Students, faculty share positive visual art experiences on both sides of the Charles

A student draws in an art studio in Lane Hall on March 9. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts’ acquisition of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in summer 2016 offered an opportunity for students and faculty at the SMFA to collaborate more with students on the Medford/Somerville campus. According to the students and faculty interviewed, this merger has been an all-around positive change.

Mags Harries, a professor at the SMFA, says the transition served to formalize the collaborative relationship between Tufts and the SMFA that had already existed for more than 60 years.

Harries, who has been a teacher of public art and installation at the SMFA for 36 years, said the transition was largely a positive event that bodes well for the future of both institutions.

She expressed excitement that the merger would encourage collaboration among faculty as well as students. As an example, she pointed to the accessibility of engineers and architects at Tufts who could be natural collaborators with her given her experience teaching public art.

Harries added that, as a 2016–17 Tisch College Faculty Fellow, she has had the opportunity to share her experience and expertise with fellow faculty members.

“This offers a way that the museum school … can think about how they can relate to other departments within the Tufts campus, and I think it will broaden everyone’s perspective,” Harries said. “That will be fabulous.”

Harries said that the SMFA’s mission as a school has remained intact even after acquisition by Tufts. She described the SMFA as an exploratory educational environment in which students are encouraged to experiment with various mediums and pursue their passions.

“[It’s] really comforting to know that we’re a school within a university rather than a department of the university,” she said.

Art students who take classes on the Medford/Somerville campus described their arts experiences there, saying that while the work they are doing has not been drastically altered by the acquisition, they see the merger as ushering in a new era of increased collaboration between the schools.

According to Taylor Koscho, a sophomore biochemistry major pursuing a studio art minor, the merger has increased the range of art classes available to Tufts students.

“I was looking at next fall, and there’s so many more classes, especially more variety,” Koscho said. “Before, it was more like just painting, watercolor. Now it’s more variety, different styles of art you can be doing, and it’s really cool.”

Koscho said she looked into majoring in art as well, but Tufts does not yet offer that major for students who are not also enrolled in the museum school as dual BFA/BA degree students.

Ben Kazer, a senior who has taken four art classes on the Medford/Somerville campus, said he benefitted from having classmates who were SMFA students.

“It brings us and those students together, and it’s cool to see them working in the same classes with us and see their work and get their perspective on things,” Kazer said.

Patrick Carter is the studio overseer at Lane Hall, where many arts classes on the Medford/Somerville campus often occur. He serves as an advisor for the studio art minor and supervises transfer of credit for the minor. Carter said art classes on the Medford/Somerville campus are geared toward individuals who have limited prior experience with visual art.

“That’s the fun of it, introducing people to art, and as they work, then they begin to realize that they’ve done something they didn’t think they could do,” he said. “That’s always a nice bonus for everyone, to witness that development.”

Brendan Kerlin, a sophomore minoring in studio art, agreed that students’ lack of experience contributed to, rather than detracted from, their takeaway from an art class.

“A lot of my classes have people that have never taken art before and who don’t plan on pursuing it ever again, and they just take it for fun or to try to help themselves draw a little better,” he said.

Carter said field trips to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and Harvard Art Museums were integral to the student experience in the classes he teaches both at Lane Hall and at the SMFA’s Fenway campus.

“[The MFA] has been a great repository, as well as other museums, like the [Isabella Stewart] Gardner Museum in Boston. I think it’s wonderful to have that resource to go to, to be able to see and be inspired by things,” Carter said. “Every semester, we’ll take a trip to the MFA.”

According to Carter, classes are accommodating of people regardless of their artistic backgrounds. Still, students can pursue drawing at various levels in his Drawing: Foundations” and “Drawing: Intermediate/Advanced” classes.

Kazer and Eddie Fultz, another senior who has taken studio arts classes, said they regretted delaying involvement with visual art until late in their Tufts careers.

“Second semester junior year, I started, and now I’m rushing through the minor. I’m taking too many courses right now,” Fultz said. “I feel like I can’t focus on sculpture or illustration. I’m doing it all at once … If I’d started earlier, I think it would be nice to take one or maybe two [art] courses per semester, to spread it out.”

Kazer said the lack of visibility of art classes at Tufts was a partial cause of his limited involvement early on and his ultimate decision not to minor in art.

“One thing I was disappointed about is I think Tufts underrepresents their art program. If you don’t seek it out, there’s not a lot of information available for you if you want to take art classes. Even before the merger, the fact that you could take SMFA classes, a lot of that information wasn’t readily available,” he said. “If I’d gotten on board earlier, I think I would have done the minor.”

Students voiced additional concerns about the SMFA/Tufts art program, including a lack of studio space on the Medford campus and the inconsistent, crowded SMFA/NEC shuttle, both of which the SMFA and Tufts administrations have promised to address.

“[Better] studio space would definitely be an improvement,” Kerlin said, explaining that Lane Hall is a renovated gym divided into three studios.

Koscho added that the expenses associated with art classes are often unnecessarily high. She described spending large amounts of money on supplies she didn’t have the chance to use in class.

“You get a humongous list and you probably use about half of it, so you spend a ton of money on supplies for just a half-credit course,” she said.

Kazer mentioned that art shows were an important way for students to find out about their peers’ projects. For example, Polykhroma, a collective that is dedicated to fostering “active artistic engagement” in the Tufts community according to its public Facebook page, hosts art shows featuring students’ work.

Students said that, overall, Tufts has allowed them to further explore their art. Koscho described a large drawing she made of herself in her prom dress. Kerlin’s series of seven drawings of leather jackets, done in ballpoint pen, is currently on display at the Tufts University Art Gallery. Kazer described a collaborative painting he worked on in a painting class, which grew out of a group photo taken at the MFA — every student painted their own section of the photo, and the composite group portrait now hangs in Aidekman Arts Center.

Carter described the feeling of gratification that came from working with his students.

If you give with all you have, you get [a lot] back because students are very open,” Carter said.