The List Visual Arts Center oversees MIT’s Permanent Collection, which is comprised of more than 1,500 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and print media. This collection is designed to enhance the visual environment of the campus, to increase the aesthetic awareness of both the MIT community and the larger public, and to support teaching and research in the visual arts.
The first permanently installed works of art at MIT were the murals painted by Edwin H. Blashfield for the Walker Memorial in 1923–30, but MIT did not begin actively collecting and exhibiting art until decades later. In 1951 MIT President James Killian, with Director of Libraries John Burchard, provided the impetus for a program for the visual arts on campus. In 1951, the MIT Permanent Collection was formally inaugurated, with a gift of 26 paintings and drawings from the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. With no gallery for the permanent display of artworks on campus, the decision was made to exhibit the works throughout the campus, setting the precedent for the way the Permanent Collection is displayed today.