Museum, Theatre and Studio Arts Facilities

The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum

The Case for a New Museum

We may think of galleries and museums as storehouses or vaults for protecting and displaying valuable works of art in splendid isolation. Or we may think of these spaces as active places to explore and experience art in changing contexts.

While every serious modern museum has an educational component, few art museums have taken as their central mission the active learning experiences of undergraduate students.

Hamilton’s new 30,000-square-foot gallery at College Hill Road and Griffin Road will be built around and for this unique pedagogical mission. It will be a teaching space, a creative “laboratory” where students are encouraged to ask questions, make connections to disciplines far beyond the arts, and develop visual literacy skills critical to life and learning in the 21st century.

Very nearly every space in the new museum is being designed as a place for teaching and learning. Close by the 6,200-square-foot gallery space, on the first floor, an Open Archive will provide ready access by students and faculty to a major portion of the Hamilton collection and will include a space where small groups can gather for discussion and presentation. On the second floor, a fully-equipped 48-seat classroom will be a a place for small lectures and will provide a much-needed space for courses, particularly in the humanities, in which the study of film is a significant component. The so-called Closed Archive nearby will include two seminar tables and associated projection equipment. The second-floor lounge, overlooking the sculpture courtyard, is being conceived as a place where students can study or have one-on-one meetings with faculty or other students.

Why new? Why now?
  • While Hamilton has offered an art gallery and collection in some form since 1873, the College has never had a dedicated space designed specifically for that purpose. The current facility, Emerson Gallery, has operated in Christian A. Johnson Hall since 1982.
  • Emerson now houses more than 5,000 pieces, including classical terra cotta sculpture, American prints, Italian prints, Northern European prints, early modern art of Britain, Egyptian faience, Mayan ceramics, American photography and more. Because space is so limited, however, few of these pieces are easily accessible for student research, and fewer still can be displayed for the campus community and general public.
  • One of the most promising trends in art study on the Hill in recent years is a series of student-curated exhibitions, giving students in art history and other disciplines professional museum experience. An expanded, flexible gallery space will create many new opportunities for student curators.
  • It will also open new doors for interdisciplinary collaboration, building on recent exhibitions involving the departments of French, Russian, Biology, Classics, Asian Studies, English, Religious Studies, Music, American Studies and History.

Openness in the exhibition and study of art is a dramatic development for students of art and art history, of course, but it is also an extraordinary opportunity for all of the College’s students and neighbors. A new gallery space will not only improve on the pedagogy of the past. It will also help create a new and creative means of teaching, questioning and engaging with the world.