Last Saturday, temperatures in Williamstown hovered in the single digits. The snowfall was constant, the wind was strong and many roads and sidewalks weren’t plowed. Despite the unsavory conditions, dozens of College students left the comfort of their beds to go explore The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute for an unprecedented, day-long series of Valentine’s Day-themed events.
The museum hosted a variety of fun, interactive events designed to appeal to all demographics and to raise the Clark’s profile as a great place to spend the day – or to bring a date.
Families, students, couples and others all enjoyed performances by two College a cappella groups, Ephoria and the Ephlats. Most advance tickets to the elegant tea parties held several times throughout the day sold out early. People crowded around to listen on each of four love-themed gallery talks. Others queued up at a themed photobooth, voted on their favorite works on red heart-shaped ballots, posted selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #iheartclark, had the chance to view the Monet/Kelly exhibit on its last day and enjoyed the artistic treasures exhibited year-round.
In the past, the Clark has celebrated Valentine’s Day with evening dances and exhibition openings that tend to draw older people and mostly couples, said Terri Boccia, the Clark’s acquisitions librarian and special projects officer. This year, the committee planning the festivities decided to reach out to other members of the community who might not think to visit the museum as often.
“We were thinking, new building, new times, let’s do something different,” said Boccia, who was a member of the committee for the event. “We thought we’d make it more family-oriented.”
Meg Richardson ’16, an intern at the Clark for Winter Study 2015 and the spring semester, helped get the word out about the event to the College community. The Valentine’s Day activities were only a portion of recent efforts to make the museum “more accessible, interesting and fun” for students, she said.
“I talked to a lot of people on Valentine’s Day who were seeing the Clark for the first time, which was very exciting,” Richardson said. “A lot of people have no idea about this incredible resource in our backyard. It’s my job to raise awareness of the fact that this world-renowned art collection is just a 10-minute walk from Paresky.”
Boccia also saw the Valentine’s Day at the Clark event as a great success in drawing different, more diverse demographics to the museum. Performances took advantage of the architecture of the new building to create a cohesive space as many different activities were going on.
“I thought [the a cappella performances were] going to bring mostly Williams students watching their friends, but it’s actually a very mixed group,” Boccia said of the dozens of people who crowded around by the lower floor gallery to listen to each group.
“The way the Clark is set up, the sound travels upstairs, so there were people listening upstairs too,” she continued.
The two a cappella performances stayed with the Valentine’s Day theme, but that may not have been too much of a challenge. In introducing his group, Ephlats music director Eli Goldstein ’16 joked, “We were tasked with singing love songs, which is easy because all songs are about love, pretty much. So we’re just singing our repertoire.”
Boccia was also one of four museum experts who gave distinct love-themed gallery tours over the course of the day. Her talk focused on Martin Drölling’s “The Messenger,” which she chose because of its subtle themes and underappreciated artistic merit compared to other works in the gallery.
“I was walking around [The Clark] looking for inspiration” to plan the talk, Boccia said. “I wanted to talk about something love- or Valentine’s Day-related without being terribly obvious. I like to find works that people aren’t necessarily familiar with. With all the other riches, it’s very easy for people to walk by [“The Messenger”] on the way to the Renoir,” she said, motioning to an adjacent room.
Focusing on “little clues” in the painting about the subject’s romantic situation and the artist’s portrayal of romance, Boccia took advantage of “a good chance to look at a painting that’s often overlooked.” Her level of detail impressed audience members at her talk, who gained a new level of appreciation for the work.
The event was overall a success for the Clark, which normally experiences a much larger volume of visitors in the summer, when travel is easier and big exhibits are open.
“In the winter it tends to be quiet,” Boccia said. “So the crowd here [on Valentine’s Day] is amazing.”