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Harvard program lets students rent art for dorms

Harvard students chose prints during the first day of the Student Print Rental Program at the Harvard Art Museums. Harvard Art Museums

For some Harvard students, it’s a thing of the past to hang up images of inspirational quotes and rock ’n’ roll bands among the clutter of textbooks and unwashed laundry.

Instead, they’re opting for a touch of class, displaying original art prints by the likes of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso in their dorm rooms.

The Harvard Art Museums this year reintroduced its once-booming Student Print Rental Program, which allows students who live in university housing to lease rare prints created by popular and prominent artists.

The school took a break from offering the program in 2008 until this year because of renovations at the museums’ main buildings.


But with the program’s return this semester, students lined up to get their hands on prints for their living spaces.

“It’s been really great,” said Jessica Diedalis, the Harvard Art Museums’ curricular registrar and facilitator of the Student Print Rental Program. “I was surprised by the broad reach we had with the students. From freshmen to graduates to business school students — it’s been incredible seeing the variety of the majors interested in this.”

Earlier this month, students who had signed up for special time slots were allowed to peruse the collection of prints eligible for rental. A gallery of the offerings was set up at the Art Study Center.

Students could choose a single print from the collection to take home. The carefully matted and framed artworks were then delicately wrapped in plastic so students could safely transport their new decor.

Students have to sign a contract saying they are responsible for the loss, damage, or theft of a print, and are willing to pay for it.

But Diedalis said historically that hasn’t been an issue.

The rental program, according to museum officials, first started in the 1970s.Harvard Art Museums

“We trust the students. We have had a really good track record of students returning the prints and enjoying it, and having a great appreciation for the opportunity,” Diedalis said.


Some of the more notable artworks students scooped up included a screen print by Warhol, called “Fifth New York Film Festival — Lincoln Center;” a photolithograph by Picasso called “Goat’s Skull on the Table;” and a 1952 lithograph print by Henri Matisse.

The museums do not disclose the values of any works, but the Warhol, for example, is just one of 500 made. A second Warhol print that was rented by a student this year, called “Eric Anderson (Chelsea Girls),” is just one of 75.

One of the students’ favorite perks from the program is claiming bragging rights. Each year, a selection of prints that were once rented are rotated back into Harvard’s permanent collection and put on display. Students then get to say that they once had the rare art hanging in their room.

“That’s really exciting for a lot of students,” Diedalis said.

The rental program, according to museum officials, started in the 1970s, when the Fogg Art Museum received a gift from an anonymous donor. The donor specified that the money should be used to acquire original prints by contemporary American artists so that they could be leased to students and later be added to the school’s permanent collections.

Now, each print costs $50 to rent. That fee, which is deposited into a special fund specifically for the program, helps keep the tradition alive while expanding the availability of prints.

There are currently 275 prints to rent, and Diedalis said more are undergoing conservation treatment and will be offered next year.


“This is an opportunity for students to bring art into their everyday lives,” she said. “It encourages students to have a lifelong interest in the arts.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.