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 their studios and in a gallery setting is no mere frivolity; it is formative. Exhibitions change their relationships to both their work and their audience.
The MIT Weisner Student Art Gallery
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 1971-80. Wiesner championed the arts as an essential part of MIT education and campus life.
According to President 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.”
Located on the second floor in the MIT Stratton Student Center, Building W20, the Wiesner Gallery exclusively exhibits the work of student artists. Past exhibitions include work of 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.
Upgrades to the Gallery
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, will upgrade the space to meet changing needs of MIT student artists.
The space has been reconfigured to increase the footprint of the gallery by 25% and expand the usable wall space. Four high definition monitors, an extensive new hanging system for 2-dimensional work and an integrated shelving system for displaying 3-dimensional work have been added. A new glass wall maintains openness while allowing the 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.
The Legacy of the Gallery
Hyun-A Park ’83, recalls how the idea to create a gallery in the student center 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 Jerome Wiesner, MIT President from 1971-80.
“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 + Planning in glass blowing and life drawing, worked at the Hayden Gallery, and in her senior year became 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.”
Art work made at MIT by twenty Art Scholars was featured in the November 2016 inaugural exhibition in the newly renovated space. Video, sound art, photography, painting, drawing and performance art were presented. The renovation is evidence of the value placed on student art work at MIT, and the students whose work was on view at the Wiesner Gallery’s grand reopening represent the many vibrant student communities on campus—from researchers in the Media Lab and the School of Engineering to residents in Senior House to varsity athletes.