By Ben Terris
Two weeks after Brandeis University announced it would sell off its art collection to ease economic hardships, Michael Rush, the Director of the Rose Art Museum, held an hour and a half public town meeting Tuesday night to discuss the state of the museum. Nearly 300 people, both young and old, packed a room filled with the vibrant colors of modernist painter Hans Hoffman to ask questions, share thoughts, and propose ways to save the museum.
Rush began the evening by rattling off names of the artists whose works inhabit this “modest Brandeis building”—Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, among them —and then said to much applause, “Ladies and gentlemen, at the moment these artworks are not for sale.”
For everyone present, the key phrase was “at the moment.” Despite a recent public apology from University President Jehuda Reinharz for how he handled the situation, the nearly 7,000 artworks at the Rose Art Museum are still in danger of being sold off. For the people who attended this town meeting this was a tragedy.
“This museum is one of several sacred places on this campus,” said Ramie Targoff, a professor of English at Brandeis. “Everyone in this room will see that it is a sacred spot for many people in our community.”
For Peter Kalb, a professor of art history, what makes the Rose sacrosanct is both academic and philosophical.
“There is certainly discussion on campus now about the false dichotomy of art and academics. Art is academics,” Kalb said. “This is the place where art becomes a tool to further our own creativity, further academic pursuits, and also to make the world a better place.”
Perhaps the most rousing part of the evening took place when a surprise guest, Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, shared an exchanged with Rush.
McCarthy spoke about how important the museum was to the city of Waltham saying that “art is a priority” and that “it would be terrible for it to go.”
The problem, McCarthy said is in trying to find enough money to maintain the museum for the future.
To this point, Rush gave his most stirring response of the evening.
“We are self sufficient,” he said. "What needs to be maintained is Brandeis. The only money the university gives the museum is money for lights and electricity. My guess is whatever they do with the museum will use lights and electricity. Closing the museum does not save Brandeis university one penny.”
In addition to thoughts on the museum, discussion included proposals to utilize the internet to raise money, teary-eyed well wishes for museum workers, and chastisements on the administration.
“With respect to the board and administration,” Rush said. “You are not on the side of history here, not even the side of Brandeis’s own history.”