Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2021

More public art displays needed throughout campus

By NICHOLAS DEPAUL | October 18, 2012

The Homewood campus is aesthetically pleasing in many ways: the continuity of red brick, white marble and aged copper intermingled with ample green spaces creates a classical and inspiring educational environment.

But the campus is sorely in need of more public art. Many campuses across the country and world are home to signature monuments that serve as centerpieces around which students bond and a community arises. Rising in popularity are semester or yearlong installations, like Joe McCreary’s “Goldie,” a giant robot at the University of Alabama, that spice up a campus and provoke debate and discussion.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about Hopkins. Take, for example, “Willow,” otherwise known as the “stump outside of Levering Hall.” The initial goal of its donors was to “raise artistic awareness at Hopkins.” Most students likely agree it has done anything but that. What about the giant Johns Hopkins head, flanked by pensive and well endowed attendants, that graces the entrance to the Mattin Center? The statue is frankly awesome, but its location leaves much to be desired.  For the next few semesters, Mr. Hopkins will be surveying ugly road construction.

Other attempts at art on campus have been shockingly self-serving. The portrait of Hopkins in the FFC is strategically placed to hide a misspelling in the giant painted mural behind it. The Levering dining area is filled with aerial shots of the campus. Even when eating, students are reminded only of school. Consider the recent “Road Scholar” project, which used thousands of shoes to instill proper street crossing methods in students. Aren’t there thousands of poor children who could use shoes in Baltimore?

There are a few “exhibitions” on campus, but they have gone unchanged for years. In Nolan’s, the walls are decorated by mock movie posters. Some are frankly awful and amateur, and reflect poorly on the skills of Hopkins students. The same goes for the class projects on display outside the Arellano Theater.

This state of affairs is sad, but easily remedied. One can understand if the school would rather spend money elsewhere, but public art need not be expensive. Just take a stroll through the Digital Media Center or the Study Abroad office. Both are filled with student-produced artwork that distracts from the daily grind and often provides a glimmer of humor. Why keep all the incredible travel photography imprisoned on the overcrowded walls of Study Abroad? These photos should be spread around campus in rotating exhibitions, so that the general student public (that is, the many who never enter the office) can share in their peer’s experiences.

Many Hopkins students want to contribute their creative talents and raise the aesthetic value of our campus. In the WJHU radio station, an entire wall is covered by a fantastic mural designed and painted by students. Photography classes remain some of the most difficult to get due to their popularity: the work generated should be on display in classrooms and lobbies.

Some students choose to take courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) a few miles away, but many remain totally unaware that one of the best art schools in the world is our literal neighbor. Exhibiting work from MICA students and Hopkins students enrolled in courses there would increase awareness of a valuable resource and the amount of creative art on campus.

The solutions are easy and cheap. University administration should commit to increasing and improving public art on Homewood campus.

Nicholas DePaul is a senior Sustainable Globalization major from Los Angeles, Calif. 

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