During the first week of my freshman year, I attended the introductory meeting of the former student organization Harvard Art Museums Undergraduate Connection (HAMUC). As I waited for the meeting to start, I listened to seniors chatting about the art history community at Harvard: “Professor X is such an amazing lecturer,” “That reading was unbelievably dense,” “The methods of this art historian are truly problematic.” I remember looking at these students in admiration, wondering if I would be able to make similar kinds of confident, educated assessments by the end of my college career. Once the meeting was under way, these students explained to us the merits of working with the Harvard Art Museums. I marveled at their responsibilities.
Now I am graduating, and that first encounter with the museums seems so far away. I never would have guessed that I would leave Harvard motivated to be a curator: namely, the curator of my own path within the art world.
My experiences at the museums exposed me to so many dimensions of art-related work. At the start of my sophomore year, I rose to the position of co-president of HAMUC. Working with the Division of Academic and Public Programs, I planned events, sometimes for more than 400 undergraduates. Eager to involve myself even more, I audited curators’ training sessions for student guides and formally joined the Student Guide program in my junior year. I attended and participated in meetings related to publications, educational efforts, Web design, and curating. These experiences provided me with invaluable exposure to the operations of a teaching museum. More than that, they granted me freedom to form my own opinions—to forge my own path.
Last fall, I embarked on a project that built on my work with the museums. For the college’s art and literary publication, The Harvard Advocate, I invited contemporary artists whose work my team members and I deeply respect to participate in an issue of the magazine. The theme of the issue was “trial,” and we successfully solicited work from Edward Burtynsky, Hans Haacke, Liz Magic Laser, Peter Liversidge, Dorothea Rockburne, Ryan Trecartin, and Robert Wilson, among others. Many of these artists contributed new work to the issue and were excited to support and collaborate with students. As part of Dorothea Rockburne’s cover design, every copy of the issue featured hand-sculpted copper wire, which students assembled over several long and chatter-filled nights.
As I collaborated with artists and found myself with executive responsibilities, I channeled all of the examples of intelligent leadership that I’d encountered at the Harvard Art Museums. It was there that I developed the skills and confidence to embark on this project of my own: I had, after all, grown into my own version of those seniors I admired four years ago.
Friends, as the renovated and expanded Harvard Art Museums open this November, I hope you will engage with them as much as you possibly can. The museums will pay you back in confidence and offer a good return on your investment.
Camille Coppola graduated this week, with an AB in the History of Art and Architecture.