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Public Art Debate Continues

By Eric Richard
Associate News Editor

Thursday evening marked the second stage of a four-part discussion among students, the Office of the Arts, and Cambridge artist Mags Harries regarding the Student Center Public Art Project.

The discussion was focused around what students felt was important about the Student Center, in hopes of helping Harries to understand what students would like to see in an art project and where they think it should be.

As in the first meeting, the coordinators were discouraged by the low turnout. "We have a little problem here," said Maureen Costello, director of special programs for the Office of the Arts. "We really do need more voices represented here. . . . One of the sometimes magical, sometimes difficult, sometimes wonderful, and sometimes troubling aspects of a project like this is that a large amount of discussion has to go on."

Costello opened the discussion by asking, "What is disturbing, what is provocative, what is evocative, what is positive, and what is negative about the Student Center?"

Discussion centered on where in the Student Center the art should be placed, since each floor was described as having a different persona.

"The Student Center is an intermingling of very different types of light and dark places," said David A. Maltz '93. "If [the art] is placed in one of the quiet, dark places, it should blend in."

Location a key factor

Peter M. Gast '93 said, "If the art is on the first or second floor it should be subtle or unobtrusive, so I could go to it, instead of it coming to me."

"It should be dynamic," said Matthew K. Gray '95. "It should reflect the fact that everybody is moving there."

"If you are targeting students, you would get more benefit off the first floors," said Steven G. Johnson '95.

Glenn R. Berry '92 disagreed: "If you are aiming at the students, I would say that the fourth and fifth floor lobbies would be best."

"The fourth floor seems like such a personal area," added Gray, "that a lot of people would feel like [the art] was an intrusion of their space. It seems to me that putting something on the fifth floor seems more appropriate."

Students also discussed the possibility of placing the work outside near the front of the Student Center. However, Johnson pointed out that with Boston's weather "half the year it will be damn cold outside and people will not stop to see it."

Art project's purpose discussed

The discussion also centered around the idea of who the art project would be for, and who it would represent.

"Do we want a work that represents the students to anyone that comes in or one for the students?" asked Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris.

Ted E. Johnson, program coordinator for the Campus Activities Complex, suggested that since such a large number of visitors come through the Student Center everyday, the art could be used "so that people coming off the streets can get to know who MIT students are."

Richard J. Barbalace '94 quickly warned that such a presentation might ignore the fact that "MIT, first and foremost, is supposed to be a school. The administration often puts on a show [for outsiders]. . . and tends to forget that the students are here."

"To what extent is it going to be public art [for the community] or private art [for the students]?," asked Harris.

Many students had their own ideas of what the work should look like, or how it should make people feel.

"Things that go along with the style and spirit of the hack are the type of thing that MIT students would appreciate," said Gray.

Newell said that the art should be "the combination of clever, amusing, and pretty."

James A. Weissburg '52 suggested something that "looks different every time you see it. It should change with the season, time of day, and cloudiness outside."

"Having something where the lighting would change and the images would change would be a nice thing to see," added Barbalace.

Harris was pleased with the meeting's progress. "We have now hit upon a whole series of ideas. . . that represent what MIT is doing."

At the next meeting in November, Harries will show sketches of some of her preliminary ideas, inspired by comments at this meeting. A fourth meeting will be held in February to finalize ideas about the project. The piece of art is scheduled to be in place by September of next year.