When the College unveils the newly renovated art museum this weekend, it will mark the end of an era that was frustrating, limiting, interminable?and completely worth it.
Several years ago, when it had become obvious that the aging Walker Art Building would need to be renovated in order for it to remain viable, Bowdoin officials were faced with a decision: They could touch up the place just enough to get it up to code, or they could aim for something more ambitious?they could create a completely new space that would set a new standard for college-owned art museums.
They opted for the latter. The two and a half years since the renovation began have been trying, not only for those perturbed by the din of construction and the corruption of the Quad's aesthetic, but especially for art history students taunted by the knowledge that some of the field's finest examples lay within the impermeable membrane of a chain-link fence.
But the early consensus among campus experts, administrators, and students is that these sacrifices appear relatively small when one considers the return on investment: twice the number of galleries, 63 percent more total space, a climate control system to preserve priceless artifacts, digital art displays, and a new, underground foyer bedecked with state-of-the-art amenities. To paraphrase Assistant Professor of Art Steve Perkinson, Bowdoin's remarkable art collection?one that includes more than 14,000 pieces from a huge swath of cultures, eras, and genres?finally has a building worthy to hold it.
We applaud the College and its architects for developing a design that preserved the building's traditional aesthetic while dramatically expanding and improving the interior and increasing the museum's Maine Street-side accessibility. Bowdoin was under a lot of pressure to do this project right, and it seems to have succeeded. We are confident that the renovated space will live up to?and perhaps even exceed?the statewide hype that has been building for years.
We also encourage Bowdoin students to capitalize on the unique opportunity of having this resource at their fingertips. Though the art museum now resembles those found in major cities and will likely attract more outside visitors than ever, it is still distinctly ours. Its curators will continue to tailor certain exhibits to specific courses being offered here, and art donated and even created by Bowdoin alums will continue to be prominent parts of the collection.
It is a rare privilege indeed to have constant access to such important relics of human history. We hope that students of all intellectual persuasions will heed the immortal words of former President William DeWitt Hyde, who advised students in his celebrated 1906 "Offer of the College" to count art as an "intimate friend."