In Central Maine, a Rambling Rose?

By John O. Harney

The Colby College Museum of Art this now has surpassed the Portland Art Museum as Maine’s largest art museum, thanks to a new $15 million Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion that holds nearly 300 of the 500 works given to Colby by Peter and Paula Lunder.

Peter Lunder is a Colby alumn and former president of Dexter Shoe Company, which was founded by his uncle Harold Alfond. Lunder and his wife’s collection includes works by American masters such as Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Sol LeWitt, and Edward Hopper.

The Lunders told the Boston Globe that they favored the Colby museum because visitors will actually see the artwork, rather than having it hidden in storage in a larger museum. Under the agreement, the pavilion will feature only the Lunders’ donated works for a year, then add other pieces from the museum’s 8,000-piece collection.

Despite the recent impulse among reformers to get higher ed out of investment in things that don’t fit neatly into teaching (like art?), New England is home to nearly 100 college-affiliated museums, many at private colleges from Dartmouth College’s acclaimed Hood Museum of Art to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.

In 2009, the worldwide financial crisis threatened some campus art museums, including the Rose. Brandeis had announced it would close the museum that opened in 1961 and auction off portions of its $350 million collection, as part of a plan to meet general university financial needs. The news was greeted with a storm of protests. On the university’s own Rose webpage, three alumni who are museum professionals charged that the university’s “statements reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the crucial role of art and art museums, not only at Brandeis but at colleges and universities throughout the country.” The Rose was saved. But skepticism remains in an age of reexamination of higher education “business models.”

 

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