Summer 2022 | Director’s Letter: Renewal

As I write this at my desk in my temporary digs in Green Hall, I’ve just returned from a visit to the construction site of the new Museum in the company of senior project manager extraordinaire Jane Curry. While my primary purpose was seeing the week’s construction progress and getting Jane’s expert insights into the ever-evolving site, a bonus of this walkabout was seeing the bustle of human activity on campus as students rushed to submit their theses for Dean’s Date and a host of workers continued to set up the enlarged enclosures for Princeton Reunions—the first to take place in person since June 2019. A second bonus was experiencing that particularly vivid shade of lime green that dominates our lawns and trees in the first verdant flush of full-on spring.

These two conjoined phenomena—both of them fresh and powerful in their own ways—gave me vivid evidence of the power of renewal and specifically of the power of renewal in coming together. Living in Princeton, I’ve been able to enjoy the beauties of the campus throughout the past few years, from the initial months of lockdown, when the population of deer and foxes often seemed to outnumber the humans, to our physical return to the workplace late last summer. Witnessing the striking changes to our campus as new residence halls went up and an “old” Art Museum came down was for me a daily event. Seeing the campus today in a fresh light reminded me of how vivid the pleasures of rediscovering this beautiful place will be for so many alumni and other friends who have been away so long—and how vivid the surprise of seeing so many changes.

I face this year’s Reunions with particular pleasure and extend a special welcome to all returning alumni and other friends who might be reading this issue of the Museum magazine. We are delighted that you are back. We’ve prepared a number of special events for Reunions, including a provocative alumni panel in which we will consider what art museums need to be in the years ahead, in the face of so many sometimes contested demands and desires. By the end of Reunions, I will personally be sporting a new piece of apparel—a class jacket to be bestowed on me as a new honorary member of the Great Class of 1967. As an honorary member for some years now of the Great Class of 1970, I truly appreciate the privilege of being welcomed into the University family in these ways.

The imminent arrival of in-person Reunions thus has me thinking about the importance of joining together, both to gain a sense of belonging and to strengthen our communities. As much as it touches me emotionally, I understand the class jacket as a symbol—of being part of something larger than ourselves. For many of us, this sense of communal experience has suffered enormously in recent times, whether as a result of living in a fractured society or from the sheer isolation of more than two long years of COVID. While most of us may not be able to influence the course of war on the other side of the globe, we can strengthen our own communities—by coming together again and more often, by knowingly seeking to shape experiences of belonging for others, by being mindful that such seemingly simple things as gathering are not to be taken for granted.

Just as the vivid lime green of a spring lawn intensifies the act of looking, the simple act of gathering now seems infused with more vivid meanings—and not only for those coming to Reunions. Museum staff and our University colleagues are delighted to welcome the advent of a summer programming “reboot,” including our much-loved summer film series and annual summer barbecue, also on hiatus since summer 2019. As visitor restrictions and masking requirements continue to lift, we are particularly eager to welcome more visitors—with fewer hurdles to participation—to our two downtown gallery spaces, Art on Hulfish and Art@Bainbridge. Both were conceived as experientially driven gathering spaces but have struggled to achieve their fullest value over these past months. I am eager to be in these spaces myself, welcoming visitors and chatting about both life and the art on the walls—made available to all without an admission charge. 

My Museum colleagues and I have thought a lot about the power of coming together in recent months, and so it is no accident that this year we are launching what we hope will become a new signature event—and another opportunity for gathering. What we have dubbed the Museum’s first Museum for All Ball is scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 29, as a companion to our annual spring fundraising Gala. But this ball has a different purpose, intended to provide new, more accessible opportunities for gathering for participants of all ages, coming together in celebration of the arts and one another. I hope you’ll mark your calendars now to put on your party clothes (no black tie this time!) and join us in October. In the meantime, I look forward to coming together with more of you more often.

James Christen Steward
Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director