentrator. After taking a neuroaesthetics class last fall, Suazo-Maler worked with the professor, Nancy Etcoff, to select objects to display in the University Study Gallery this semester, when the course is being offered again. “It was cool to have the opportunity to not only select the works but also orient them within the space, and have a go at creating a small narrative and trying my hand at curation,” said Suazo-Maler.
She remembers the strong impression the Student Late Night left on her when she first got to Harvard. “As a freshman, I remember being a little scared of the art museums; it was daunting. I didn’t know I was going to end up studying art history. To have an event that was very student-oriented was really welcoming and shows the students, ‘this place is for you.’ If you don’t have time to go to the art museums because you’re an athlete or because of your class schedule, to have this late night opportunity really demonstrates how the Harvard Art Museums cater to a student audience.”
The porous boundary between student body and art museum that exists at Harvard has offered me some of my favorite experiences as a student. Each year of my time at Harvard has looked different: a new class enters, my dorm room changes, campus reinvents itself in some way. But Max Beckmann’s self-portrait has hung on the same wall of the Harvard Art Museums since I was a freshman in 2015, and I can still find the same sweeping views of Cambridge on the fourth floor. And when I graduate, I know that there will always be a chair in the Calderwood Courtyard open for me, and that familiar works will continue to line the walls long past my time on campus.
Rebecca Dolan is a senior at Harvard University concentrating in English.