The Arts in Society’s Updates

On Elite Campuses, an Arts Race | Article Link | by James S. Russell

Closed for six years, the Harvard Art Museums reopen here Sunday [16 November, 2014] after a radical overhaul by the architect Renzo Piano. He saved only the shell of the chaste, red-brick Fogg Museum and its interior courtyard, extending it upward in sheets of glass and elegant trusswork. Galleries wrap the new public space, but so do a materials lab, an art-conservation suite and a study center, where students, faculty and visitors can learn from the collection of 250,000 objects.

It’s an intricate puzzle piece, serving many agendas, the fruit of a tortured history and about $400 million. The renovation survived the economic crash, when Harvard stopped a billion-dollar lab complex that was to inaugurate a campus expansion in nearby Allston. “We were the only ones to come out of the tunnel,” said Thomas Lentz, the museums’ director, on a recent walk through the building.

Such faith in the arts is not confined to Harvard. Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities, even as community arts programs struggle against public indifference. The current tide of building developed over years, as universities reassert the essential value of the arts to a well-rounded education, aided by deep-pocket alumni willing to underwrite elaborate new facilities “for noble and not always so noble reasons,” Mr. Lentz said.