Richard Heipp remembers the blue balloons released at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Harn Museum in Gainesville more than 25 years ago.
At the time, the west side of the University of Florida campus was nothing but a cow pasture, said Heipp, a professor who has taught painting at UF since 1982. The school of art bused students from the fine arts building on 13th Street to the new location off of Southwest 34th Street for the celebration.
On Friday the Harn opens its 25th anniversary exhibit.
But before the Harn, Heipp said his students could have graduated without experiencing a masterpiece first hand.
The museum has fundamentally changed the way he teaches his students, he said. From taking trips to the museum to assigning homework based on exhibits, the exposure to works of art of this caliber has become critical to his students’ education.
“It’s hard to imagine teaching without it,” he said.
The masterpieces the Harn has brought in over its 25 years have helped students gain new understanding, he said.
Students have felt the benefit as well.
“I didn’t realize how good I had it,” said Jason Mitcham, an artist now based in New York City. He interned at the Harn while working on his master’s degree from the College of the Arts.
The ability to get on a bike, leave the studio and see great works of art was a privilege, he said.
Since graduating in 2005, Mitcham’s work has been featured in galleries in North Carolina, Maryland and New York. In 2010, he provided art and animation for the Avett Brothers’ music video for the song “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”.
He said none of his accomplishments would have been possible without the foundation of his training at the UF and the Harn Museum.
“Everything about it really set me on the right course,” he said.
Tami Wroath, director of marketing and public relations for the museum, said she hopes the Harn’s legacy is one inspired by its free and creative environment.
About 100,000 people visit the museum every year, a figure she’d like to see double, she said.
The exhibitions are funded by members’ donations, grants and endowments, she said.
Through the programs she hopes students and the community see
how artists tackle important subjects.
The 25th anniversary exhibit, “Conversations”, will encourage visitors to discuss the works across time periods and cultures, she said.
The exhibit will feature works from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol and will run through Jan. 3.