Dartmouth Throws a Party to Celebrate Opening of the Black Family Visual Arts Center

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Graced with a sparkling summer afternoon, a crowd of more than 450 gathered in Dartmouth’s new Maffei Arts Plaza to celebrate the opening of the Black Family Visual Arts Center and the formal dedication of Ellsworth Kelly’s Dartmouth Panels.

Leon Black ’73 speaks at the September 14 celebration

Former trustee Leon Black ’73 speaks at the September 14 celebration of the opening of the Black Family Visual Arts Center. (photo by Eli Burak ’00)

Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, administration, alumni, students, and other members of the Dartmouth community filled seats on the Plaza lawn, sat on the benches and stood along the sidewalks.

It was a day for speeches, and it was a day for feasting the eye on the radiant colors of Kelly’s wall sculpture, the imposing Visual Arts Center, and the spacious courtyard that stretches between them.

It was also a day for thanks. Speaker after speaker credited President Carol L. Folt and former presidents James Wright and Jim Yong Kim for their vision and hard work in bringing into being the Black Family Visual Arts Center, which, says Folt, “serves as a capstone and a crown jewel in the longstanding legacy of the visual arts at Dartmouth.”

They thanked former trustee Leon Black ’73 for making it possible, and Ellsworth Kelly for lending his artistic genius to the undertaking.

Folt says the Visual Arts Center fulfills the dream Leon Black described when he said, “We hope this building fosters creativity among Dartmouth’s students and faculty—that it inspires them to dream big, be courageous, take artistic risks—and infuses them with the life-changing power of the visual arts.”

President Carol Folt speaks at the celebration

President Carol Folt tells the gathering that “so many of our students are taking classes in the arts, and so many more will be clamoring to do so in this building.” (photo by Eli Burak ’00)

The Visual Arts Center and Dartmouth Panels are major components of the Year of the Arts, a celebration of the excellence of the arts at Dartmouth.

The Visual Arts Center is named in honor of Leon Black and his wife, Debra, longtime patrons of the arts and leading art collectors who have supported many Dartmouth initiatives and contributed $48 million toward the Visual Arts Center. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates, the 105,000-square-foot building anchors Dartmouth’s Arts District, which includes the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Hood Museum of Art.

The Maffei Arts Plaza, which features a formal lawn and sculpture terrace, was a gift of Sharon and Greg Maffei ’82.

Dartmouth Panels, created for its permanent site on the façade of the Hopkins Center, was commissioned by the Black family. Kelly, who has known Leon Black for about five years and attended the dedication, says he’s extremely pleased with the way the sculpture turned out.

“Mr. Black wanted me to think about doing something here, and I said, well, send me some photographs,” Kelly says. “And when I saw those curves and the cement bars coming down, I said, oh, I won’t do a single work here, I’ll do as many panels as you have. So I don’t know what a five-panel work is called, but that’s the piece I made.”

In his opening remarks, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael Mastanduno says there are two words that come to mind when he discusses the Black family: passion and generosity.

“I am often asked, as dean of faculty, what will this building do for the faculty and students?” he says. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to bring together the teaching and creativity and research that takes place at Dartmouth. This building will form the hub of the new arts district along with the Hop and the Hood. This is an extraordinary tool for the retention and recruitment of faculty members, and to continue to bring extraordinary students to Dartmouth.”

Board of Trustees Chair Steve Mandel ’78 reiterated the theme of thanks. “This really is a day of thanksgiving,” he says. “Today we get to celebrate the opening of a truly wonderful facility, a facility that has been over a dozen years in the making. All of us on the Board of Trustees are excited about the wonderful opportunities for creative expression that this building will inspire.”

Both Amy Lawrence, professor of film and media studies, women’s and gender studies, and comparative literature, and Colleen Randall, professor of studio art, praised the new center for the way it brings the visual arts courses together in one place.

“For the first time,” says Randall, “our students will have a central forum, a space to meet and share ideas.”

Leon Black, the ceremony’s final speaker, gave a resounding thanks to Wright, “a man of vision,” to Folt, “who has been an amazing friend,” and to the “armies of people involved, armies of talent and of dedication.”

Saying his relationship with Dartmouth “has always been a very special love affair,” Black offered thanks to Ellsworth Kelly “for lending your creative genius with this monumental work,” and ended his speech with a simple statement. “From my family, we are proud and honored to be part of this accomplishment. Thank you.”

In addition to faculty-led tours of the new building, an exciting slate of events accompanied Friday afternoon’s ceremony, from Yo-Yo Ma’s solo concert Thursday evening to the Telluride at Dartmouth Film Festival, which runs September 14 through 18. A special exhibition of 14 distinguished alumni artists opened Friday in the Visual Art Center’s Nearburg Gallery and the Top of the Hop.

The Nearburg Arts Forum and Nearburg Gallery were gifts of Charles Nearburg ’72, Thayer ’74, in memory of his late son, Rett, who was an aspiring artist.

Year of the Arts at Dartmouth logoThe Year of the Arts is a celebration of the excellence of the arts at Dartmouth. Major initiatives this year include the opening of the Black Family Visual Arts Center, the 50th anniversary of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, as well as a yearlong series of interdisciplinary academic programs that explore the intersections between the arts and other disciplines.

Dartmouth has long been a leader in integrating arts into the collegiate experience: from the establishment of one of the nation’s first campus-based performing arts centers, to the commissioning of new works and artist-in-residence programs. The diverse series of arts programs and initiatives this year exemplify Dartmouth’s historic commitment and role as a model for the artistic campus of the 21st century. For more information, please visit arts.dartmouth.edu.