Museum Lends Art to Students

Imagine this: You’re a student at Williams looking forward to spring semester and you hear about a new program at the Williams College Museum of Art…a program to bring art across campus…a program that features special chosen works of art that you can check out the way you might check out Moby Dick from the library. You sign up for the selection lottery, your number gets picked, you head to the museum and chose your piece from the special collection. You walk back to your dorm room and choose the perfect spot to hang it. Every day, for the entire semester, you look at it in different frames of mind—in natural light, in the glow from your reading lamp, with friends, and alone. You have the chance to spend time—to really understand—the painting from the comfort of your dorm room. “Much art was meant for ‘long time’ absorption,” says WCMA director Tina Olsen, “not what typically occurs in museums.”

Stop imagining.

“Long time absorption” is exactly what students will have the chance to experience beginning in February when WCMA launches WALLS, Williams Art Loan for Livings Spaces. This student art loan initiative is a key component of the Fulkerson Arts Leadership Program, with additional support from alumni who’ve given works of art and financial resources. Program founder Allan Fulkerson ’54 says its goal is to provide opportunities to help develop the next generation of Williams leaders in the arts. He sees WALLS as one piece of that goal, “reaching and involving many students rather than just a few.” Fenner Milton ’62 agrees. Milton majored in physics at Williams but was deeply affected by the art history courses he took. “The important thing is to expose the non-art major to the concept of living with art,” he says.

Some of the art students could easily live with includes pieces by Cézanne, Jim Dine, Fred Wilson, Winslow Homer, Margaret Bourke-White, Marc Chagall, Alison Saar, Utamaro Kitagawa, and Williams’ own Ed Epping. “We wanted the art to reflect the diversity of our students, their backgrounds and interests,” says David Sledge, second-year student in Williams’ art history graduate program, curator of the student loan initiative, and member of the program’s selection committee.

Madison Epsten, a sophomore, is excited about the program because “it’s open to everyone living on or off campus, from the next Picasso to a future brain surgeon.” Epsten, who is thinking of majoring in either biology or psychology, is a student advisor on the selection committee. She says the program will transform dorm rooms into homes. “Students will get to experience a sense of possession over a piece of original art,” she says.

Milton hopes that feeling of possession will foster a lifelong appreciation for art, as his Williams education did for him. Sledge explains that the committee makes choices with the same goal in mind, “asking at every step: what works will engage students deeply and foster a lifelong dialogue with art?”

Students can see for themselves from February 10 through February 16, 2014, when WCMA puts on a salon-style exhibition to showcase the art before students select it. On the appointed day, there will be a first-come, first-served selection process. “We’d love to see students camping out overnight to get their first pick,” says Sledge.

WCMA director Olsen says the program embodies the philosophy that art is part of everyday life, giving students a way to connect to it differently from how they might in a museum. “This program allows people to attach to works of art, to absorb them on their own terms.”