Hood Museum of Art aims to be more than just galleries

by Courtney McKee | 1/25/19 2:05am

The Hood Museum of Art will have its grand reopening this upcoming Saturday. After dramatic renovations began in 2016, the museum will open its doors to the public to reveal a building transformed by the work of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, the architects in charge of the project. 

According to the Hood’s campus engagement coordinator Isadora Italia, with the museum’s increase in size, it is hoped that the influence of the Hood on the Dartmouth community will grow commensurately.

Deputy director of the Hood Juliette Bianco said that there were extensive expansions to the museum. In addition to increasing the number of galleries from 10 to 16, they have addded the Bernstein Center for Object Study for Dartmouth classes and a spacious 2,500 square foot atrium with spaces for students to study and relax.

The atrium, connected via walkway to the Hopkins Center for the Arts, is at both the architectural and conceptual heart of the new Hood. With the same opening hours as the Courtyard Café, the atrium will remain open even as the galleries are closed, providing students with an additional area to sit, study, read or eat. As such, the Hood will not only operate as an art gallery, but as another hub for activities on campus, beginning with the student “after hours takeover” opening party on Jan. 31. Complete with food, live music and a photo booth, the party will inaugurate the Hood as Dartmouth’s newest alternative social space. 

“We wanted students to be officially welcomed into the space to make it a social and lively opening for undergraduates and graduates,” Italia said. “My position [at the College] is to get out to campus, understand what topics and issues students are discussing and what the students want to see.”

Meeting the needs of the Dartmouth community seemed to be the impetus behind the renovations from the very beginning.

“Dartmouth didn’t have a museum until 1985, so when it was built, it was not configured in a way that allowed teaching in every department across campus,” Bianco said. “Until we had the [Hood] museum, we didn’t realize how valuable it would be.”

As the Hood’s utility grew, so too did the shortcomings of the original design. Thus, the museum was remade to accommodate Dartmouth courses, community events, K-12 classes and other such activities for which the old building was not suitable. 

However, the renovations were not without their fair share of difficulties.

“The biggest challenge was fitting everything we wanted to do into a relatively small space for expansion,” Bianco said. “It required a lot of cooperation amongst the Hood staff. But, in the end, the challenge wound up being the greatest joy because we did so much great thinking together about how we could make the space work for our needs.”

Still, much of the former architecture of the Hood is preserved. The Lebanon Street entrance of the museum retains the facade of the original Hood. The nine galleries of the back end were rebuilt to match the old specifications, while the seven newly designed galleries sit nearer to the Green.

“We combined the original and expanded parts of the building to create a seamlessness inside, so you feel like you’re in the Hood Museum of Art, and not two different buildings,” Bianco said.

Like the architecture of the building, the exhibitions were also given careful attention. The opening exhibits display the Hood’s permanent collection. However, rather than the European art collection comprising the central gallery space, the Native American and African art collections are placed at the forefront.

“Art is a great way to understand others’ perspectives, the world around you and different cultures,” Italia said. “We have so many treasures here in our collection, and so we’re trying to make it accessible to students.”

Dartmouth students expressed their excitement at the Hood’s diverse collection.

“The collection is much bigger than I had thought,” said Claudia Bernstein ’21, an art history student. “They have a huge Aboriginal art collection, which is really cool.”

Another student was happy to have more room for activities on Dartmouth’s modestly-sized campus.

“I am excited for another study location in that area of campus. It will be a fun space to go to when I have free time,” said Honora Verdone ’20. 

Overall, the new Hood will not just be a gallery but an important addition to campus, fostering intellectual, cross-cultural and social engagement.

“Encountering objects in a museum can change one’s interaction with the world and other people,” Bianco said. “I hope it becomes a place that’s really valued for being a welcoming and vibrant part of campus life.”

Claudia Bernstein is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.