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|Chausey Dickinson, manager of "Harvard Collections." Under construction in September, the shop offers treasure for sale starting in November. The cover motif of the leather-bound photograph album Dickinson holds is the face of the clock on Massachusetts Hall. Photograph by Jon Chase|
The arcade of Holyoke Center, a vast walkway through a Harvard administration high-rise built in 1966, was not one of architect Josep Lluis Sert's successes. The concrete corridor was perceived soon after the building's debut as a windy, ammoniacal, sometimes scary place. In 1993 Harvard Planning and Real Estate (HPRE) reclaimed it from the elements and the eliminators and established in the space a mini-mall called "The Shops by Harvard Yard." The enterprise was a programmatic and financial failure. Early last year, HPRE announced that it would try, try again with a new concept and would present the arcade as a gateway to Harvard--as Harvard's front door. The door is opening.
The ensemble's name is "Harvard Information * Services * Shops." Tourists will be its primary audience. It also aims to serve faculty, staff, and students, who may be regular passers-by.
After Faneuil Hall and the Boston Tea Party ship, Harvard may be the most popular tourist destination in Greater Boston, and the number of questing folk wandering around University property is large. Heretofore, they've been able to go to the Information Center in the arcade, get a map, and join up with a well-conducted tour of the Yard. They see bricks and mortar but little of the life of the mind and spirit unfolding behind closed doors.
"We want to satisfy their curiosity, meet their needs, avoid confusing them, and at the same time let the University get its work done every day," says Joe Wrinn, director of the Harvard News Office, which runs the Information Center. He has ambitious plans for an expanded center.
In addition to tours, he intends to offer a continuously freshened computer display of the many events at Harvard open to the public. (The new BosTix at Harvard, in arcade space where a fancy necktie shop used to be, sells tickets for events that require them, both at Harvard and throughout the area.) Wrinn envisions computer monitors on which one may see a history of Harvard--its people, its architecture, its consequences in the world; a light-up map of the campus revealing the best routes hither and yon; display space where each professional school may characterize itself; a mini-theater where one may watch a videotape of a class in action or the lads of the Hasty Pudding in drag; a reading nook with books about Harvard and the region; a rotating art exhibit; and a service desk staffed by responsive human beings. All of this is meant to be "revenue neutral," says Wrinn.
Revisions to the Information Center should be apparent by the first of the year. But already, just at the entrance to the arcade, is a promising new shop called "Harvard Collections," scheduled to open early in November. It will sell objects based on items in 21 different University collections and on Harvard's landscape-- a glass-flower bud vase, perhaps, or a necktie with a Harvard-gates motif, fossil jewelry, a silk scarf with a print from the map collection, note cards decorated with Harvard's weathervanes, theatrical puppets, and so on ad potentially infinitum. In the beginning, most of the products for sale will be generic museum-shop stock; in time, and as courage mounts, more and more will be based on treasures uniquely Harvard's.
The shop is being financed and run by Harvard Planning and Real Estate. "It is difficult for any Harvard museum to find the resources to set up such a store," says Scott Levitan, M.A.U. '84, a director of HPRE. He notes that it is not the normal business of his office to run stores, and it may one day hand over management of this one. But he and others believe that the newly conceived arcade will finally realize the best use of that space, and they are determined to be proactive.
The purpose of the shop is not only commercial--although it may prosper: tourists know that life is not memorable without souvenirs, including expensive ones. The shop's instructional goal is to introduce visitors to the collections that they may leave the shop and go see. Products based on objects that Harvard owns will generate royalties to help support the missions of the museums. A portion of the net profits from the operation of the shop, should there be any, will, by agreement of the various museums, go into a fund to endow the Museum of Cultural and Natural History's superb but care-needy glass flowers, Harvard's premier tourist attraction.
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