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With a new floor of day-lit galleries (left, top and bottom), the museum has more room to exhibit its collection, which comprises more than 25,000 works. Photos by Jim Gipe.

The Brown Fine Arts Center: The Wait is Over

Smith students have wasted no time in making their way into the dazzling new Brown Fine Arts Center. After the completion of a two-year, $35 million renovation and expansion of the former fine arts complex, circa 1972, two components of the new center -- the Hillyer Art Library and the Art Department -- reopened last fall. The third and final piece, the art museum, made its public debut in a ceremony on April 27.

Jen Giasone '03, a museum intern and an art history major from Michigan, was not the only Smith student who was happy when the transformed art department and library welcomed students back in September. But she was perhaps one of the most enthusiastic. “It was so exciting when I got my class schedule and it read ‘Hillyer Hall!’” she says.

“There is an incredible enthusiasm on campus about the complex being back,” continues Giasone. “Students are thrilled.”

By the time the museum reopened, Giasone, who was also head of the student liaison group, had already been working for months to organize a late-night May 1 “Reopening Bash” just for Smith students. She enlisted the help of many students and also brought on board the members of an architecture class who designed a festive grand entrance that was installed in the museum the night of the party.

Meanwhile, a year earlier, another student group had begun working with Nancy Rich, curator of education, to develop a random-access digital audio tour of the museum’s permanent collection. This was not an easy task, as Smith’s collection includes some 25,000 works of art. While the museum was closed, new purchases added another 600 works of art to the collection.

Now the self-operating tour, a new addition to the museum visitor services, allows museum-goers to listen to recorded narratives while viewing selected works from the permanent collection. The audio tour, highlighting 56 works for adults and 25 for families, is funded in part by a $37,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“During the three years the museum was closed, we were preparing written materials and collecting interviews from faculty and various contemporary artists for this audio tour,” says Nancy Rich, curator of education. The interviews were conducted with the assistance of California-based media firm Antenna Audio. Four Smith students were invited to Antenna Audio’s production studios in New York, where they sat in on interviews with several artists. During the same trip, they visited with audio tour staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discussed such issues as equipment and marketing.

      Learn more about the Brown Fine Arts Center >

      Learn more about the new features of the Museum of Art >

      Visit the Web site of the Museum of Art >

      Visit the Web site of the Department of Art >

The museum will also offer new family programs, developed by Ann Musser, associate curator of education. The first, “Got Silk?” Family Day in March, featured activities for children and their families based on the exhibition “Silk in New England Society, 1730-1930.” The more than 30 student volunteers, and others from the Smith community, made the day a huge success, Musser believes. “We’d like to plan a family-day event at least once a semester.” After the first family day, she was surprised to hear from many students who offered new ideas for future family days and “offered as well their help and willingness to get together on a weekly basis and plan a whole slate of new activities for the fall.”



As morning sun streams through the windows, metal sunscreens filter the natural light coming into one of the center’s new meeting rooms (top). The sunlight is also filtered through the walls of windows that are predominant features in the art studios and classrooms. Photos Jeff Goldberg/ESTO.

One long-standing tradition with students who wish to be involved in museum work -- the 20-year-old docent program -- is certain to be increasingly popular. Some 40 students are already on board as docents, and their training prepares them to give gallery tours to the public, visitors and school groups alike. The docent program is a great way to get a foot in the door of the art world, Rich says. “It’s a good training ground for students who go on to museum careers.” Moreover, “It’s great public speaking experience and a chance to do something for the college and for the community,” she notes. “Increasingly, we see among students that spirit of wanting to do something more for the community because the museum is here not only for the Smith community, but also for schoolchildren, families and visitors from all over the world.”

New Book Celebrates Visual Arts at Smith

The grand reopening of the newly christened Brown Fine Arts Center marks a new chapter in the teaching of the visual arts at Smith, and a new book commemorates the completion of this three-year project.

Contributors include the architects who redesigned the building, current and emeritus members of the faculty, several current and former museum staff members, the art librarian and the director of image collections on the history of the art department, Museum of Art and art library. A timeline weaves the separate strands together. The hardbound book, richly illustrated with color images, is available for $40 plus $4 shipping.

To order, call the Museum Shop at (413) 585-2796, order online at www.smithmuseumstore.com, or send a check payable to SCMA Shop, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA 01063.

 
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