Southern University Opens Doors to Art Collection

By Dyer, Scott | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Southern University Opens Doors to Art Collection


Dyer, Scott, Black Issues in Higher Education


Baton Rouge campus celebrates 87th birthday with opening of new museum

BATON ROUGE, LA.

Southern University's Baton Rouge campus celebrated its 87th birthday last month by opening a new museum that showcases an African and African American art collection estimated at $4 million to $5 million. The Southern University Museum of Art is the pet project of Southern University System President Leon Tarver.

Dr. Tarver says he began a personal collection of African art nearly 10 years ago, and gradually added to it during visits to South Africa on behalf of the university. Tarver says he came up with the idea of a campus museum after receiving a number of compliments on the art that he displayed in his office and the university reception center.

"I thought it was a shame that we could not make it available to a larger audience with a museum," Tarver says.

To get the museum rolling, Tarver donated 150 works from his own collection.

To house the art, he arranged to renovate Harvey Hall, one of the school's original buildings that had been vacant for 15 years.

The use of campus workers kept the cost of the yearlong renovation to about $225,000, says Larry McGhee, director of facility planning for the Southern System. McGhee, who supervised the project, says the brick building was still structurally sound, but had extensive rotting and decaying wood inside that was replaced. The renovation took about a year.

As construction progressed, news of the project spread, and Tarver says that he was approached by several people who donated African and African American art for the new museum.

Tarver recalled that one of the first considerable donations came from Dr. William Bertran, a former vice president at Tulane University who had amassed a large art collection while working in Central Africa for about five years.

"I remember he called me at home on Father's Day, and said he'd like to donate $250,000 worth of art -- and I almost fell off the telephone," Tarver says.

In all, Bertran donated 144 pieces of African art to the museum.

Another major donation came from Dr.

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