Off off-campus


Sometimes I feel like it should say “abandon all hope ye who enter here”. But there’s an awesome dog park to the left of this sign.

My office is off campus. Like, really  off campus. We jokingly call it Harvard West. Our building is in Somerville at the very end of Inner Belt Road, which I just learned has its own Wikipedia page.  We share a floor with the contractors responsible for the Green Line extension of the MBTA, and upstairs is a waste management company. And there we are, the off-site storage and offices for some of the departments of the Harvard Art Museums.

During the Art Museums’ major renovations, completed in fall of 2014, the entire staff worked at 200 IBR. As construction progressed, it became clear that not everyone could move back to 32 Quincy Street, across from Harvard Yard, because the new museum has even less office space than the old one. Museum Archives, Communications, a good portion of Collections Management, and we, the Sardis Expedition, did not return to Cambridge. Don’t get me wrong..I love the new Renzo Piano building, and the galleries are gorgeous. But I have to admit it is very difficult for those of us in IBR to feel like a real part of the museum.

Our building is at the very end of a long road through an industrial park, a solid 15 minute walk from the closest bus stop, with questionable sidewalks, a fairly sketchy tunnel underneath the commuter rail, and lots of large truck traffic. There is an hourly shuttle run by the museum for staff and visiting researchers that goes door to door, but if you miss one, you’ve got a full hour before the next. It’s hard to get student workers willing to come all the way out to us. They can’t work between classes…it just takes too long to go back and forth.

But for Sardis, an archaeological expedition that, historically, has been included with the Fogg Museum, is in an odd place. We’re really our own thing. We don’t have objects in the galleries, we rarely have academic programming at the museum, other than a biannual lecture by our director. In all honesty, most museum employees, especially new hires, have no idea we exist. We actually spend more time interacting with the Classics and History of Art departments. It is our office location, however, which presents a huge obstacle for us to raise our profile at the University. And I’m not sure how to fix it, other than moving back to campus. Networking is incredibly difficult, spontaneous run-ins with professors, students, or visitors cannot happen.

At the same time, we “outcasts” at IBR try to make the best of it. Normally we at Sardis wouldn’t have any reason to interact with Museum Archives, but now that our offices are next door we have ample opportunity to chat about the issues we face as archives. Likewise, having Communications next door has led to us learning more about branding and social media, something we need to seriously consider boosting if we’re going to raise our profile as a working excavation and data center.

Plus there are the silly moments like yesterday afternoon, where most of the IBR Museum staff gathered at the windows to watch the billowing brown clouds of smoke from a massive fire at a junk yard across Rte 128. I looked at my colleague in Archives and we both said at the same time, “Only in IBR.”


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