Small Museum Spotlight

Front and Center: Student Exhibitions at Dartmouth

Last week, I was lucky enough to visit Hanover, New Hampshire at the peak of autumn. When I wasn’t engaged in my excellent Society of American Archivists workshop on Managing Electronic Records, I ventured around the Dartmouth campus. The Hood Museum of Art was a must-see on my list of prospective stops. This free museum at Dartmouth includes a phenomenal collection of artwork, and it has been actively collecting since the 1770s.

The Hood contains relatively small gallery spaces, but they are used to great effect with a careful balance of exhibit topics and media types. As I entered the main galleries, I encountered an installation of contemporary glass stools by Howard Ben Tré to my left (which welcomed me to take a seat!), and a massive wall of Assyrian tablets from about 870 BCE to my right.

Every space in The Hood Museum represented a dialogue between those who are now learning on the Dartmouth campus and those who preceded them. Many of the pieces I encountered on exhibit listed the names and graduation dates of Dartmouth graduate who donated them.

Throughout the galleries, the display panels featured text geared toward enriching the experiences of curious visitors. The exhibit text for a striking portrait asked viewers to consider the subject’s facial expression, the tools she was using, and the condition of her hands and arms. These educational prompts, which the general public could find stimulating, are separated carefully from the basic exhibit text so that they do not detract from the experiences of more discerning visitors.

Current Dartmouth students enjoy their own opportunity to contribute to the museum’s dialogue. The Hood provides a marvelous permanent gallery space devoted to a series of student exhibitions. A Space for Dialogue: Fresh Perspectives on the Permanent Collection from Dartmouth’s Students is an ongoing commitment to student exhibitions that was initiated by the Dartmouth Class of 1948 and continues with the support of other alumni. The program designates the entire front entrance lobby as an exhibit space for small exhibits by senior students from a variety of academic programs. The space has hosted student interpretations of collection materials featuring Gibson girls, images of war, the noble savage myth, studies of gloves as fetish objects, and performance art in the 1960s and 70s.

The Hood museum’s commitment to providing a space where students can present fresh perspectives on its collections is admirable, and I think that many educational institutions could benefit by emulating this model. The result is a dialogue about collections that transcends generations.

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