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9: Close Williams College Museum of Art

Can Williams afford an art museum of its own? Perhaps not. The advantages of closing WCMA is that doing so would save a lot of money. I think that the annual budget is over $2.5 million. Other liberal arts colleges manage perfectly fine without their own art museums. Can’t Williams? Brandeis caused a ruckus by proposing to close its art museum, but the real problem in that case was the now-cancelled plan to sell the art from the museum, art that was donated, presumably, for public viewing rather than private collections. Williams could either donate the WCMA works to local institutions like MASSMocA or the Clark, or it could send them out on long-term loan to other museums. Or we could just put the art in storage.

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#1 Comment By Suz On March 31, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

I’m so glad nobody actually listens to you.
Yeah other liberal arts colleges function fine without an art museum, but then again they don’t have one of the best art history departments in the country.

I’m also fairly sure you have no idea how utterly priceless the stuff in that museum is. Oh yeah, and it gives undergrads a chance to have museum experience by the time they graduate; in larger schools graduate students take those jobs. Not having that art museum would seriously hinder a lot of people’s chances of going to graduate school or getting jobs.

And besides, it’s only art. It’s not like it’s *really* that important anyway.

#2 Comment By rory On March 31, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

^^^was on my tour! :)

#3 Comment By frank uible On March 31, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

Close Paresky and the theatre before WCMA, but maybe all three along with the chapel.

#4 Comment By JeffZ On March 31, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

This argument MIGHT hold some weight if Williams wasn’t known for its art history program. Closing this museum would completely eviscerate one of the college’s foremost strengths, a department that has produced many of the college’s most prominent and successful alumni.

It also happens to be a tourist attraction that brings a lot of people onto the Williams campus, thereby serving as a useful marketing tool. That is just a small bonus; the first concern is paramount.

#5 Comment By sophmom On March 31, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

A shout out to Faison, Stoddard and Pierson. (Or should I say a “Hello there”?)

Mr. David Kane believes that Williams could manage perfectly well without its museum. But keep in mind that this is a man who once made fun of the notion that a nine year old could have visited a museum a dozen times in a near decade! So, please, dear Sirs, have mercy, for he knows not what he speaks.

#6 Comment By sophmom On March 31, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

Rory @2:

The ways of the world are subtle.

I can’t help but wonder if your dancing didn’t have such a great effect on Suz as to not only influence her choice of Williams, but impact her respect for the arts to such a degree that she can so articulately, and swiftly, come to it’s defense here on EB! A full circle exhibited right here on the front page.

Now, if only someone had danced for David. Maybe it’s not too late.

#7 Comment By rory On March 31, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

i take no credit for suz’ respect for the arts or her verbal takedown here. I’m just proud i played a role in her being on ephblog. proud and sorry :)

#8 Comment By SCD ’87 On March 31, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

Unlike the lamented Rose at Brandeis, I imagine WCMA has some dedicated endowment and grant money that pays at least some of the $2.5 million operating costs cited. I also wonder if Chapin Library and the College Archives being “on ice” until at least 2013 is saving money. Any radical step as Dave mooted would be generate huge unfavorable publicity (because of the Williams Arts Mafia and the “panic” it hints), just what the college needs trying to get its next crop of students.

I think two retrospective questions should be asked :

1) Did Williams overbuild and the buildings they did construct, did they go overboard in the “finishing” — does Paresky need to look like the Four Seasons Vancouver?

2) The $500+ million raised for the Williams Campaign, how is that specfically helping with the college’s finances right now and how would Williams be worse off if the campaign wasn’t held.

#9 Comment By JeffZ On March 31, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

I hesitate to even post this due to the parallels to the I’m-so-sick-of-hearing-about-it Bolin Fellows, but SCD, case in point:


Yes, the college will have to raise matching funds, but that is 1.3 million the school would not have otherwise had …

#10 Comment By David On March 31, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

1) For the record, I have never proposed before, nor am I recommending now, that the College close WCMA. The goal of this discussion is to list all the places were Williams could, in theory, save $200,000+ per year from its operating budget. If you have other examples, please suggest them and we will add them to the list.

2) That said, I would close WCMA before I would rescind the no-loan financial aid policy or cut salaries. Would others choose differently? I am honestly curious. Another option would be to radically cut WCMA’s budget. (Not sure on how easy or hard that might be.)

3) The $500 million is already included in the College’s endowment. Each dollar raised during year X is added to the endowment (or spent) in year X. So, when the College reports that the endowment is at $1.1 billion (or whatever), that is all the money there is.

#11 Comment By current eph On March 31, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

I believe that most of the 500 million was spent on projects like expanding the faculty, building Paresky, building the theater, starting the library, and the tons of renovations that happened. Those were all pretty expensive things…so think of that 500 million as largely consisting of physical capital right now. In that sense, it wasn’t a bad investment–Paresky is essentially “worth” the same now as it was a year ago. If we had just held on to that ~40 million (or whatever it cost), it’d be worth far less.

On the subject of tutorials, I don’t know that expanding tutorials to 20 students would really help, as I’m not sure if most tutorials have a high enough demand to fill up. Many tutorials are on very specific “niche” subject, and as such, don’t have many more than 10 students clamoring to enroll. I think a smaller expansion of the program (maybe to 12 or 14 students) would be the way to go–I suspect that the vast majority of tutorials have at least 12 committed students wanting to enroll. However, I’m not clear exactly how this (or even doubling tutorials’ size) would save money. More students in tutorials would lead to fewer students in other classes, but I don’t think enough people are taking tutorials that even doubling their size would lead to few enough people enrolling elsewhere to allow the college to cancel classes (given that most likely students no longer enrolling in other classes would be spread pretty uniformly across those other classes). On top of that, I don’t get the sense that reducing the size of the faculty is either a real possibility the college is considering, or one that would necessitate an expansion of the tutorial program. Am I missing something?

#12 Comment By frank uible On March 31, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

What a bunch of coddled wimps! Like the American public, you all can’t face the sacrifices of necessary cut backs.

#13 Comment By JeffZ On March 31, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

Let’s see who is calling who a wimp Frank once we get to “cutting football” …

#14 Comment By sophmom On March 31, 2009 @ 4:03 pm



#15 Comment By Suz On March 31, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

Sophmom: yes, Rory’s breakdancing totally inspired a love of the arts for me. ;-) Although alas, he is not responsible for me being on Ephblog. That’s my own sense of masochism at work there.

For the record, my mom was in an information session at Williams and was talking to an alum. When she said I was going to be an art history major, he insisted that I go to Williams and nowhere else.

Also I think the Big 3 of the Williams Mafia are now all dead.

Rory, you’re still awesome.

#16 Comment By sophmom On March 31, 2009 @ 7:24 pm


I didn’t know you were an art history major, I was just ribbing Rory. But, how wonderful and what a great addition you are to EB.

Indeed, the Big 3 are all gone. I guess my “shout” would need to be pretty special to reach them. The “Hello There” is a reference to Faison’s gravestone at Williams. The lovely, whimsical engraving is on the backside of it. Have you seen it? Larry George once linked to an image, but I can’t find it now.

#17 Comment By frank uible On March 31, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

Jeff: Good idea! Along with mothballing Paresky, the theatre, WCMA and the chapel, let’s mothball all inter-collegiate athletics! Now we’re truly getting closer to the bare bones necessities.

#18 Comment By kthomas On March 31, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

I always stressed two things. One has to do with the connection of art to history, with the fact that every work of art was done somewhere and some when, and that this is very important to understand. The other side has to do with the medium of art, which is quite different from the subject. What we’re talking about is color and shape. You’d be surprised at the number of people who come to Williams, and I think this is generally true of American students, with absolutely no idea of what the word ‘shape’ means or what you can do with it and why it’s important. They have easily mastered the medium of language, but many of them know very little about the medium of art.

#19 Comment By sophmom On March 31, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

K @ 18:

I am not sure when Faison said that, but unfortunately it still applies.

There is such an emphasis on academics in American education, that the majority of students are graduating from high school, and moving into college, with very little basic background in the arts. It absolutely breaks my heart, that despite all of the studies pointing out its importance, there is still a dearth of exposure to the most basic components of (as Faison puts it) the “medium of art”. Even given how many have worked to change this, it still remains, one step forward, two steps backwards.

The irony (IMO), is, that schools like Williams, which encourage a commitment to the arts upon arrival, actually , perhaps unknowingly, perpetuate a system that throws the arts by the wayside. High SAT’s (which have almost nothing to do with creative quotient), a transcript laden with AP classes and academic awards, are all well and good except that artistic achievement is still considered an “extra”.

We have such a long ways to go…

#20 Comment By Suz On April 2, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

@ Sophmom: Why yes I am! And I’m currently finishing up dual masters degrees in art history and library science. Actually I think my undergrad years were harder than my grad school years, so I am very thankful to Williams for the rigorous training. The nice thing about being an art history person is that colleagues actually *know* where Williams is.

I was very blessed to have an art library in my backyard and the opportunity to volunteer there as a student.

Also on a note somewhat related to the post: I think there are about 10 grade school tours a week and about 30 undergraduate tour guides. Also every 101/102 class at Williams makes extensive use of WCMA. I was even able to write for my first publication through WCMA, namely through my class with Prof. Gerrard on fakes and a related show at WCMA. WCMA is a huge resource for the college and for the surrounding community. Its closing would be the equivalent of closing all of the chem labs and telling all of the chemistry students to just get by on lectures and theory, then expecting them to go out and work in a top lab or in a top graduate program.