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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose media coverage rebounds after reopening

Published: November 4, 2011
Section: Featured, News

What a difference two years makes.

This was the common sentiment among not just Brandeis University students and faculty last week, but for the media and art aficionados as well.

The Rose Art Museum reopened its doors to the public Thursday, Oct. 27, more than two years after it nearly closed permanently due to financial difficulties. Back in 2009, at the height of the current economic crisis, Brandeis was reported to be struggling financially. The university’s endowment had dropped 25 percent, it faced millions of dollars of debt and fundraising prospects were grim. So university trustees voted to close the museum and sell the 7,183 works of art housed in The Rose. Then-President Jehuda Reinharz said that the museum, a “hidden jewel,” did not receive enough foot traffic and there was just not enough space to display all of its great works.

The media acknowledges that “it hasn’t been easy for the school to move past all of the bad press and bad feelings that followed its proposal to sell its stellar art collection and close The Rose,” as Andrea Shea wrote in a WBUR story last week. Still, they celebrate the events with optimism. As Geoff Edgers wrote in a Boston Globe article, “Rose Art Museum Revival,” “They will gather on campus for a different occasion: to celebrate the Rose’s 50th anniversary, stroll through the renovated museum when it reopens with exhibitions showcasing the collection, and send a very public message that the Rose is reborn.”

The possible demise of The Rose was met with extreme surprise, shock, anger and outrage from people of all walks of life, from Brandeis students to art scholars. Students gathered outside the museum to protest the administration and staged a sit-in inside the museum when the announcement was made in 2009. They even created a Facebook group, “Save The Rose Art Museum,” which grew to more than 7,000 members.

The news had an impact far beyond Brandeis’ campus. The media and art world at large were also shocked and devastated by the news. The Rose Art Museum, highly regarded as one of the best university art museums in New England, also served as “one of the artistic and cultural legacies of American Jewry,” as museum chairman Jonathan Lee told The New York Times. It was unfathomable that anyone could simply close the museum. Some art scholars feared that it would open a “floodgate” of university museum closings. Others called it a “stark statement of priorities,” an insult to all that art represents, and even compared it to a death.

Brandeis art history and studio art majors were especially distressed, as the closing of the museum seemed to send a message that their field of study was useless in today’s society, that art could just be disposed of to raise money for other academic disciplines. Similarly, art experts reacted with concern to the fact that art programs in universities are gradually becoming smaller and getting less attention, and fine arts are often the first programs to be cut in times of financial challenges.

But since last Thursday, the world has seen The Rose in a much different light. Now that the museum has reopened to the university community and the general public, the story of The Rose is being hailed as a triumphant victory. The Art Newspaper even compared it to “Lazarus rising from the dead” and praised the museum’s “renewed commitment to its art.”

Last Thursday’s event was really “a three-pronged celebration,” Roy Dawes, artist and director of museum operations said in an interview with The Hoot. “We’re celebrating the reopening, the renovation of the place and the victory of being able to keep it open.” About 900 people attended the opening, including iconic artist James Rosenquist.

Dawes hopes the newly renovated facility will take on a more “integral” and prominent role in daily life at Brandeis. He hopes that the museum will become a center of academic life for all departments, not just for art students, and that more people will recognize how important it is to Brandeis’ goal of interdisciplinary learning.

“Before the museum closed, we had many different types of students coming in here. We had an economics class come in to study advertising images in art. This is what we’d like to see more of,” Dawes said. “Our goal now is to make people feel comfortable just coming into the museum and bringing themselves into the artwork.”

Dawes added, “There is a silver lining to this whole situation: that people and the art world realized how important The Rose was to Brandeis and to Boston as a whole.”