WCMA WALLS delivers unique opportunity for students

Starting in less than a month, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is lending out some of its art pieces to a limited number of students to hang in their dorm rooms.

Officially dubbed “WALLS,” or “Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces,” the program was conceived as part of larger WCMA initiative to play a larger role in students’ lives by extending the WCMA collection outside the limited space of the museum walls. As Sonnet Coggins, Associate Director for Academic and Public Engagement at WCMA explains, “The experience of living with an artwork for an extended period of time is something not many get a chance to do, but the opportunity is a powerful one.” According to Christina Olsen ’56, Director of WCMA, “People’s relationship to institutions and to culture is changing. There’s an expectation that culture and learning is mobile and dispersed, as people themselves increasingly are, not just inside a museum’s walls.”

The program officially opens to the public with a preview exhibition, where students can browse the 90 pieces of original art that form the WALLS collection. It kicks off with an opening celebration at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10, complete with food, drink and planned activities such as a lighthearted “head-to-head” debate-style discussion emceed by David Johnson, Dean of the College where participants Zoe Grueskin ‘14, Taj Smith, Benjamin Lamb, Assistant Director for Student Involvement, Rosanna Reyes, Associate Dean and Dean of First Generation Initiatives and Professor Frank Morgan will argue for their favorite work in their collection and try to sway the audience’s opinion accordingly.

Sarah Margerum, Public Engagement Manager of WCMA, who coordinated much of the opening exhibit, elaborated on the thought behind the programming: “It’s really cool to have people from all different departments talk about their own personal response to art, based on their different perspectives and backgrounds.”

The WALLS collection, separate from the WCMA collection at large, was assembled specifically for the purpose of the program by a committee of graduate and undergraduate students and WCMA staff, funded by the Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts and additional contributions by A. Fenner Milton ’62. The works range vastly in style, medium and age, from a 1518 Dürer woodcut print to prints of 21st century digital photographs.

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Previews of each piece are currently available online at wcmawalls.williams.edu with a thumbnail image and detailed description including the artist, title, date, size and background information.

The exhibition will extend through Feb. 15, showing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with the exception of Wednesday, Feb. 12. WCMA advisors and a glossary of medium terms will be available to answer any questions students may have about the works, and students can enter a lottery to take home a piece from the collection. The only chance to guarantee a piece for your room, however, is to line up before 9 a.m. on Feb. 16: the first 45 people in line can claim their favorite work from WALLS, and the remaining 45 will be picked at random from a lottery. Margerum elaborates on the process that the 90 final students will undergo in choosing their artworks: “The students will come in groups of thirty to take home their piece, and each will be allotted two minutes to choose which one they want. We stress that students come in earlier during the exhibition to sort of strategize which pieces they think they’d like, just in case the one they want the most is already taken.”

All graduate and undergraduate College students are eligible to participate in WALLS, and participants will be expected to sign an agreement detailing the care of their artwork. Loans are also a semester-long agreement: the return dates for this debut run are scheduled for May 6-8, and a new round is expected to commence with the Fall 2014 semester.

The WALLS coordinators also plan on keeping people involved past taking their works home. Plans are currently in place for a collaboration with housing coordinators to organize a sort of large-scale “gallery crawl,” where people can tour the different artworks hanging in various rooms across their respective neighborhoods. Coggins is especially interested in following up on the evolution of students’ experiences with their artworks over the time they live with it, and even beyond that: “For example, each subsequent student over the years who inherits the Chagall will inherit a completely different and evolving experience of the work, depending on what surrounds the art from one year to the next.”

Though it has clearly been a long and involved journey from conception to reality, the highly anticipated WALLS program is finally almost here. Visit WCMA now as it’s in between exhibitions and you can see the gallery coming together; to-scale cardboard placeholders currently line the blank walls, waiting to be arranged before the real works are hung up. “It’s almost like a series of games, with the early lining up, the lottery and the two minutes,” Margerum comments. “I think it’s going to be really fun.”

A promotional poster for the upcoming WCMA WALLS program which will allow students to hang original art in their dorms.
A promotional poster for the upcoming WCMA WALLS program which will allow students to hang original art in their dorms.