Smith College
    Laurie Fenlason
    Media Relations Director
    T (413) 585-2190
    F (413) 585-2174
Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063


April 2, 2003



Smith College Museum of Art to Welcome the Public
Starting Sunday, April 27

Editor's note: An online press kit about the Brown Fine Arts Center, including images and fact sheets, can be found at To arrange media interviews or tours, contact Laurie Fenlason at (413) 585-2190 or

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- With a series of galas and dedications in late April, Smith College will celebrate the completion of the Brown Fine Arts Center, a milestone in the college's historic and celebrated commitment to the visual arts.

Led by New York City-based Polshek Partnership Architects, the two-year, $35-million renovation and expansion to the former 1972 building is the most extensive capital construction project the college has ever undertaken.

Part of the building -- the art department and art library -- opened in September. The April 27 public reopening of the center's third entity -- the Smith College Museum of Art -- marks the culmination of the project. Numerous gala events are planned for the public, special friends and donors and the Smith community. At 11:45 a.m. Sunday, April 27, the public is invited to join Northampton Mayor Mary Clare Higgins and Smith College President Carol T. Christ for a brief, festive ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicating the new facility.

Christ describes the completion of the center as a pivotal moment for Smith, not only because of the enhanced facilities for students and faculty, but for the greater opportunities the center creates for inviting the public to share Smith's art resources.

"Smith is an excellent place to learn about art and art history, largely because of the museum and the opportunities it affords to see great works of art 'live,'" she explains.

"One of the purposes of a liberal arts education is to foster a lifelong appreciation of the arts. And one of the best ways to do that is via a museum like ours."

The fifth building to house the museum and art building since Smith's founding in 1875, the new arts complex reflects the name of three Smith alumnae from the Brown family of Houston who donated $10 million for the project through The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston.

The architects, James S. Polshek and Susan T. Rodriguez, transformed every element of the former building. According to Polshek and Rodriguez, "The new Brown Fine Arts Center at Smith College is built, to a large extent, on the skeletal framework of its recent past. Its realization validates our belief that respect for an institution's history and context can be reinforced by an architecture of our time."

Exterior architectural features blend the building into its historically rich setting through varied materials that work in color and texture to present the façade as a series of visually appealing planes. The design includes vast expanses of windows and screens of delicate metal rods serving as sun filters, detailed brick masonry and stair towers sheathed in zinc panel from Germany.


Although the architects expanded the complex by 28 percent, they did so with only a minimal expansion of the building's architectural footprint. Another notable feature is the building's traditional brick, which approximates the size and color of the complex's nearest neighbor, College Hall, the Smith campus's first building.

From within the fine arts center, remarkable campus and street vistas are highlighted by the new design. Typical of the building's new aesthetic, Hillyer Art Library boasts a dramatic two-story glass curtain wall revealing stunning views of the campus. In the words of John Davis, Alice Pratt Brown Professor of Art and a project principal, "the art department's studios are absolute showpieces."


Museum of Art: New Works, Old Favorites, Bold Space

Featuring expanded galleries, significant new acquisitions, high-technology wiring, enhanced visitor services and works of functional art, the Smith College Museum of Art, closed to visitors for three years, will welcome the public back on April 27 with a free, festive celebration from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

Widely acknowledged as one of the best college art museums in the country, the museum holds nearly 25,000 works of art, with particular strength in 19th- and early 20th-century art. According to Suzannah Fabing, director and chief curator, the museum was redesigned to showcase its outstanding collection, to allow for new teaching and collecting priorities and to meet the increased expectations of today's visitors.

New amenities for museum-goers include an expanded museum shop, a resource center and a café, now in the planning stages. Other improvements include greatly expanded intern work areas for the museum's outstanding student docent program, a 1,000-square-foot, dedicated print gallery and many more flexible exhibit areas to showcase smaller collections and special themes. The museum's main space increased 35 percent to nearly 60,000 gross square feet, enabling the museum, as Fabing notes, "to present more Asian, African, Islamic and Latin American art than ever before."

Blurring the boundaries between form and function, the museum reopens with newly installed public restrooms and a collection of gallery benches, all of which are works of art.

Funded by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education and Kohler Co., the artist-designed and -installed public restrooms are a study in contrast: Ellen Driscoll's women's room is a serene immersion into an underwater world, while the men's room by Sandy Skoglund, an alumna of Smith, is a blizzard of black and white images drawn from creation stories.

For seating in the museum galleries, visitors will rest upon 11 fine-art furniture benches. Individually created by award-winning local and regional artists, the series of benches highlights New England's strength in studio furniture making.

For the reopening, two new random-access digital audio tours about the permanent collection have been developed by Smith students. Other enhancements geared toward making the museum's art more accessible include informative wall labels, small books on specific pieces and other learning aids.

The museum's reopening exhibitions will feature old favorites from Smith's celebrated American and western European collections as well as many new and notable pieces, including works of African and Asian art never before displayed at the museum. Exhibitions mounted at the grand reopening will include "Silk in New England Society, 1730-1930"; "Inside Nantucket: Eastman Johnson Studies of New England Home Life"; "The Floating World"; "Master Drawings, Part I"; and "African Artistry: Insight and Imagination."

Open every day except Mondays and major holidays, the museum's hours through May 25, 2003, are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9-5; Wednesday, 9-9; Saturday, 9-5; Sunday, noon-5. For summer hours, group tours, school tours or general information, call (413) 585-2760. Admission is free. The Brown Fine Arts Center is located at Elm Street and Bedford Terrace.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.



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