At the far end of South Quad, lining the side of O’Shaughnessy Hall, sits a small and unique art museum. Largely visited by students for class discussion or as a quiet study spot during finals, the Snite Museum of Art is thought to be a charming aspect of Notre Dame’s campus. However, in Nov. 2023, the Snite is set to close, and a larger, newer building is set to open: The Raclin Murphy Museum of Art.
Thanks to donors Ernestine Raclin and Carmen and Chris Murphy, the Raclin Murphy Museum is replacing the Snite as a way of furthering Notre Dame’s commitment to the arts and to the South Bend community, explained Dr. Becherer, Director of the Museum and Curator of Sculpture.
Becherer has been working with the Snite since 2018. He had always admired its art collection and educational work, so when contacted with the opportunity to bring the Snite “to the next level,” he was excited to help. While the Snite’s collection has always been highly esteemed, the museum’s location and size have recently impeded the museum’s ability to showcase the art at its fullest potential. On the edge of campus, Raclin Murphy’s prime location and much larger, modern design will aid in bringing the collection to the next level as Becherer always hoped.
The Snite’s collection began almost 150 years ago, making it “one of the oldest academic art collections in the United States. I think we’re number six,” said Becherer. “[The pieces] are very, very, very highly regarded, but we’ve long since outgrown the Snite facility.”
As Notre Dame’s campus has expanded, buildings have sprouted up around the Snite, effectively enclosing it and therefore inhibiting South Bend’s access to the museum. This summer, junior Emily Shetterly, social media manager and assistant to the director of communication, worked as a greeter at the Snite. She was surprised to welcome residents who had lived in South Bend for over 40 years but had never visited the museum. Shetterly hopes that the opening of the Raclin Murphy Museum will attract more visitors. She feels it is a shame that such an extensive collection of art is going unseen.
Shetterly explains that the museum’s location — on the edge of campus and within the Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park —will allow it to serve as a “gateway” between Notre Dame’s campus and the surrounding community. “Being on the edge of campus, it is really exciting for it to be a portal between the community and campus,” said Shetterly.
In regards to the design of the museum itself, Becherer describes the architecture as “very classic but also contemporary,” with the goal of celebrating both the past and present. Whether “it’s 500 years old or two thousand years old — [art] has something to communicate to us here, now in the 21st century,” he said.
Additionally, due to its sheer size, the Raclin Murphy Museum will be able to accommodate more works of art and offer additional programming. The museum will house 1,000 permanent pieces with the remaining works of the 31,000 piece collection being stored in the Snite.
The additional space will be allocated for a chapel, café and store. The hope is that these spaces will encourage more students and South Bend residents to visit, providing a place for worship, study and community. Shetterly also said that the museum hopes to continue “Artful Yoga,” a yoga class that occurs in the halls of the gallery amidst paintings for a unique, tranquil atmosphere.
Though trips to the Snite are not frequent amongst most students, visits to the gallery have always been associated with fruitful learning experiences or a contemplative pause to the day. “I think my favorite memory is taking my friend from home there. She’s an art history major, so she loves going to museums, so I was just happy to show her something she liked. I feel like the environment of the Snite is just completely different from the rest of campus. It’s just peaceful,” said sophomore Jackie Garcia.
The classic and contemporary Raclin Murphy Museum will be a change from the quaint and serene Snite that the Notre Dame campus knows so well, but the new museum strives to preserve the restoring energy and engaging class experiences that the Snite has provided campus for so many years.