It is a little-known fact that when the Carpenter Center was designed in 1959, the sidewalk that cuts through the building was intended to be the main pedestrian route between Harvard Yard and the rest of campus, whose expansion beyond Prescott Street was planned but never realized. The purpose of this, according to architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), was to force students to walk through a space for the arts on a regular basis, and in so doing, to make art literally more central to life at Harvard. Last year, the Task Force on the Arts argued that the arts remain peripheral on Harvard’s campus. In its second year, the Harvard Student Art Show attempts to address this perceived marginalization. The show features 120 pieces from 76 artists, primarily Harvard students.
“Our mission,” says co-director Alissa E. Schapiro ’10, “is to really show the visibility and importance of visual arts on campus. It’s not just in VES, and it’s not just at the Graduate School of Design. Harvard students are incredibly talented. There are ceramicists at the graduate school who would have no other venue to show their work. [The show] is a way of bringing together divergent communities that have a central focus on visual art.”
Shelby E. Doyle GSD ’11 agrees that the Art Show plays a key role in increasing awareness of the arts at Harvard. “It’s really great that they’re doing it, especially since Harvard isn’t always known for its presence within the arts. When I came here, I was listening to Drew Faust and she said that she was making the arts at Harvard a priority. It’s exciting to have this opportunity.”
Students involved with the show appreciate it as a unique opportunity to interact with other visual artists. David J. Tischfield ’09, an instructor for the Harvard Ceramics Program, participated last year and has two pieces in the show this year. “There are remarkable artists, painters and sculptors at Harvard,” he says. “I came into college as a rather established potter and sculptor, but I obviously couldn’t do that here. It wasn’t a very social club. This is one of the few ways on campus that I can share the thing that I do, my talent—my superpower, if you will.”
Schapiro and co-director Julia V. Guren ’10, who is a former Crimson illustrator, focused this year on catering to a variety of audiences. The show attracts Harvard faculty and staff, as well as residents of Boston and Cambridge. However, Schapiro notes that in the previous show, “most of the art that was affordable to students was gone the second we opened our doors. [This year] we wanted to have more works that were in the student price range, at 20 to 75 dollars.” To accomplish this, Schapiro and Guren asked the artists they anticipated to be the most popular to “edition” their works— to print five copies of the pieces, with unframed prints to be sold at lower prices than the original.
A minority of students expressed discomfort with the commercial aspect of the show. “In many cases it seemed like they selected pieces that were aesthetically pleasing rather than conceptually provocative,” says Intiya Isaza-Figueroa ’10, who is selling a collage and a drawing in the show this year. “There are, of course, exceptions. This is an obvious result of it being a show about selling student work to a broad audience. So while I see the point and am grateful that the show exists, I don’t think it closes the gap between quality work produced by students and the opportunities to show that work.”
Guren acknowledges this tension. “I was really skeptical of the sale aspect of the show last year,” she says. “But I was a volunteer the day of [the event], and I was just blown away by the sense of community I saw for visual artists on campus. I think the sale component of the show is important. It adds a level of professionalism, and draws in semi-professional artists.”
“A big part of it is teaching [the artists] how to market themselves and their work,” Schapiro adds. “It helps artists understand that they can pursue a career in the visual arts, and gives them the tools to do that effectively right after graduation.”
—Staff writer Abigail B. Lind can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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