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).
In spring 2017, residents and alumni of Senior House started documenting the building’s art and murals with digital photographs and video. After the 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 residents who helped lead the student and alumni documentation project.
Also in July 2017, Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson asked Prof. Leslie Kolodziejski to lead the 70 Amherst Mural Review Group—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. Below is a timeline of milestones related to the work DSL did with the Senior House and 70 Amherst Street communities.
Recent Milestones (in reverse chronological order)
The mural review group submitted recommendations to 70 Amherst student leaders, the house team, and DSL on what should be painted over and what should be uncovered so that residents can decide on what remaining murals should be painted over or retained. The group also recommended that students moving into 70 Amherst be allowed to determine if they want to retain existing art in shared spaces and private rooms.
The 70 Amherst Street student government, house team, and DSL accepted the group’s recommendations.
Fall 2017 - Spring 2018
The 70 Amherst Mural Review Group convened in September 2017 to tour the building and see the art and murals, which were temporarily uncovered. Over subsequent months, the group heard from faculty heads of house about the impact of student art on their communities, from housing and facilities staff on the impact of murals on building maintenance, and from campus planning staff on future residential development and housing renewal.
In March, the group completed an assessment of individual art pieces and murals to determine immediate next steps. The group made recommendations about leaving a mural covered; painting over a mural; and uncovering but letting the 70 Amherst Street community decide whether they want to retain or paint over the mural.
Over this same time period, work began on taking high-resolution photographs of culturally significant works as chosen by Senior House alumni. Those pieces were shown as part of a Senior House art show in the Wiesner Art Gallery (W20) that ran April 21 – May 7, 2018.
- Painting started on rooms and shared suite spaces that incoming occupants had requested to be painted.
- Questionable murals that incoming residents might find offensive—including some deemed “culturally significant” by the Senior House community—were covered pending group review.
- July 11-13 – Photographer Michael Heath and a crew from Playback Inc. completed the documentation project. Still image retouching began.
- 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 was issued to photographers recommended by MIT Museums and MIT Media Lab.
- July 18 – At Dean Nelson’s request, a former Senior House president led a tour of the building for faculty and staff.
- July 27 – An email went 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 were offered the opportunity to decide for themselves if they wanted 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 asked Prof. Leslie Kolodziejski to lead a group of students, faculty, and staff to develop recommendations for art and murals in the building and present them to the 70 Amherst student government. The charge was 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.
- DSL ensured that all community property left in the building was packed by movers and stored.
- Summer storage and bicycles remained in the building. They were moved to a central location in August and made available to students when they returned to campus.
- With guidance from Senior House alumni leaders, items including the tire swing and grilling equipment were 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.
- Senior House residents and alumni documented about 75% of the murals and artwork in the building.