Documentation & Preservation
Working together to document and preserve Senior House art
Student art is an important part of the history of Senior House, now 70 Amherst Street (E2). Since the building was reopened in 1997 following a renovation, residents have showcased their creativity in murals and pieces of art throughout the building.
In spring 2017, residents and alumni of Senior House started documenting the building’s art and murals with digital photographs and video. After July 2017 decision to use the residence for graduate student housing, a team of alumni and Division of Student Life (DSL) staff gathered to plan next steps for completing the documentation project. The team decided that DSL would hire a professional photographer and video crew to complete the project under the guidance of former Senior House presidents who helped lead the student and alumni documentation project.
Below is a timeline of what has been accomplished so far, including steps taken to manage summer storage and to preserve items of importance to the Senior House community.
- Senior House residents and alumni document about 75% of the murals and artwork in the building.
- DSL ensured that all community property left in the building is packed by movers and stored.
- Summer storage and bicycles remain in the building. They will be moved to a central location by mid-August and made available to students when they get back to campus.
- With guidance from Senior House alumni leaders, items including the tire swing and grilling equipment are stored in East Campus.
- A team of staff from DSL, the MIT Museum, and MIT Libraries meet with Senior House alumni leaders to create a plan to document the remaining 25% of artwork and murals in the building.
- July 11-13 – Photographer Michael Heath and a crew from Playback Inc. complete the documentation project. Still image retouching begins.
- July 12 – Painting in the building is suspended pending further discussion of art and murals.
- July 18 – An RFP for high pixel-density archival photography of murals deemed “culturally significant” by the Senior House community is issued to photographers recommended by MIT Museums and MIT Media Lab.
- July 18 – At Dean Nelson’s request, a former Senior House president leads a tour of the building for faculty and staff.
- July 27 – An email is sent to all incoming 70 Amherst Street graduate student residents with links to photos of art and murals in their private living spaces and shared suite lounges. They are given the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to retain the art or have it painted over, per MIT’s mural policy.
- Also in July:
- It was decided that plaques memorializing past officers of the community would remain in place.
- Dean Nelson asks Prof. Leslie Kolodziejski to lead a group of students, faculty, and staff to work with 70 Amherst Street’s student government in the fall to review and develop a plan for art and murals in the building. The charge is as follows:
As incoming Chair of the Committee on Student Life, Professor Kolodziejski will lead the 70 Amherst Mural Review Group (the Group), which will be responsible for making a recommendation to the 70 Amherst Street student government’s executive officers, the Head of House, and Dean Nelson on two matters: (1) the future of select murals that members of the Senior House community have identified as culturally or artistically significant, and (2) the future of the remaining murals located in the dorm’s hallways and common areas. Senior House residents, alumni, and Division of Student Life staff have completed the process of documenting all murals in 70 Amherst Street. Because the house is in transition and graduate students will reside there for the coming academic year, new murals should not be painted in the dorm for the foreseeable future.
The Group will consult with members of the MIT community to evaluate the suitability of preserving or obtaining archival quality photographs of those murals identified as culturally or artistically significant. In making its recommendations, the Group should consider the context of campus policies for students and employees and other factors it considers relevant such as: (1) the physical condition of the mural; (2) the historical, cultural, or artistic significance of the mural; (3) whether the mural promotes a respectful and welcoming living, learning, and working environment for residents and other community members; (4) the location of the mural (including whether it is located in public or private spaces); and (5) the purpose, motivation, and context of the mural, including whether it promotes positive discussion on a topic of importance; adds to an existing theme or highlights an aspect of society; recalls a significant story or event; or adds a desired visual aesthetic. The Group can be further guided by the Residence Hall Murals policy in the Mind and Hand Book (http://handbook.mit.edu/murals). Pending the Group’s report, which should be completed by January 2018, some murals may be covered temporarily.
There are certain murals that are not within the purview of this Group. If incoming residents request that Housing paint over any murals that are in private rooms or interior suite common areas, Housing will honor those requests. Also, doors with murals that are not identified as being significant will be stored. Doors that depict a significant mural will be covered temporarily pending the Group completing their recommendation regarding the future of the existing significant murals.
- Painting starts on rooms and shared suite spaces that incoming occupants have requested be painted.
- Questionable murals that incoming residents might find offensive, including some deemed “culturally significant” by the Senior House community, are covered pending group review.