Driving down Route 30, you will pass one of the most beautiful facilities on our campus. Built for the benefit of all students, this facility is open all year long, contains some of the most valuable items the College owns and exists as a resource for students looking to enrich their Middlebury experience beyond the classroom.
No, I’m not talking about the brand-spanking-new Virtue Field House, though indeed, that is one gorgeous building. I’m talking about the Middlebury College Museum of Art, a small space densely packed with an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures and artifacts tucked at the back of the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Despite the richness of its collection and exhibitions, it is also one of the most underutilized and underappreciated spaces on campus.
If you haven’t taken an art history class here, chances are, the art museum seems like a world away from our daily dorm, dining hall and classroom routine.
Housed in the galleries is an incredible array of artworks, ranging from a sarcophagus from Antiquity to an early Italian Renaissance altarpiece to a 12th century Vishnu sculpture from India to a Chinese silk scroll. Behind the museum’s walls, there is an even larger number of works in storage, unable to be put on display due to space limitations. Many art history students, however, have the opportunity to work with these pieces
Aside from the museum’s permanent collection, it also hosts approximately half a dozen temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The two exhibitions currently on view – a group of Andy Warhol prints gifted to the museum from the Warhol Foundation and a show of street art – contain some of the biggest names in contemporary art.
The street art exhibition was even tailor-made for Middlebury, as famous British graffiti artist Ben Eine spent a week on campus in February painting a wall in the exhibition and for the museum’s exterior.
With such interesting and important works of art on view and free admission to not just students but the general public, you would expect a constant stream of visitors to be walking through the museum’s doors.
But that is far from the case. On an average weekday, or even weekend, you can often spend half an hour or more admiring the collection in complete solitude. If you are lucky enough to encounter another visitor, it is more likely that they are not even a Middlebury student.
Much of the athletes vs. NARPs debate that Hannah Bristol and Isaac Baker’s op-ed sparked at the end of J-Term focused on the allocation of resources on campus. Many students complained, rightly or wrongly, that varsity sports receive too much of the pie for their worth to this campus.
While I will not indulge you with yet another rant about that chewed-over topic one way or another, I want to challenge us as a community – students, faculty, staff and administration – to take advantage of the resources we overlook. The art museum, as I just described above, is one place we could start paying more attention to.
After all, we chose to attend a liberal arts institution because we wanted a breadth of academic and extracurricular experiences, not because we wanted to play divisive identity politics and fight with our peers for the shared resources of our community. Instead of making noise about who is more privileged or glorified for the activities they do, let’s focus on enriching our own Middlebury experiences and making the most of the resources we are all privileged to share.
Regardless of which side of the athletes vs. NARPs debate you are on, you have to admit that our non-athletic facilities are still pretty amazing here, the art museum among them. Instead of eyeing or envying its flashier next door neighbor, go and make the most out of what the museum has to offer. Take an art history class and write a paper about something in the galleries. Attend the “Off-the-Wall” talks delivered by students working in the museum and visiting lecturers. And buy a coffee from Rehearsals Café on your way out.
I promise you, even if you are a Non-Artistic Regular Person, you will be glad you made a visit down to the museum.
Danny Zhang ’15 is from Toronto, Canada.