#BearToursByEmily: Rating the Public Art of Brown University’s Mascot

On Medium:

When I walk between the Nightingale-Brown House and the Rockefeller Library, I walk right by the Maddock Alumni Center. Every time I passed, a statue caught my eye. It doesn’t stand out enough from its surroundings to bring alarm, and it isn’t quite visible from the streets. But you can tell something is there. I finally took a moment from my daily trek to take a closer look at this…figure.[1]

Unnamed, Nicholas Swearer (1988)

The mascot of Brown University is bear — a bear named Bruno, to be exact. And this is just one of several representations of the bear on campus. Over the course of October 2017, I shared the campus bear sculptures on my private Instagram account under the hashtag #beartoursbyemily.[2] Ratings were given on a scale of 0 (worst) to 5 (best), solely on the criteria of whether or not I liked it. (This came under criticism from several people, who thought my ratings were unfounded and subjective. To which I say, do your own ratings!) I’m fascinated by art on college campuses anyway — you can always find at least one thought-provoking piece or representation of a mascot.[3] The prominence of the bear at Brown gave me something to chase down, take interest, and curate my way through campus public art. I identified five bears.[4]

Your fearless tour guide interpreting the first statue. (I KNOW, I’m wearing a different school’s hat.)

Around the same time I took interest in the campus bear statues, I came across the exhibit, “The Brown Bear: A History.”[5] The exhibit’s digital presence is a great review on the history of Brown’s mascot. Divided into six chronological sections over the twentieth century, Mackie took viewers from the push for the bear mascots in the first place, the live bears that once graced campus, all the way to the mascot as ambassador of the campus in athletic and community events.

Borrowing from Mackie’s collected histories, as well as Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunonina, I’ve developed a tour script. This tour takes you through the campus and artistic histories of each artwork, and includes my original and updating ratings of the bears. Since I’ve had some time to really think through the ratings, the bears are now judged on the following criteria for a final scale from 1(worst) -10 (best).

  • Backstory: What’s the history of this particular statue/sculpture? How did it end up at Brown or this particular location?
  • Quality of bear: What kind of bear is this? And is of artistic merit?
  • Reaction: What is the viewer’s subjective reaction to the bear? What kind of conversation does it generate for campus goers?
  • University spirit: What does it say as a representation of the Brown mascot? If the University is to embody this bear, what qualities does it instill or celebrate for the campus community?

I’m no art or bear expert — I’m simply someone who spent way too much time thinking about #beartoursbyemily and wanted to give some justification to the time I spent wandering around campus. Here’s the working result.

Read the rest here.

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