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Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023

Middlebury’s Museum of Art: A not-so-hidden gem on campus

On Middlebury’s small campus, many students struggle to seek respite from the chaos of back-to-school season. Caught up in the cycle of academics, sports and busy social lives, they rarely get the chance to embrace their artistic sides. What students may not realize is that the Middlebury Museum of Art in Mahaney Center for the Arts (MAC) provides the perfect opportunity for students to both relax and explore several different styles, themes and regions of art. 

Founded in 1968 as the Johnson Gallery, the Middlebury Museum of Art has undergone significant expansion and evolution in the decades since. In 1992, the gallery moved into the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts, known to students as “Mahaney,” or “the MAC.” Located between Nelson Recreation Center and Munford House, the Center for the Arts also houses the Seeler Studio Theatre, a dance theater and Robison Hall. Throughout the year, the Center hosts a Performing Arts Series which includes world-class artists of different disciplines including music, theater and dance. 

The museum closed during Covid-19. It only reopened to students during the fall of 2021, and then to the public in the spring of 2022. During the closure, curators recognized the need for a more modern approach to museum organization. They reorganized the permanent collection to better reflect the diversity of voices within the fine art world. 

Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Curved Hedge Zig-Zag Labyrinth stands outside the entrance to the museum.

Like many museums, the permanent collection was originally arranged by region, but today, pieces are connected by specific themes. The museum’s layout now highlights similarities across cultures and time periods, while also contrasting their differences. Going forward, the museum will also increase the rotation of pieces in both its permanent and special collections to maximize the number and variety of artists displayed. Next to each piece, plaques will display responses from multiple people of differing perspectives in order to reflect the differing narratives that a single piece of art can create. 

The permanent collection features art from the fourth millennium B.C.E. until today, and it spans several geographic regions. Many students enjoy the works of iconic contemporary American artists like Norman Rockwell’s “Willie Gillis in College,” which includes Middlebury’s Old Chapel, as well as popular graffiti artist Keith Haring’s “Silence=Death.” Yet the museum also boasts older pieces like a pair of Japanese panels depicting the Tale of Genji, and “Vilaval Ragini,” a miniature painting from the former Rajput court of Kota, India. Today the museum is releasing its latest temporary exhibition, “No Ocean Between Us: Art of Asian Diasporas in Latin America & the Caribbean, 1945-Present.” The exhibition features about 70 works by Latin American and Caribbean artists of Asian heritage to demonstrate the global nature of artistic movements and conversations. 

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Classes across disciplines often visit the museum to study relevant pieces and reflect on the connections between art and academia. But opportunities for students don’t stop in the classroom. Students have the option to become members of the museum, or they can apply to several paid jobs within the museum. In order to receive updates about the museum via email and get a free piece of swag, students can become a Student Friend, or member, of the museum for free. Students can also become museum ambassadors or receptionists, staff members who lead tours and welcome visitors to the museum.

Students who want a more hands-on experience can intern with the museum, allowing them to participate in research and learn more about museum curation.

The museum intends to relocate from its current location in the MAC to a new space near Battell Beach and BiHall, upon completion of building renovations. Doing so will allow the museum to take on a more central role in the lives of students, making visits more convenient and accessible. 

The museum is open to all visitors Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 12 to 5 p.m. 

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