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The Campus Iconography Committee (CIC) is painting a new picture for University culture as it seeks recommendations to expand the campus portrait collection. The Portraiture Nominations Committee, a newly formed working group within the CIC, was announced last week to be soliciting up to ten portraits to add to the University’s portrait collection.

According to the University press release, the last time the University expanded the collection was in the late 19th-century, when then-University president John Maclean commissioned portraits of earlier University presidents. Ever since, they have only added portraits of presidents and deans. 

Taking a step in a new direction, the Committee will be collecting suggestions and recommending certain onesto Vice President Treby Williams and Provost Deborah A. Prentice, who will review them in turn and endorse certain pieces for approval from President Christopher Eisgruber ’83.

“We’re looking for excellence in a field, excellence in the nation’s service ... or a notable contribution to Princeton [as] the three overarching possibilities for someone to be eligible for a portrait,” said Amina Simon ’18, a student committee member. 

Simon noted that while the committee is mostly looking for alumni and faculty, it is still an open question as to whether staff members other than faculty might be able to be included as possible nominees.

The Campus Iconography Committee itself is new to the Princeton community. In November 2015, the University Board of Trustees appointed a special committee to reconsider the legacy of Woodrow Wilson on the school. This effort proved to be highly controversial, inspiring student protests and sit-ins as the University attempted to balance honoring Wilson’s contributions to the University with the reality of his racism. 

The Campus Iconography Committee ultimately came out of these activist efforts in April 2016. The committee remains dedicated to diversification efforts in residential college spaces as well as public and non-public places. 

Working closely with the Campus Art Steering Committee and the Office of the University Architect, the CIC’s charter outlines their hope to “[commission] artwork that honors those who helped to make Princeton a more diverse and inclusive place or that expresses the University’s aspiration to be more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming to all members of its community.” The expansion of the portrait collection is a continuation of that same effort.

“The University has committed some financial resources to this, and that’s really important,” said Martha Sandweiss, leader of the Portraiture Working Group, the Nominations Committee’s predecessor in the effort to expand and diversify campus portraiture. 

“You can come up with these ideas, but unless you have the resources to acquire and commission these works of art, your good ideas can’t go anywhere,” Sandweiss emphasized. “I’m very, very happy that the University looked at our report and decided to commit those resources. Change really can happen.” 

Along with the Portraiture Nominations Committee, the CIC has two other working groups: one devoted to Princeton history and the other to Princeton’s public spaces. The group devoted to history has focused on creating new walking tours and establishing historical markers, and the Public Spaces group has focused on places like the EQuad Café, Frist Campus Center, and Firestone Library to see how they could be further adorned to celebrate the diversity of the University’s community.

Simon said the committee hopes to include community involvement in the project so it is not just a top-down initiative.

“During the whole selection process, we will have a very intentional eye for various kinds of diversity, so it’s definitely going to be a factor in the selection whether or not a person represents the kind of person we’ve already had portraits of, or whether they represent the kind of diversity Princeton’s had more of in the last 50 years,” Simon added.  “We’re really hoping to make the selection of these people responsive to how the University community, especially students, want it to look.” 

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