Art at the University of Rhode Island is an interesting subject in concern of the campus. Walking around campus, one may not notice the intricate murals in Edwards Hall, the stonework in front of the Robert L. Carothers Library or even the herbal gardens in front of the Pharmacy Building.
“There’s actually quite a bit [of art] but it’s all tucked away,” Cheryl Foster, Honors College associate director and honors program professor, said. Unbeknownst to some, pieces of art have been placed around campus, in and around most of the buildings.
Ron Onorato, chairman of the art history department, said the problem with the campus art is that people “see it visually, but they don’t process it and remember it.” Onorato said the art is present everywhere, but there is no information on a plaque or anything similar to go along with it that would help people connect with and process the beautiful pieces.
“Unlike some other colleges and universities, we do not have a museum of our own where we store or catalog or control all of our art so in result it’s all diffused,” Foster said. “There’s no Â unified URI art holdings database.”
In addition to not having information available near the artwork, trying to learn about the different pieces of art on campus is near impossible. Foster said she “[doesn’t] think the university cataloged its own art very well. There were in fact some great works here, but where could you go to find out what the university holds?”
Since some of the pieces are not labeled, it is difficult for anyone to look them up on their own. And if they were interested enough to try and research the piece, they would encounter further obstacles.
Foster challenged an honors class she recently taught to counter this problem of hidden campus art. The result is a virtual interactive art tour called URI’s Cabinet of Curiosities that walks the viewer through the various art installments URI has to offer, explaining the location, history and commission of each piece. The site can be found at uriarttour.wordpress.com.
The university does not have the best track record when it comes to preserving art on campus. During a 1960s renovation to Edwards Hall, a mural by Rhode Island resident Gino Conti was completely covered over. After recent renovations to the hall in the past six years, the mural was discovered and has since been restored with its pieces finally back in display in Edwards Hall. That is almost 50 years in which a piece of history hidden away, thought to have been destroyed.
“A lot of the [art on campus] is commissioned professionally,” Foster said. A Rhode Island law known as 1 percent for the Public Art Program states “it to be a matter of public policy that a portion of each capital construction appropriation be allocated for the acquisition of works of Â art to be placed in public places constructed.” In Foster’s words, it “requires any new construction [funded by the state] to devote a certain percentage [1 percent] of the entire budget to art.”
Torsion III, the sculpture in front of Lippitt Hall, and even the herb gardens in front of the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, are products of this legislature.
This art is meant to reflect the university, its heritage and its students, but students and visitors alike are not able to see this because the information is not directly available to them. There is a vast quantity of art on campus, but, “Good luck trying to find it all,” Foster said. “It’s everywhere.”