The George Washington University has 32 residence halls, each with a lobby or common area. That’s 32 spaces where students linger, waiting for friends, picking up their mail or checking their smartphones. And that’s 32 expanses of (mostly) white walls that could use a little excitement.
At least that’s what Seth Weinshel, director of housing, thought. Mr. Weinshel had long enjoyed having a piece of student-produced artwork on loan from the Luther W. Brady Gallery’s collection hanging in his office in John Quincy Adams Hall. When chatting with Brady Gallery Assistant Director Olivia Kohler-Maga about trading it out for another piece, they hit upon an idea.
“I thought it would be really nice to put some art in the residence halls as well,” Mr. Weinshel said. “Art is important to communities. If we have these pieces, we should have them out for display.”
Mr. Weinshel wasn’t the only one to think that. Brady Gallery director and chief curator Lenore Miller, M.F.A. ’72, had the same idea. In 2007, she worked with members of the Order of the Hippo, GW’s secret society, to place artwork from Brady’s collection in Somers Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus and in West Hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
Mr. Weinshel and Ms. Kohler-Maga decided to work together to take the idea one step further and put artwork produced by GW alumni in every university residence hall. The university has a great deal of alumni work in its collection because many M.F.A. students have donated works when leaving GW. The university has also purchased some students’ work because of its particular connection or relevance to GW. And donors have provided funds to purchase pieces following the university’s annual awards exhibition for graduate and undergraduate students.
“All around, we are lucky to have so many wonderful student works in the collection by a number of means,” Ms. Kohler-Maga said.
Mr. Weinshel said that while the program is informal and there’s no set schedule to finish the installations, eventually a comprehensive list will be created so that students and visitors can take campus walking tours and see all the artwork. So far, seven halls—West, Potomac, Ivory Tower, Ames, Somers, Amsterdam and Guthridge—have artwork, and several more installations are planned for the near future.
GW alumnus Kenny George, M.F.A. ’08, a visual artist who is also a professorial lecturer of photography, has a piece hanging in the lobby of Amsterdam Hall. He created the piece as part of his M.F.A. work. Called “Forty Albums with Portraits Arranged by Size of Heads,” the piece was made using a flatbed scanner and superimposed images from 40 record albums, one on top of the other. He adjusted the opacity of each image, allowing certain features to show through, and a ghostly, faint image of a bust is visible when the piece is viewed from a distance.
The university arranged to purchase the piece in 2008 after Mr. George displayed it in a university gallery exhibit. But he’s happy that it’s now hanging in a residence hall.
“I think it’s great to have artwork accessible outside the environment of the gallery,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to get exposure to a different audience, and to have people see it from a different frame. People have a certain mindset when they go to a gallery or museum, so it’s good to see art elsewhere.”
Hanging works like Mr. George’s in residence hall lobbies is a great way to bring art to students where they live, Ms. Kohler-Maga said.
“We want to let students know about our collection and what their peers were able to produce,” she said. “I like to think of these pieces as ambassadors for our collection.”