Blank Slate Beckons Would-be Artists

Photo by Bob O'ConnorPhoto by Bob O'Connor
By Danielle Cotter

If you've taken a walk by Radcliffe Yard on Brattle Street recently, you've probably noticed a large, empty rectangle of white stone dust next to Buckingham House. But it isn't just a rectangle.

It's a blank slate, and it won't be empty for long.

The Radcliffe Institute launched its first Public Art Competition in October, inviting Harvard students to design an art installation for the new garden space. The winning student or team of students will receive an honorarium and the unique opportunity to oversee construction of an installation—a chance that most students, particularly those studying the arts and design, may covet but not experience until they are out in the workforce.

More than 80 teams preregistered for the art competition—a testament to the widespread student interest in the arts and their role at Harvard. Nearly 150 students from diverse fields comprise these teams, including undergraduate and graduate students, landscape architecture degree candidates, and economics, applied math, government, biology, and visual and environmental studies concentrators.

"We at the Radcliffe Institute are delighted at the strong student response to this competition. As Harvard's institute for advanced study, we are looking for ways to engage students in projects that push their talents in new directions and encourage them to cross disciplinary boundaries," said Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute. "We are also excited about giving students an opportunity to contribute aesthetically to our campus—and to share that contribution with the larger public."

The winning student or team can make use of the water, drainage, electricity, and Internet access that are available in the rectangular space. These features support a wide spectrum of possible art and landscape installations and this flexibility has attracted many students to the competition.

Avery Williamson, a Harvard College undergraduate in visual and environmental studies said, "I was drawn to the openness of the competition guidelines because they encourage big, creative ideas from a diverse array of thinkers." Her design, titled "Shift: Collide: Play," is inspired by a history research seminar on Harvard and slavery that she took during her first semester.

Taylor Dover, a graduate student in the architecture program at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, was interested in the garden's potential as "a venue for the experimentation and projection of emerging ideas in the field of design."

Still other students were drawn to the competition as a chance to engage artistically with the intellectual content they have been exposed to in their classes at Harvard. Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario, a master's candidate in the Arts in Education program at the Graduate School of Education, said that she found the Radcliffe Institute competition "an exciting opportunity to put into practice what I have learned during my first semester at the Ed School."

All submissions for the Radcliffe Institute Public Art Competition will be judged by a jury of faculty from Harvard's Radcliffe Institute, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate School of Design. The winning team will begin construction of their installation this summer, and by early next fall, that white rectangle on Brattle Street in Radcliffe Yard will host a work of public art.


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