The Hood Now: A Museum without Walls

By John Stomberg, Director, Hood Museum of Art

A museum is many things to many people: a place to see art, meet friends, listen to interesting speakers, hear music, and listen to ideas we like (and some we don’t). Sometimes it’s a place to turn on and engage with the world’s problems; other times we visit because we want to turn off and disengage. At a college museum, the list continues: it’s a place to do coursework, it’s where your classes meet, it’s both a social center and the focus of serious research. Given these myriad connections to people’s lives, how do those charged with running a museum mitigate the deep disruption in a community that arises from a major construction project?

This is just the question that faced the staff of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth as we prepared to add a new Tod Williams and Billie Tsien–designed building to the current Charles Moore building, while also completely rehabilitating the original structure. To be sure, there would be an interruption—the building site had to be completely emptied, and there was no option for continuing programming in any part of the Hood’s building.

How, we wondered, could we continue to serve our multiple audiences, including Dartmouth faculty and students, visitors ranging from the local community to the many intrepid art travelers who annually tour the region’s art museums, Dartmouth alumni around the country and the world, and our ever-growing online community? Having identified these four circles of those we serve, we began to develop solutions. The process was not linear, but rather iterative. That is, some ideas emerged early in the process, and others, later—in the end, what mattered was that we were prepared with our four-part plan, so that we could assure all our constituents that while the building would be closed, the Hood would be very much open.

The plan includes four ongoing initiatives: Hood Downtown, Hood at Home, Hood on the Road, and Hood Online. Each program targets an essential audience for the Hood, but together they represent multiple paths of engagement with the Hood during the construction.

Hood Downtown

With the support of a generous donor, we have been able to open a temporary exhibition space on Main Street in Hanover. The space, a former jewelry store, is located between a gelato shop and a local pub. We renovated it extensively, and now it bears the appearance of a Chelsea gallery. It has a great location on the street level at the intersection of two major streets in town, making it readily visible from passing cars or pedestrian traffic.

Early in the planning we decided to focus on exhibitions of global contemporary art. We take seriously the idea of bringing the world to Hanover. There is an appetite for this art in the classes at Dartmouth, and there is no other regional venue that regularly exhibits in this area. The campus is quite international, and the Hood has long endorsed the idea that every student should find themselves and their culture reflected in their college museum. The Hood Downtown programming decision also reflects an acknowledgement that we live in a globalized world. To the extent that it is possible, our exhibitions reflect international diversity and the exciting cross-cultural dialogue that characterizes contemporary art well into the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The eight anticipated exhibitions at Hood Downtown have had to meet multiple criteria. The work must balance sophisticated ideas with a very high level of execution and address the needs of all of our audiences. Happily, we have found artists whose work is layered and subtle, visually stunning and intellectually challenging—work that offers us the opportunity to attract and truly engage a wide variety of visitors.

Hood at Home

With access to the exhibitions at Hood Downtown and to public art installations across campus, the museum’s teaching and public programs have continued apace. At Hood Downtown, hundreds of regional school children have enjoyed tours designed to help them engage with global contemporary art and develop important life skills such as observation, analysis, reflection, and creative and critical thinking. With ongoing access to the Hood’s studio, we extend their learning further through making art in response to work featured in our exhibitions. In addition, to manage flow in the exhibition space, we stagger two openings for each exhibition, one for Dartmouth students and a second for the community. The first opening creates buzz for the second, and the openings are then followed by a successful new programming series entitled Conversations and Connections which brings curator and artist together at Hood Downtown for a conversation with the campus and broader communities.

Numerous Dartmouth classes used the two exhibitions this fall, and, notably, several classes met with the featured artist in the exhibition space. Classes in Architecture, Photography, French, Geography (Border Geographies), Drawing, Painting, History, and English had focused and impactful experiences there.

Dartmouth also has the advantage of having a National Landmark mural by the Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, which is situated in Baker Library on campus. The Epic of American Civilization has been utilized by classes at the K-12 and college levels, including offerings from Dartmouth’s Institute on Writing and Rhetoric. The Orozco mural offers tremendous opportunities to delve into the politics of public art and the controversies that ensue when art engages with critique or with culturally sensitive issues.

Another aspect of our work during the closure, is the ability to take the time to digitize more of the museum’s large collection of over 70,000 objects.  We have two studios set up and one is devoted to capturing works on paper and the other to photographing three-dimensional objects. In the latter studio, we are completing the complete digitization of the museum’s African collections. We are also taking the opportunity to work on an Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) grant to create a special web portal for our Native American collection. This web portal, when completed later this year, will enable outside scholars, students, and faculty to search for works in the collection via a map of North America and will also offer K-12 educational resources, videos of Native American scholars talking about works in the collection, and links to displays of featured collections.

Hood on the Road

One of the challenges museums and institutions face when undergoing a major renovation or expansion project is figuring out how to care for the collection during such an invasive process, which takes place in what is otherwise a safe and secure home to thousands of works of art and culturally significant objects. While much of the Hood’s collection is safely stored offsite for the duration of the construction, nearly fifty works of art have traveled to more than a dozen museums throughout the northeast and as far away as Tampa, Fort Worth, and San Francisco, and have been incorporated into permanent displays at college and civic art museums. While organizing such loans is a large undertaking, the opportunity for both parties is great. Dartmouth alumni and supporters of the Hood Museum of Art throughout the country can experience our collection in new ways and in new galleries, while other visitors to the borrowing institution will get to enjoy works they might not otherwise see.

Among the museums hosting works from the Hood are several within easy driving distance of the Upper Valley. The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, is hosting eight highlights from the Hood’s collection, including works by Maxfield Parrish, Maria Oakey Dewing, Pompeo Batoni, and Jan Davidsz de Heem. Across the river in Vermont, both the Middlebury College Art Museum and the Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont, are featuring works from the Hood, including a fragment from an Egyptian sarcophagus for Middlebury and paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Alex Katz, and Ivan Albright for UVM. To our east, works by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Ilse Martha Bischoff, and Jared French are on loan to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. An hour south, in Brunswick, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is presenting Frederic Remington’s Shotgun Hospitality. Four works are visiting the art-rich Berkshires community: paintings by Abbott Thayer, Claude Lorrain, Thomas Eakins, and the Cuzco School are on loan to the Williams College Museum of Art. Several contemporary and traditional African works, along with three images of Classical subjects, are with the Smith College Museum of Art, also in western Massachusetts.

Loans to Dartmouth’s Ivy League cohorts include the Hood’s impressive altarpiece by Perugino and workshop, now at the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Berlin Painter’s Panathenaic amphora, on view at the Princeton University Art Museum. The Harvard Art Museums are hosting three painted hollow-logpoles and one bark painting from the Hood’s Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art. See the museum website’s “Hood on the Road” page for a complete list of works on loan from the Hood Museum of Art during the expansion.

Hood Online

The museum’s new website went live in late 2015 and now offers responsive design, allowing us to accommodate phone and tablet users; improved access to our collections via a customized search function; and searchable and sortable exhibitions, events, and, especially, news and story listings via the capacity to build one’s own “e-publication.” The new website enables the digital Hood to be a more visible, visual, and useful resource for all our audiences, during the expansion project and beyond.

The Hood’s A Space for Dialogue program, in which students curate exhibitions drawn from the museum’s collection, has been a success since it began in 2002. With no physical space presently available, A Space for Dialogue has moved online for the duration of the Hood’s expansion and renovation. Five students will be creating A Virtual Space for Dialogue projects this year, and to accomplish this the museum is partnering with Dartmouth’s DALI lab, a campus center that designs and builds technology tools. For their virtual exhibitions, students are researching works in the Hood’s collection but making choices about webpage design rather than physical frames, and about webpage navigation rather than hanging order. This process has opened a range of possibilities not available in the physical museum. One student is deconstructing a Native American winter count, so the viewer can explore each symbol alongside a timeline of significant events; another is exploring public monuments on campus in conversation with large paintings around the theme of balance; and another is exploring how the physicality of protest art from Dada to the twenty-first century can be expressed in a virtual space.

Into the Future

As we move into our second year of construction, it is gratifying to see the positive responses each of these initiatives has received. The exhibitions at Hood Downtown have been critically praised and have drawn large audiences. Surprisingly, we have been able to accommodate the same number of regional school groups as in the past by utilizing access to the Hood Downtown shows, the public art of campus, and the famed Orozco mural in the library.

The works of art from the collection that are on view in museums across the country continue to reinforce the reputation of the Hood and give alumni in these various cities an opportunity for renewed pride in their alma matter. The revamped and ever expanding website continues to provide information, connection, and engagement with our virtual network. This good work will continue even when we reopen the new building.

And speaking of the new building, the project continues apace and soon we will witness the emergence of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s latest brilliant work. The new Hood will blend the old and the new seamlessly on the interior while creating a distinct pairing of styles on the exterior. Every gallery will be hung afresh with works dating throughout history and originating across the globe. We will enjoy an entire suite of classrooms dedicated to teaching with our collection. And, just steps off the Dartmouth Green, visitors will enter the new museum through a welcoming atrium dedicated to a variety of activities from structured events to casual encounters. The entryway will signal our values: the Hood Museum of Art is indeed free and open to all.


Photo: Acting Head of Education / ArtStart and Images Instructor Neely McNulty discusses Peter Irniq’s sculpture Inuksuk (2007) with an Images class. Photo by Tom McNeill.



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