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How Dartmouth College's Hood Museum is telling a new 'story of art'


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Well, spring classes at Dartmouth College are about to end. And, this term, students have had the opportunity to explore a revitalized museum right on campus.

From PBS station WGBH in Boston, Jared Bowen has our story.

It's part of series on arts and culture called Canvas.

Jared Bowen: Just off the green of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire is the campus' Hood Museum of Art. Newly renovated and expanded, it beckons once again. But this is not the same old.

John Stomberg: Be prepared for surprise.

Jared Bowen: During the Hood's three years of construction, John Stomberg had a chance most museum directors never get. While the Hood was closed and empty, he and his team entirely reimagined the way we experience art.

John Stomberg: We have many of the old favorites, but they're scattered in a different way. Our overall goal was to change the way the story of art is told.

Jared Bowen: This is where you enter the museum, in a gallery dominated by a sprawling work of art you have probably never seen by a contemporary artist you have probably haven't heard of.

John Stomberg: A lot of us know, who are the major artists today? But there are thousands more artists who make great artwork. So, let's open that up a little bit and bring more people into the conversation.

So, for example, the painting that I'm standing in front of is by the major Nigerian modernist, Obiora Udechukwu. And yet that's not a household name. The painting is amazing.

Jared Bowen: Stomberg says he's inverted the museum experience, changing where and how you will find particular art and artists.

He's already done what the Museum of Modern Art in New York recently announced it's about to do. You will still find Renaissance art here and the blockbuster artists like Picasso, but they're on the fringes of the museum, no longer center stage.

John Stomberg: In the core of the museum, you're going to find international or global contemporary art. All through the center of the museum, we're looking at the art of today, the art of now. We like to think of the Hood as a responsive museum, responsive to the world.

Jared Bowen: Is there a risk in doing what you have done? It's very unconventional.

John Stomberg: The risk is actually to tradition. So, are we risking tradition? Absolutely. But is that a role for an arts presenting agency? Absolutely.

Juliette Bianco: This is our gallery of indigenous Australian art, and it's from a major gift to the museum from about 10 years ago.

Jared Bowen: Juliette Bianco is the Hood's deputy director and a Dartmouth graduate who spent her formative years here, and says there's freedom in being a college museum, where experimentation is welcome with a fresh flow of ideas from students who constantly cycle through and curate shows.

John Stomberg: They came up with an amazing idea, consent. It's clearly a big issue on campus. It's clearly a big issue across the country. And it is, of course, a founding issue in photography.

Juliette Bianco: Incorporating student voices not only into the interpretation of our objects, but also into the decisions about which objects to add, how to interpret them, how to display them, if we should display them or not.

Jared Bowen: In this inaugural exhibition, students consider the issue of consent in myriad forms, like the agency a young soldier has, or doesn't have, in hazing rituals, or whether the work of secretive photographer Vivian Maier should be produced. She kept it hidden away.

John Stomberg: We can have these conversations. If we can't have these conversations in a museum, where are we going to have these conversations?

Jared Bowen: Here, they will be ongoing. With more than 70,000 objects, the Hood has one of the largest university collections in the country. Stomberg wants as much of that work as possible on view, which means rotating some galleries as quickly as every three months.

John Stomberg: One of the things that everybody is going to experience is how works of art change by the company they keep.

Jared Bowen: The museum doesn't charge for admission, and that impacts Hood's design.

John Stomberg: Spend 10 minutes, spend two hours, it's up to you, whatever is comfortable. One of the things that I love about a museum that's free is that you can come in and look at one work of art. You can come in and spend an afternoon with friends. It's totally variable. And so there's no one way to see the museum.

Jared Bowen: Except that, at the Hood, there's always with a view to the outside world.

I'm Jared Bowen of WGBH reporting for the "PBS NewsHour" in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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