Oberlin Rents Out Masterpieces to Students for $5

Photo courtesy of oberlin.edu

Photo courtesy of oberlin.edu

Having lived with one or more roommates for my entire four year tenure as an undergraduate, I can tell you that the things college guys tack to the walls of their bedroom aren’t always pretty. In fact, there are many, ahem, unmentionables. Fortunately, not all dorm room décor needs to be taken down on Parents’ Weekend.

In 1940, Oberlin College started an art rental program for students. Each semester, students at the small liberal arts college in Ohio stand in line for hours in front of the school’s Allen Memorial Art Museum for a chance to “rent” a work of art for the small fee of $5. The museum’s collection includes works by some of the world’s greatest artists including Picasso, Matisse, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Roy Lichtenstein. According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, no piece has ever been damaged or lost by a borrower.

Oberlin’s initiative is just one of dozens of events universities across the country use to market to prospective students by expressing the school’s personality and character. From the Raft Debate at William and Mary to the Great Midwest Trivia Contest at Lawrence University to the Little 500 at Indiana University, these colleges aim to stand out among other schools competing to enroll students with acceptance letters from more than one university.

Which brings us back to Oberlin. This fall, students were ushered into the museum accompanied by security guards five at a time to grab a piece of history to display on their dorm room wall. How long did they wait? According to the WSJ, one student stood in the second spot in line for 22 hours to nab a drawing by Matisse – and walked away without it. I guess she should have gotten there earlier. As coach Vince Lombardi once said, “There is no room for second place.”

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