Attending MIT has more perks than just getting a world-class education. Each year, through the Student Loan Art Program, MIT’s List Visual Arts Center allows students to borrow artwork for an academic year at no cost. The collection includes photography and paintings, reprints and originals, contemporary and modern works. However, students must go through a lottery first.
Open to MIT undergraduate and graduate students only, the lottery will be held on Sept. 18. Students rank their top three choices on a form, and the lottery is conducted by hand.
The idea of the Student Loan Art Program is for the students to hang their artwork in their dorms, lab spaces, or apartments. There is no restriction on what students do with the art, as long as it is returned by finals. If the frame breaks or the art is damaged in any way, students can take the work to the center to be fixed, free of charge.
“One thing I love about the program is that the students are treated as adults and collectors,” said Paul Ha, director of the center. “They are given this freedom to take this piece of art home, and they’re left alone.”
“I hung my artwork in my room, adding to the decoration that I already,” said Michelle W. Chen ’14, who has received a piece of art in the lottery the past two years. “I love the juxtaposition of the postcards that I have received from my friends and the artwork. It makes my room a livelier place to return to.”
The exhibition will be open from Sept. 4–16 to allow students to browse through the available collection in person. Last year, 1,950 students toured through the galleries during the two weeks of the program exhibition. Of the 578 works that the center exhibited, 510 works were taken home by students in total.
The Visual Arts Center started the art loan program after receiving several gifts of art in 1977. Each year, the collection expands with around 15 new works for viewing, which are displayed on the third floor of the Student Center. The new pieces are made available for loan the following year.
“I first heard about this program through some seniors who lived in my dorm freshman year. They told me how they would always go visit the gallery and sign up to get artwork,” said Chen.
“I hung it over my desk freshman year because our wall didn’t have a lot of real estate, and it was nice to look at while at my desk,” said Iris Xu ’14. “Sophomore year, it hung in our entryway; not much reason — it just looked nice there.”
According to a press release from the Visual Arts Center, pieces that will be loaned out for the first time this year include works by Fia Backström, Jeremy Deller, Paul Chan, Peter Coffin, Judith Hopf, Sarah Morris, Albert Oehlen, Raymond Pettibon, and Tomas Saraceno. Artists currently featured include Berenice Abbott, Yoshitomo Nara, and Sol LeWitt.
“One popular series of work that students really love is any photography that Doc Edgerton has done,” said Mark Linga, the center’s PR Marketing and Social Media Coordinator. “He basically developed this whole way of photographing motion and sequential motion through strobe photography.” Harold “Doc” Edgerton PhD ’31, a retired Course 6 professor, photographed the famous “Bullet through Apple.”
However, students don’t always pick artwork from artists that they know. Sometimes, the fact that an art piece appeals to them is enough to convince them take it home. After all, one doesn’t need to take art history to appreciate art.
“My freshman year I had a drawing of this ball transforming into a man, and sophomore year I had a photograph of a newsstand,” said Sonika N. Reddy ’14. “I don’t have a really good reason for picking them, except that I liked them.”
Ha hopes that the art will do more than make a dorm room more aesthetically pleasing.
“We hope students use the art as a social connector too, as they’re having parties or having people over,” Ha said. “It’s a conversation starter. ‘Why did you choose that one?’”
On Sunday, Sept. 9, the center will offer a public reception starting at 11 a.m. with free food and tours. After lottery results are posted on Sept. 18, students have two days to pick up their chosen art. On Sept. 21, any unclaimed pieces of art can be picked up first-come, first-serve by students who line up early enough outside the gallery.
“I would have gone crazy [in college] if I had the opportunity to participate in this kind of a program.” said Linga.
A program like MIT’s Student Loan Art Program is rare among colleges in the U.S. At a school so heavily focused on science and technology, some would say the chance to take home well-known works of art speaks to the diversity of MIT’s student culture and campus.
“I would recommend the program to everyone; it’s nice to have a piece of art without having to buy it,” said Reddy. “And you can get a new one every year.”