Art Rental Revises the Rules
In light of the bad feelings that overshadowed art rental last semester and complaints over the past several years — ever since students demanded full control over the program — the museum staff decided to direct art rental this semester.
Led by John G. W. Cowles Director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Stephanie Wiles, Security Officer Chris Super, Curator of Education Jason Trimmer and Curator of Academic Programs Colette Crossman, the staff of the museum took control of the program this semester, giving it a much needed overhaul.
To maintain the spirit of the program as founded by legendary art professor Ellen Johnson in 1940, the staff wanted art rental to be a joint effort between the museum and students. Last Friday at 5 p.m. they held an open meeting. Despite complaints about secrecy and exclusivity, very few students took advantage of this opportunity. There were only about ten students in attendance, all of whom had some previous involvement with the museum or the art department.
For more than 40 years art rental was run on a first-come, first-served basis. Students would line up and wait their turn.
Students who were seriously committed lined up the night before the rental, bundling up and pitching tents. “[Before the students decided to take over] it was the die-hards, the really passionate students,” said Super. “They had fires going, guitars…People partied — there was never any arguing.”
In recent years a few passionate art students took the initiative to post a list and oversee roll call. The students got what they wanted, but the staff noted that it has only been since students took over the program that there have been complaints and bitter feelings.
Of all the staff members at the meeting, Super has been working at the museum the longest and is the only one who actually knew Johnson. “Ellen intended for this program to be exciting — a celebration,” Super commented at the meeting. “Over the years it’s transformed into something filled with anger and resentment…. We want to change that.”
This anger seems to be the result of the miscommunication associated with the student-organized sign-up sheets and regular check-ins that have defined the rules of art rental over the last few years. “It became complete chaos,” said Super.
“The reason [the rental] hasn’t been working is that no one has known what’s been going on,” commented a student. “[The system] wasn’t institutionalized.”
“Different people had different conceptions of how [the rental’s] supposed to be,” added another student in an attempt to explain the confusion and frustration many experienced during last semester’s rental.
This year, the rules were straightforward and the atmosphere was energetically dissimilar from that of the recent past. The works were selected on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 9 a.m. There was no sign up list or roll call. The line was set to form outside the building and those who cared enough would brave the cold. The ground rules stipulated that no one could leave the line for an extended period of time, cut the line or save a space.
It went off almost exactly as planned. The only change made was that the line was moved from outside the courtyard to inside the hallway of the 1937 art classroom building. There were many concerns raised about the weather and accessibility for students with disabilities, so this compromise was reached.
“From an insider’s point of view, this looks like a much fairer system,” stated Wiles. “We were really upset about the resentment from last term,” she added. “We read with great interest the student publications and heard with great interest the student responses… The University of Minnesota is the only other place that still has [an art rental program] and their collection is nothing compared to ours. I would be really disappointed if we had to end it.”
On the scene, students had a lot to say. Some thought that the list with roll call was better, some suggested a lottery and there were a few who recommended a student board, but most who participated felt positive about the way it was done this time around. The general sentiment was one of appreciation for the program.
“I’m grateful the program even exists,” commented College first-year Marc Kusnetz. “I don’t even care [how it is run] just as long as I get to have some of the art.”
To keep up this positive rapport between the museum and the students, Wiles is planning to hold a follow-up meeting to evaluate how it went this and to discuss improvements that could be made.
College first-year Nicholas Mann shared this positive attitude, “It is one of the reasons why I came here. I thought it was amazing how they think enough of us to trust us with priceless works of art.”