Popping into art

The work of pop artist Corita Kent will be the focus of an after-hours event for students at Harvard Art Museums.

By Olivia Munk '16

What would happen if an art museum went POP? This Thursday, the Harvard Art Museums will host The Harvard Art Museum Goes POP! – an after-hours event for students in celebration of the exhibit, Corita Kent and the Language of Pop. The event, which is first-come, first-serve, 8-10 p.m. at the Fogg Museum, will feature live music, food, student talks, demonstrations and a raffle. I sat down with Erin Northington, manager of student engagement programs, to discuss how Kent will be celebrated, how students can get involved in the museum and what’s popping at the Fogg. An edited version of our exchange follows. 

What can students expect on Thursday night?
We’re having pop-art themed activities all throughout the building in celebration of Corita Kent and the Language of Pop. Our goal for this is really to provide an opportunity for Harvard students to explore the galleries and explore the museum after hours with their own peers. It’s a crazy time of year for everyone, so we also want to give everyone a much-needed break. It’s a nice opportunity for us to celebrate this great show. It’s so worth celebrating. It’s vibrant and feels timely. Her work really speaks to our current world in a lot of ways. It’s a great opportunity for us especially to welcome people to the museum who may not have been here yet. It’s a fun night to come for your first time. We have the Intrinsics playing in the courtyard. We’re celebrating pop art, so the art of the sixties, so of course we wanted to hear the sound of the sixties, which is why we invited them to play this invite. We’ve partnered with Harvard Dining Services broadly, for the past semester. We’ve worked with the Food Literacy Project and Story Corps to collect stories on Corita Kent and her work in Boston.

What’s the StoryCorps aspect of the exhibition?
It’s an interview between two people who know each other very well; such as your parent interviewing you, so they’re very interesting conversations. There were eighteen interviews that happened. We invited certain people, such as former students of Corita Kent, and a professor from the Divinity school who knew her very well. We also had spots open to the public if people wanted to share their own stories. She was very inspired by food and social justice, so we invited two students from the Food Literacy Project to talk about their own experiences working in those same worlds. Six interviews were edited for on-air broadcast. You can listen to all six online.

Tell me more about the food.
Corita Kent was heavily inspired by food, and advertising about food, and food products in and of themselves, so we invited HUDS to be inspired by her work. They picked up on the meatball print, and so every dining hall on campus had meatballs earlier this month. It was so wonderful to see the excitement, and how chefs really put their own stamp on their art. They’ve designed a pop art inspired menu, so there will be some bites and sweets on Thursday night.

Do you find that these after-hours student events tend to bring in students who wouldn’t otherwise have frequented the museum?
Absolutely. We do find that these after-hours events bring in a lot of students who may not have made the time before five o’clock, when our galleries normally close. It’s really special to be in a museum at night. First and foremost, we’re a campus museum. We’re you’re museum, and it feels important to have these opportunities to open up the museum just for students.

How else can students get involved in the museum?
We have about 60 students who work at the museum at any given point. I work in the Division of Academic and Public Programs, so we have the lion’s share of students, about 45 of the 60 students working with us directly. The Board is one of them (15 people, at least one from each house), and we have our Student Guide program, a group of 24 this year. They work really hard to do a lot of work with our curators, research our object files and then develop their own tours. So it’s different from what a lot of other student docent programs do—our guides are not scripted, or given objects to work on in advance; they have a really rigorous training (they meet every week for two hours), but they can develop their tours based on their own disciplines and their own passions. So each tour is really different. There are 24 paths you can take through the museum.

What’s up next for the museum?
On November 12, Nicholas Mirzoeff is coming from NYU to offer thoughts on the visual commons, the space that we all share; he’s a professor of visual culture and is specifically thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement. Corita Kent’s later work became much more political than her earlier work, so it seemed to fit that connection. She never said that she was an activist, but her art seems to beg to differ, in many ways. That feels like something important to tease out. 

Harvard Art Museums Go POP! will take place 8-10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 at the Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street. Join the Facebook event here. Visual Commons: #BlackLivesMatter will be take place 5-10 p.m. Nov. 12. Join the Facebook event here.


See also: Museums, Visual Arts