Hood Quarterly, spring 2017
John Stomberg, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director
The Responsive Museum
At Dartmouth, we talk a lot about the need for our students to learn adaptability above all other skills. While the challenges of the twenty-first century are still largely unknown, we are certain they will be myriad, daunting, and quickly evolving. It stands to reason that the best preparation Dartmouth can offer students is the ability to face change with courage, an open mind, and a healthy balance of optimism and realism. These attributes, in differing proportions, are reinforced in the everyday teaching with art that dominates our work at the Hood.
One way of looking at the thousands upon thousands of artworks in our care is that each addresses a problem and each represents a solution. These “solutions” may be an effective and satisfying vessel used to enjoy wine or an aesthetic rebuttal to the notion that art should be useful. They may range from the personal poetic visions of expressionist painting to the clear, concise declarations of political posters. Regardless of the specifics of the artworks in question, the careful study of objects exercises skills associated with adaptability. Students learn to look closely, empathize with the maker, consider alternatives, and become comfortable with ambiguity.
As a staff, our challenge is to remain adaptive, to make the Hood responsive to the world.
The original idea of the term “museum” was that it invoked a place of the “muses.” One visited works of art for an experience nearly divine in its combination of mystery and fulfillment. Museums were conceived to be enduring homes for artworks seen as transmitters of inspiration. The museum was a place that protected both the art and the visitors from the distractions of mundane pursuits. Echoing a process literally set in stone in ancient Athens, visitors ascended the steps of the museum to disengage from the everyday activities that carried on below. It was in this context that the ideal of fixity emerged as a dominant value for museums, and the permanent collection was the most visible result. This reflected a core belief that certain objects transcended the time and place of their making to become universal. By presenting rare and beautiful art in hallowed halls, the museum provided visitors with a combination of emotional sustenance and moral uplift in galleries designed to be otherworldly, aesthetic refuges.
This model is evolving.
While maintaining opportunities for moments of reverie, the new Hood will be a place for active engagement. The art installations and programs will be deeply connected to the ever-changing present. It is no accident that the new entrance will be at ground level, directly accessible from the busy streets bounding the Dartmouth Green. The Hood will not turn its back on the world but rather face it directly. It will continue preserving the past and embracing the present, but it will also aspire to shape the future by choreographing vital engagements for students with the finest works of art available. In short, the new Hood will be a responsive museum, deeply connected to the vital flow and exchange of beliefs and ideas that characterize the world today.