Public Art Program

Ceramics photo
Copper scuplture by Richard Fleischner distinguishes the façade of the OFA's headquarters at 74 Mt. Auburn St. in Cambridge


Through its Public Art Program, the Office for the Arts pursues explorations of public spaces by commissioning artists to develop new work at Harvard. Through long-term residencies, visiting artists come to know Harvard's places, staff, students, faculty and public. Artists visit classes and meet with individuals and groups in the Harvard community. The temporary works that they create often interpret spaces that are owned by Harvard, but are used publicly. Commissioned works include those from leading artists Sanford Biggers, Lee Mingwei, and Richard Fleischner.

In interaction with the artist-in-residence, students explore the meaning of and possibilities for art in the public sphere. The Program also sponsors lectures by visiting artists, studio visits, project site visits in the Boston area, and sponsorship of student-created works for Harvard's ARTS FIRST festival, with guidance from a Boston-based artist.

Catalogues published by the Program include: Five Views: One Landscape, A Journal of Experiments in Public Art, and, with the Harvard University Art Museums, Canopy: David Ward, A Work for Voice and Light in Harvard Yard. The Program also has worked together over the years with the City of Cambridge's Arts Council, among other peer institutions, including collaboration for its Waterworks Symposium, and symposium and publication "Conservation and Maintenance of Contemporary Public Art."

Program History: Selected Projects

To commemorate the OFA’s move to its current headquarters at 74 Mt. Auburn Street, the Public Art Program commissioned a permanent work from artist Richard Fleischner for the façade of the Office for the Arts’ main building, working in cooperation with the Harvard Planning Office, Harvard Square Business Association, and other Harvard and neighborhood constituents.

In 2012, the Public Art Program and ARTS FIRST festival presented Slow Dancing, David Michalek's video installation featuring larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers. The artist recorded each subject's movement, against a black backdrop, at 1,000 frames per second (compared to standard film's 30 frames per second) to produce a perception-altering performance freed from the constraints of gravity and context. Projected on to the facade of Widener Library, Slow Dancing transformed Harvard Yard, calling forth its symbolic significance as a place for contemplation.

In 2009, visiting artist Sanford Biggers created a temporary installation, Constellation, in Memorial Hall, complemented by a performance in collaboration with vocalist Imani Uzuri, members of Harvard’s a cappella group KeyChange, and instrumentalist Sumie Kaneko.  The installation combined diverse cultural influences, from Buddhism to the African diaspora experience, exploring underlying relationships and suggesting that we transcend divisive social realities through our shared affinity for the symbolic and the spiritual.  The tenor of this piece was extended by the performance, which offered an imaginative mash up of Sufi poetry, Sun Ra, and black spirituals.  A lecture by the artist and a panel discussion, in collaboration with the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and the Harvard Art Museum respectively, were presented in conjunction with the residency. More...

A groundbreaking partnership between the Office for the Arts and Department of System Biology (DSB), Harvard Medical School, brought artist Brian Knep to the university in 2005-2007 for a residency—a first for the Medical School. Knep created a temporary site-specific work in Memorial Hall, the landmark structure dedicated to those from the university who fell fighting for the Union during the Civil War. Deep Wounds explored the lost relationships that result from conflict, and posed the complexity of reconciliation. The project won the “Best Time-Based Work, 2006” from the International Association of Art Critics/New England and an honorary mention in The Prix Ars Electronica International Competition for Cyber Arts.  It was remounted at the Ron Feldman Gallery, NYC, in 2007.  Knep’s use of algorithms describing biological models to create his computer-generated interactive artworks provided a springboard for two roundtable discussions during his residency: “Sentient Architecture: Examining the Intersection of Interactive Technologies and Physical Space,” hosted by the Graduate School of Design, and “Growth, Form, and Interaction: Artists and Engineers Look to Biology,” hosted by the DSB. More...

The Harvard Seers Project was a temporary interactive artwork created by Lee Mingwei for his residency in 2002-03 and realized in collaboration with the Harvard community. Within a simple, elegant enclosure created by Lee and installed in Memorial Hall, self-identified Harvard seers received individuals seeking guidance. Nine seers from the university community collaborated with the artist and audience members to explore the issues of intimacy, trust, and self-awareness inherent in this artwork. Lee recreated the Seers Project, including the pavilion constructed at Harvard, for presentation in the 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York, the museum’s signature survey of emerging and established American artists. More...

Selected Artists Who Have Participated in the Program

Sanford Biggers
Marty Cain
Mark Dion
Gary Duehr
Richard Fleischner
Jane Goldman
Mags Harries
Brian Knep
Kristin Lucas
Ross Miller ‘77
Lee Mingwei
Jody Pinto
Martha Schwartz
Nancy Selvage
Bert Snow
Michael Van Valkenburgh
David Ward