Campus & Community

A night at the museums

6 min read

Annual program welcomes students with food, music, and oh, yeah, art

At first, it seemed it was all about color. Magenta, titian, and canary zinnias dotted the room atop matching tablecloths. Cake pops, licorice sticks, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and vegan bark lined a long table. Nearby, mocktails flowed in triad of splashy hues: “Cobalt Violet,” “Chrome Yellow,” and “Lacca Rossa,” all inspired by the Forbes Pigment Collection.

But the young men and women who streamed in after the doors opened on Sept. 7 for Student Late Night at the Harvard Art Museums found so much more. All of the galleries were open, the recently acquired Warhol “Marilyn” prints premiered on the fourth floor, and guides led themed tours throughout the night.

“This is a great venue,” said Susie Clements ’19. “It’s so fun, it’s brilliant, the food is amazing, the drinks are really nice.”

Plus there was music. And very soon, there was dancing.

DJ/Rupture, otherwise known as Jace Clayton ’97, quickly established the vibe: cool, classy, and, most importantly, welcoming. “My goal is to create a welcoming, inviting space,” he said. He accomplished that in no time. Within five minutes, students were dancing with mocktails in hand.

Jace Clayton ’97 aka DJ/Rupture filled the Calderwood Courtyard with sound. Photo by Susan Young © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Though they may not have known it, the guests were witnessing the product of a clever and thoughtful arts collaboration between Clayton and the Harvard Art Museums. This year’s celebration was the fourth iteration of the popular event, which draws many returning students as well as a plethora of freshmen.

The autumnal festivity introduces students to the museums and highlights the role that they can play in their lives. Erin Northington, manager of Student Engagement Programs and one of the event planners, explained that the Late Night aims to “open our doors all the wider to students. We want students of all disciplines and backgrounds to know they have a place here.”

Late Night shows students the multiple ways in which they can interact with the museum. For those interested in an educational experience, student guides gave tours throughout the night.

As the tour groups bustled by, Shayla Partridge, a senior guide at the museums, described how the program helped her realize how rich the institution is. “It’s so nice that the museum gets to be a social space,” she said. “One of the architect’s goals was for the space to be a loud museum, not hushed. And this event is a way to get people in the door and get them to keep coming.”

On the fourth floor, a line of people stretched down the hallway as they waited for entry to two unique displays in the Art Study Center: the student print rental program and the premiere showing of a portion of Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn” collection.

A student takes a beat between festivities to explore the galleries. <br />Photo by R. Leopoldina Torres © President and Fellows of Harvard College

On one side of the center, 12 framed prints were displayed around the room, and students entered a raffle to win a year’s rental of one. The dozen artworks were the last of many in the popular rental program; last month, 259 prints were rented in two days. As curator Elizabeth Rudy explained, the intention is simple: “to give Harvard students the opportunity to hang original art in their rooms for a year and love it.”

A few steps away hung one of the museums’ most important recent acquisitions: six multichromatic prints of Marilyn Monroe’s famous smolder, highlighted in neon pink, turquoise, and burnt orange. “She is magnetic,” said Rudy. “Everyone comes in and gets a glimpse and then there’s a hush — that’s what great art does.” It was a sneak peek of what is soon to come: The next two Mondays will feature a rotation of six of the 10 prints in the Art Study Center, which will be open to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Students said they appreciated the museums’ outreach. Clements, who was one of the first students on the dance floor, said, “It’s nice to go to a social occasion where there’s no other motive beyond chatting to people and having fun.”

Snow Dong ’19 noted, “A lot of people won’t make it to the Harvard Art Museum because Harvard is such a busy place. It’s important to have more initiatives to expose people to these resources.”

Director Martha Tedeschi hoped the event would introduce students to the museums as a resource. While the museums work closely with the academic community on campus, student engagement can and should extend beyond the classroom: The museum also exists as a social space where students can grab a coffee, meet a friend, walk through the galleries, or visit a favorite work and feel comfortable.

Friends snap a photo among works of art in Harvard Art Museums galleries. Photo by Susan Young © President and Fellows of Harvard College

“A weekly visit to the museum is part of some students’ quality of life,” Tedeschi said. “It’s a place of inspiration and creativity, and also of solace in turbulent times.”

Around 10 p.m., the party began to wind down. At the exit, Chris Molinski, associate research curator for Digital Initiatives, handed out cards with a Spotify link to a special playlist curated by DJ/Rupture that is meant to be listened to while walking through “The Philosophy Chamber” exhibition on the third floor. The sonic expression of the playlist is part of the museum’s continued commitment to expanded access and new approaches to experiencing works of art.

“The playlist uses sound in both playful, academic, and critical ways,” Molinski explained. “These sounds respond to the exhibition, providing us with a new platform for listening alongside and in response to the work on display.”

It was the first time at the museums for Harvard Law School students Cortney Robinson ’18 and Demarquin Johnson ’20. “I thought it was a good chance to be introduced to the museum,” said Robinson. “I liked coming here to explore with such a large group. The music was fun and also the student print program was really cool.”

Johnson agreed, adding that he and Robinson were both vying for a print from the raffle. “The diversity of the museum is something I was really pleased with, and I’ll definitely be coming back.”

Check out the Spotify playlist