Two fascinating articles in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the NYT about massive investments invested by elite U.S. universities in creating quality museum space on campus. Campuses include Harvard, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, and Yale with costs that run into the hundreds of millions for building sites designed by starchitects like Renzo Piano and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro. You can read the articles here and here.
Heavily dependent on philanthropic donors with deep pockets and big egos, these massive investments highlight a shared vision advanced by university administrators designed to stitch art and the arts into the larger life of the university, and the university into civil society. Stanford now requires undergraduates to take courses in “creative expression,” things like “Aesthetics of Data,” “Visual Thinking,” and “Cellphone Photography.”
It’s easy to be cynical, but you might not get the last laugh. There’s lots of money going into this, and not just money, but also serious intellectual attention and energy. As knowledge becomes more and more visual in its basic constitution, and funded as such, professors in the Humanities might want to consider the way in which a more visual sensibility might bring our work into much broader and lively conversations across the university and the culture at large.
This includes especially the two fields in which I work, Jewish Studies and the study of Religion, both of which stand out as relatively queer and isolated pockets in the university universe, and yet, for all that, or because of that, deeply interdisciplinary. The bet is that art and the arts are the connective tissue that tease varied and contested things and the people who care about them together into a single body-fabric.
A museum is a good place to go, a good place to be, a good “thing” for a university to “have.” But they cost lots and lots of money.