October 12, 2007
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the reopening of the Walker Art Building and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. This is a very important night for Bowdoin College and for the entire Midcoast Maine community. For tonight, we celebrate an important achievement by Bowdoin in both the preservation of a work of art on our campus and a rebirth of an important museum for Bowdoin College.
This renovation of the Walker Art Building is a project that was conceived long ago—some say back into the 1950's at this College. The jewel created by McKim, Mead and White in 1894 has been a building revered as the most important architectural gem in the State of Maine. Its simplicity and elegance proved to be a vexing problem for generations at this College as we have endeavored to understand how we could financially and physically renovate and expand this building for today's time and utility.
Now that we have all had the opportunity to visit the old and new conception of the our Walker Art Building, brilliantly conceived and designed by Machado and Silvetti, I think we can all celebrate the success we have achieved in respecting our heritage and creating a museum that will serve the mission of this College well into our future.
Our museum continues to be that jewel box on a pedestal—but it is also now a beacon—a beacon to our students, faculty, staff, friends, and neighbors. It is a place for everyone, where everyone is welcome, and where "art should be an intimate friend" within a new conception of our museum that demands the participation of our entire community at the College and our town.
At the dedication of the Walker Art Building in 1894, President William DeWitt Hyde said:
As is always the case, we have much to learn from Hyde—for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is fundamentally about education. There are many important museums in this world, but ours is preeminent as a college museum fundamentally created for education and to be used exclusively for the arts.
Frank Rhodes, the former president of Cornell University, writes in his book, The Creation of the Future, about the importance of the arts in a college curriculum and environment. Art, says Rhodes, is "…a basic expression of human understanding." He goes on to say "… It is no accident that art is ubiquitous and influential in every culture worth the name, from ancient embodiment of insight, an assertion of the human spirit. Education, unleavened by the sense of beauty and luminosity that art can provide, is a wasteland. The most sophisticated skill—whether technical or academic—is barren without the insight it provides. As in other attributes, so in this; the aim of education is to encourage the creative encounter, the reflective experience that can enrich every aspect of life."
The arts present our world as it is: a rich mix of variety and viewpoints. We know that those who study the arts develop analytical skills, creativity, critical thinking abilities, and aesthetic judgment. Art is communication—the communication of ideas and perspective—that entertains but also teaches, persuades, and challenges us all. It is this process of thought, seeing, listening and challenge that shapes an educated mind. At Bowdoin we have believed since our founding in 1794 that education at its best is meant to serve the common good. We also have stated that a core goal of education ought to be to educate principled leaders for our society. A place for study and an environment that requires the serious contemplation of art and a creative process built on imagination, focus, determination, experimentation, exuberance, and subtlety are – we believe – vital components in the education of principled leaders and form a significant part of the foundation for educated citizens committed to the common good. And so, the arts are central to our conception of the liberal arts.
At Bowdoin at this time in our history we are experiencing a renaissance of the arts—a new vision of the role of the arts in our curriculum, supported in large measure by our superbly talented faculty and staff and housed in our Pickard and Wish Theatres, Studzinski Recital Hall and now the new Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Each, in its own right, fantastic, and each in the words of John Studzinksi—"dead chic."
To those of you who have, over so many years, participated in the process of this rebirth at Bowdoin, congratulations. And to those with us tonight who have, over recent years, been instrumental in creating tonight—this night of celebration for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, finally a brilliant reality for this College—congratulations to you. Tonight we celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Bowdoin College, and this College is grateful to you all for the legacy you have endowed to this College and to generations of students who will come to learn, study, imagine, and grow at this small college in Maine—our Bowdoin College.