MSU Museums Preserving art and history

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There’s a building to the north of campus that has been said to resemble a silver shark or a spaceship and stands out from the red, brick architecture of North Neighborhood. Designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid and opened in 2015, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum is a building of angled steel that is now a hallmark of MSU’s campus: a necessary stop for all university tours. The museum even has claim to fame on the silver screen, having been used as a set piece in director Zack Snyder’s 2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Named after famed alumni, philanthropists and founders of the Broad Foundation — Eli and Edythe Broad — the Broad Art Museum promotes itself as an “engaged public institution that reflects through art the long-standing global focus of Michigan State University,” and a “a vibrant center for questioning and understanding the world.” Azya Moore, a junior studying studio art and a gallery guide at the museum, has seen this interaction between art and viewer firsthand.

“I have also benefited by standing in the galleries and watching what it is that people go to first, or how they respond to certain pieces and how they ignore others … learning firsthand the do’s and don’ts to my own visual work,” Moore said.

The Broad Art Museum is a place of cultural exchange, seeking to host international artists and American artists whose works speak to a specific historical moment. Many of the museum’s exhibitions aim to educate their viewers, and the museum is frequented by local schools’ field trips. The museum makes art readily accessible to those who traditionally have not had the social capital — money, prestige or even geographical location — to experience it.

During open hours, entry is free to all, including college students, and gallery guides are available to answer questions and ensure visitors “getting the best experience possible,” according to Moore. When people are granted access to art as they have been at the Broad Art Museum, the art has the room to “build dialogue and conversation between the artist and the viewer.”

The Broad is not the only museum on campus that seeks to educate and entertain; it’s a little-known fact that the MSU Museum is one of the earliest established museums in the nation. It opened in 1857, only two years after the university’s founding in 1856 as Michigan Agricultural College. It’s a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, borrowing objects from the Smithsonian’s collections and collaborating to develop community outreach and educational curriculum. Located on West Circle Drive, the museum is a hidden gem on campus. Though some students are unaware of its existence, the building houses many artifacts in the fields of natural history, arts and culture including full elephant skeletons and traveling exhibits.

Like the Broad Art Museum, the MSU Museum is free of charge and hosts many field trips from the Lansing area. It makes the history of the local area and the wider world accessible to school children, college students and visitors alike. Stephanie Palagyi, the MSU Museum’s communications coordinator, emphasized the museum’s role as a “free resource for the community,” where exhibits and outreach programs “inspire visitors to discover science, culture and history through object-based learning.”

Both museums fulfill the human need for learning as well as make art and history accessible to the public. Together, they help nurture an atmosphere of inquiry to inspire generations of future artists, historians and lifelong learners.