It’s a hard slog in the studio, battling with materials, suppressing self-doubts, cultivating a vision, destroying false starts, and ultimately creating something new. To emerging artists, seeing work outside the confines of one's studios and in a gallery setting is no mere frivolity; it is formative. Exhibitions change relationships to both one's work and audience.
MIT students have a space dedicated to this invaluable function: the Jerome B. Wiesner Student Art Gallery. The Wiesner Gallery was established by a gift from the Class of 1983 and dedicated to Jerome B. Wiesner, MIT president from 1971 to 1980, who championed the arts as an essential part of MIT education and campus life. According to Wiesner, “Taken together, the arts, science and technology form a triple anvil on which to forge a new kind of apprenticeship for a complex world — an education in which the search for beauty is made real enough to take its place beside the university’s ancient mission, the search for truth.”
The Wiesner Gallery, located on the second floor in the Student Center (Building W20), exclusively exhibits the work of student artists, including those enrolled in classes at the Student Art Association (SAA) and those supported by the grants program of the Council for the Arts at MIT (CAMIT). The space also hosts the annual Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize exhibition and shows works by numerous student groups and initiatives, such as the MIT Origami club and the Trashion Show. It was designed to be flexible enough to accommodate all artistic modes of expression, with adaptable walls and lights and a raised stage suitable for performances.
Over the years there have been several attempts to revitalize the Wiesner Gallery. Now, an extensive renovation funded through the generous support of the Schnitzer Family Foundation, sponsors of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT gala, and the office of associate provosts Karen Gleason and Philip S. Khoury has upgraded the space to meet changing needs of MIT student artists.
The space has been reconfigured to increase the footprint of the gallery by 25 percent and to expand the usable wallspace. Four high-definition monitors, an extensive new hanging system for two-dimensional work, and an integrated shelving system for displaying three-dimensional work have been added. A new glass wall maintains openness while allowing sound to be controlled for audio and video works and performances. Other improvements include new hardwood floors and modular furniture. Beyond being an exhibition venue, the renovated Wiesner Gallery will accommodate a broad range of programs and events and become a hub for student arts programs, including the SAA, the START studio (a 24-hour makerspace for arts focused entrepreneurial projects) and the Arts Scholars.
Hyun-A Park ’83 recalls how the idea to create a gallery as the 1983 senior class gift came about: “There was no formal space for student exhibition opportunities. We had the notion that if the space were there in a visible location, it would create the energy to coalesce the arts for the students. We were being proactive about it, rather than meeting an existing demand.” When she approached Paul and Priscilla Gray, then-MIT president and his wife and co-founder of the MIT Public Service Center, about the prospect of creating a student exhibition venue, Park suggested dedicating it to former President Jerome Wiesner. “Jerry Wiesner had always been such an advocate for the arts at MIT, and pretty much created the Council for the Arts, and was really the force who brought to the Institute the contemporary art features that we still enjoy today.”
As an urban planning student, Park had taken classes in the School of Architecture and Planning in glass blowing and life drawing, had worked at the Hayden Gallery, and in her senior year had become involved with the Council for the Arts at MIT. Now a member of the council, she looks forward to being actively involved in the gallery’s relaunch: “I hope the grants programs and the council can be an integral part of the success of the gallery in the future.”
The inaugural exhibition, on view now through Dec. 31 in the newly renovated space, features work from 20 Arts Scholars that were made at MIT — including video, sound art, photography, painting, drawing, and performance. The renovation is evidence of the value placed on student art work at MIT, and the students whose work will be on view at the Wiesner Gallery’s grand reopening represent the many vibrant student communities on campus — from researchers in the MIT Media Lab and the School of Engineering to residents in Senior House to varsity athletes.