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Mary & Leigh Block Museum Offers Art to the Campus and Local Community For Free

By Pamela Sosnowski

Northwestern University is known for being a private research university and one of the founding members of the NCAA's Big Ten Conference. What is less known about it is that the Evanston campus contains a free museum, the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art. The museum's mission is to serve as a crossroad between campus and community, by creating an environment where all visitors feel welcome to participate.

The museum's growing permanent collection is impressive, containing over 5,000 pieces of prints, photography, sculptures, and drawings. Located in a building designed by modernist architect Dirk Lohan, and situated in the heart of Northwestern's Arts Circle, the Block presents exhibitions, hosts artist workshops and lectures, and screens classic and contemporary films in its own 150-seat Pick-Laudati Auditorium, among other activities available to the public. It also reaches art lovers nationally and internationally through its traveling exhibitions.

The museum is named for Leigh and Mary Block, a husband and wife pair that loved and collected art. After they donated funds to Northwestern in 1980 so the school could construct an art exhibition venue, the university decided to name the space in their honor as the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery. As its collection grew and its offerings expanded, the space was renamed as a museum in 1998 and underwent a renovation project that tripled its size and was reopened in 2000 in its current building. It is now comprised of several galleries dedicated to permanent and temporary exhibits, including the Theo Leffmann Gallery, which displays the textile work of the artist it was named for.

Upcoming exhibitions include Jen Bervin's Silk Poems, in which poems are displayed in the form of a silk biosensor, and Japanese Experimental Cinema--Between Protest and Performance, which will screen Japanese films and documentaries made between 1960 and 1975. Another major exhibit is "The Gay Left"-History in the Era of Late Soclalism, a film series which explores what it was like to be homosexual in post-WWII Germany.

The museum's permanent collection ranges from the 15th century to the present, and features work by Albrecht Dürer, Honoré Daumier, Mary Cassatt, Max Beckmann, Andy Warhol, Ed Paschke, and more. It is also completely searchable online.

One of the museum's unique features is The Block Spot, a social gathering space in the first floor lobby where students and visitors can relax, study, and even share their thoughts about exhibits on available chalkboards. It is equipped with Wi-Fi and several comfy sofa and chairs. A long countertop that runs the length of the space provides a sun-filled area to work on assignments or chit-chat with friends.

"In creating this gathering space we are signaling to Northwestern students that the Block is their museum," Lisa Graziose Corrin, the museum's Ellen Philips Katz Director, said.

Regular admission is free and open to all, and the museum is open every day except Mondays.

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