Dartmouth's Hood Museum Gets a Makeover

A new downtown art space and an expansion are planned
Artist rendering of the north façade of the expanded Hood Museum of Art. Rendering by MARCH

Walking down Hanover’s Main Street over the next couple of years, you may notice something a bit unusual tucked in among the gelato shops and sporting goods outfitters.

In the spot where Amidon Jewelers once stood, you can now find cutting-edge art imported from Tehran or groups of kindergarteners or undergraduate engineers studying sculpture. It’s all part of the latest arts initiative from Dartmouth College: Hood Downtown.

Earlier this year, the college’s Hood Museum of Art closed its doors on campus for a three-year expansion project. When the museum reopens in 2019, administrators hope that its new design — created by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, the architects recently chosen to helm Barack Obama’s presidential library — will welcome the community more than ever before. And that welcome is getting a head start on Main Street.

“Architecture speaks,” says John Stomberg, the recently installed director of the museum. “The building up on a hill, with steps to climb and big doors — that’s not inviting.” But a gallery you can step right into after a movie on Main Street? That, Stomberg explains, “just says, ‘Come on in.’”

The work on display at Hood Downtown had to serve many purposes. It, of course, had to be world-class, of-the-moment art. It also had to serve as a teaching tool for Dartmouth students from any field of study and for the museum’s K-12 programs. And it had to engage the people on the street.

“It’s a gift to the community,” Stomberg says of the downtown space. You won’t find art at Hood Downtown that’s overly provocative or designed for the snooty art lover. You’ll find eye-catching work like Laetitia Soulier’s, that draws you in and that you won’t find anywhere else in New Hampshire.

In choosing the theme for Hood Downtown’s programming, museum administrators looked for a genre that wasn’t easily found elsewhere in the Upper Valley and that would reflect the changing demographics of the Dartmouth student body.

As the college grows increasingly international, Stomberg says, “It’s imperative that every student find themselves reflected in their art museum. Global contemporary is a way to do that.”

The 10 shows Hood Downtown will host in the next two and a half years will all draw from the field of global contemporary art. Soulier’s European work kicks off the series; future shows will feature contemporary artists from the Middle East and international, themed group shows. The contemporary focus is one Stomberg hopes will continue after the museum’s expansion — like the focus on campus and city connectivity.

“When we reopen, the front door of the Hood will feel a little like the front door of Hood Downtown,” Stomberg says.

Granite Staters would do well to take a peek behind the doors of both.