Displacement is familiar territory for Batagui ’21, a joint chemistry and statistics concentrator, who has been leading tours from 5,000 miles away in his native Bucharest, Romania, since spring. But the distance makes no difference to the senior, who said he loves talking about art to people with “a very broad, diverse range of backgrounds,” wherever they may be.
It turns out, they are all over. Gallery restrictions limit in-person tours to 15, but on the web there’s room for everyone, with roughly 80 virtual visitors typically logging in for the weekly tours from across the U.S., with some from as far away as the U.K., China, Israel, Spain, and Dubai.
While the tours have proven popular, introducing hundreds of visitors to the collection, staff members were initially wary of the electronic format “because so much of the museums’ ethos is based on needing direct, physical engagement with original objects,” said Camran Mani, a fellow in the museums’ division of academic and public programs who supervises the student guides. “But with some adjustments, we’ve been able to gather a group of people for a conversation that does feel intimate.”
That is owing largely to the guides. They carefully craft their tours, selecting intriguing and even sometimes provocative themes, researching the objects in detail, and meeting regularly with fellow guides, museum curators, and staff as part of their training. The longstanding program is supported by the Ho Family Student Guide Fund and is open to concentrators in any discipline. The main requirement is a passion for art and for sharing that art with others.
Connecting over the internet is second nature for Harvard’s Generation Z student-guides who regularly look for new ways to keep their electronic audiences engaged, often incorporating other graphics or illustrations into their Zoom tours. “What we lose [being on site] is very much gained by this power of bringing in images from other sources that can aid our discussion and arguments that are being made about the piece,” said Batagui, who uses pictures of Brancusi’s later sculptures to highlight the artist’s creative evolution.