Emerson Contemporary awarded grant to improve campus art galleries


Emerson’s media gallery. Photo by Maddie Khaw.

By Maeve Lawler and Maddie Khaw

Emerson received a $114,000 grant from a Massachusetts-based foundation last year, intended to help improve the art galleries of Emerson Contemporary.

The grant, approved by the George I. Alden Trust in Dec. 2021, will fund renovations to Emerson’s Media Art Gallery, located on Avery Street, as well as improvements to the Huret and Spector Gallery in the Tufte Performance and Production Center. 

The Alden Trust is a foundation that focuses primarily on funding capital equipment and capital renovations, as opposed to scholarship endowments or operations. When trustee Jim Collins reviewed Emerson Contemporary’s application, he said there were two aspects that stood out to the trustees. 

“We certainly thought the gallery would be important to Emerson, not only to its faculty, staff, and students but also for the immediate neighborhood and for the city itself,” Collins said. “That’s always a plus for us. We look for colleges that are interested in their communities and, as well as doing a great job educationally, also work to advance the neighborhoods in which they live and work.” 

Bradbury said most of the funding from the grant will go towards the Media Art Gallery, which she said has a greater need for improvement than the Huret and Spector Gallery, which has undergone more renovation since it was first established 16 years ago.

“The main impetus was twofold,” Bradbury said. “We wanted to expand exhibition space and exhibit opportunity and wanted to improve the quality of this space that we already have.”

Changes to the Media Art Gallery will focus on improving accessibility—specifically installing handicap-accessible doors with “push-to-open” buttons at the gallery’s entrance and bathrooms, and resurfacing the floors.

“The floor is very wobbly and there’s divots and it’s leaning, so it’s not the most mobility-friendly space,” Bradbury said.

With the funding from the Alden Trust, the floors will be stripped and re-poured, creating a smoother, more even base for the gallery. Improving accessibility is an important goal of Bradbury’s.

“Having that added accessibility with the doors and the floor will mean that we’ll be fully accessible, without any ‘buts,’” she said.

Electrical expansions will also be funded in both galleries, with aims to improve the lighting and install more outlets. Such improvements are essential to the quality of the Media Art Gallery, according to Bradbury, since it focuses on moving images, electronic, and digital art.

“Most things here are projected or are on monitors or require some type of electricity, and we were partially limited in terms of where we can put things because there are only outlets in certain parts of the galleries,” she said. 

Senior business of creative enterprises major Carolina Alcantara serves as a social media marketing fellow and gallery assistant for Emerson Contemporary.

“It’s important [to receive funding towards improvements] because although the gallery is open to both the Emerson community and the public, the Media Art Gallery represents Emerson,” she said.

The renovation plans would “really benefit the gallery,” Alcantara said, noting the importance of it being “accessible to all and [having] the funding to reach its full potential.”

The improvements are aimed to be completed between May 15 and Aug. 15 when student attendance isn’t at its peak. Bradbury hopes that, thanks to the grant, the galleries will be “fully transformed” by the fall semester.

“We were super thrilled that we were able to receive it,” Bradbury said. 

The Media Art Gallery previously received a grant from the Alden Trust in 2016, which helped make its founding possible, Bradbury said. Based in Worcester, the foundation has the general purpose of maintaining “charitable or philanthropic enterprises with specific interest in the promotion of education in schools, colleges, or other educational institutions,” according to its website.

“We look primarily for projects where we can be helpful in advancing a school’s mission,” Collins said.

Bradbury said she feels that Emerson Contemporary fits with the mission of the Alden Trust, as it “is focused on student learning, and enhancing and expanding student opportunities.” 

Having visited Emerson for the initial grant, meeting former Emerson President M. Lee Pelton, Collins said he understood the work being done at the college. 

“We continue to have a lot of confidence in Emerson and the good work that the school does,” Collins said. “[We are] glad that we could help in a small way.”