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Blank walls do not talk

By Adam Overland

A photograph by Judy Olausen of famed artist Chuck Close, 1980
A photograph by Judy Olausen of famed artist Chuck Close, 1980. Available for rent through the Weisman.

From Brief, July 2, 2008

You might not find an original Van Gogh, but the Weisman Art Museum on the U of M Twin Cities campus can help you transform your office and home into a valuable gallery of art and inspiration, with unique works by recognized artists and celebrated locals, including pieces by students, graduates, and faculty. Since 1934, the Weisman or its predecessor, Northrop Auditorium's Little Gallery, has encouraged faculty, staff, and students to rent original artwork and print reproductions--artwork that might otherwise sit in the Weisman's basement. Once only 25 cents each, the rental prices have adjusted a bit for inflation but remain affordable--U of M Twin Cities' employees can rent up to five pieces of artwork for $40 per piece, per year. U departments rent at the same price with no limit, and students pay $12 per artwork per semester (limit three). The U has one of the country's largest public art programs, with artwork gracing more than three-dozen locations around the Twin Cities campus, at building entrances, courtyards, plazas, and playing fields--even an underground mine. Considering the museum's central mission to make the arts accessible to the University and public communities, it's no surprise that the Weisman wants to expand the reach of its collection--to transcend the physical boundaries of a static location, and become a dynamic fabric woven throughout campus. And the museum is doing just that with more than 800 pieces in circulation and about 300 framed, ready-to-hang original artworks available for rent at the Weisman store, including prints, one-of-a-kind watercolor and oil paintings, and photographs.

Steven Rosenstone, VP for scholarly and cultural affairs, believes the program helps to make the University a more creative and interesting place. "Good art engages us, it simulates us to think and see things we might not otherwise see. Think of a space that you work in 12 hours a day. Having something that excites and engages you visually will excite and engage you as a human being. If the alternative is a blank wall and a work sitting in the basement of the Weisman, this is a no-brainer. It's a great, smart way to use these precious resources in a way that shares them with the entire University community," he says. Many U departments and employees seem to agree. When the medical school admissions office recently moved to a suite in the Mayo Memorial Building, Paul White, assistant dean of admissions, decided it was time to add some new artwork. The reception area in the previous admissions office had acquired the unflattering nickname "the holding pen" among staff, says White. Since the admissions office conducts interviews with prospective medical students, White wanted a more welcoming environment. "We are going after students we want to attract here. We're the front door of the medical school and we want to look like the front door, so when the opportunity came to move, we seized it, and with that move came art," White says. Beth Lory, employer relations coordinator at the career and community learning center with the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), rented artwork for similar reasons. CLA's on-campus interview space is used by employers to interview CLA students for internships and full-time career opportunities. "We rented the art because we wanted to create a welcoming environment for students and employers," says Lory. "We've received many compliments from employers and visitors about the artwork." Director of clinical neuroscience administration Mary Hensley hopes to achieve similar goals at her location in the University Park Plaza building. "To be an employee or a visitor to our building--it enhances the environment tremendously," she says. When her staff moved to a location on the edge of the UMTC campus, she recognized an opportunity. "We were setting ourselves up new and had a budget, so being able to rent art was extremely economical. As a U department, we could buy it, but on a limited budget I was able to put five very beautiful paintings on the wall," Hensley says. Weisman art rental coordinator Erin Bouchard believes the program is affordable and practical, particularly for departments and employees. "Managing an art collection is not in their interest--they don't have the time or the funds to do that. So they can come to the museum, rent it for a year or five, and exchange it when they get tired of it," Bouchard said.

Erin Bouchard holds a photo taken by SJMC instructor in visual communication Mike Zerby entitled
Erin Bouchard holds a photo taken by SJMC instructor in visual communication Mike Zerby entitled "Indian Leaders at Wounded Knee, South Dakota." Taken in 1973, the photo depicts American Indian Movement leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks and is just one of many works of art available through the rental program.

Hensley was impressed with the works available, a couple of which she chose to remind her of the U campus from her location on the fringe of the East Bank. "Some of these paintings were actually WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects. In fact, one of those paintings--one of Folwell Hall--has been taken back by the Weisman to put in the art of the WPA exhibit...They promised that when the exhibit was over they would bring it back," says Hensley referencing the art of the New Deal exhibit on display at the Weisman until July 27. "In the meantime, they allowed a substitute painting, which is actually so beautiful that I think when the other comes back, I'll keep this one, too. I think I can find room," she says. Hensley will have even more art to choose from soon, as the Weisman plans to expand its rental collection in the coming weeks with an additional 30 or more works. For more information about the Weisman's art rental program, e-mail Erin Bouchard or call 612-626-3389.