New BAC director wants strong Yale ties

In the middle of a residential neighborhood just outside Los Angeles is a famous botanical garden and research institute. Surrounded by drab suburban housing, it is an island of strange, twisting trees and shrubs, ringed by a tall stone wall — something out of the pages of Tolkien, but near Pasadena, Calif.

It is the Henry Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. And it is the office of Amy Meyers GRD ’85, the curator of American art at the Huntington and the next director of the Yale Center for British Art.

When she makes the move from the Huntington to Yale in September, Meyers will inherit a museum whose collection of British art is the largest outside London. Long considered a stand-alone entity, her arrival appears to mark a new interest in fully integrating the center into the University’s intellectual life.

Meyers has not said the gallery’s relationship with Yale is her highest priority — planning future exhibits and other programs, for instance, is one of the most important parts of the job — but at this stage it appears to be what differentiates her most from her predecessors.

“She has great knowledge of and love of this institution,” Yale President Richard Levin said. “Being well-known to many of our faculty, I think she will advance the scholarly activity at the Center for British Art.”

Gallery staff said Meyers is an enthusiastic Yale booster who will seek to garner the center more attention at Yale and in the surrounding community.

By most accounts, the connection between the British Art Center and scholarly life at Yale has never precisely languished — but Meyers said she seeks even stronger ties to research institutions, and she wants the museum to “enrich” Yale.

“As an [alumna] with an [alumnus] husband, I have a deep and abiding love of the institution and the University as a whole,” Meyers said.

Constance Clement, the acting director of the British Art Center, said Meyers will be adept at collaborating with other academic departments. And museum curators said Meyer’s willingness to make exhibits intellectually challenging, coupled with her personal skills, made her an ideal leader.

“She has made it clear for all of us she wants to establish a collegial atmosphere and to work as a team,” said Scott Wilcox, the curator of prints and drawings at the center. “The things that immediately strike you about [Meyers] is that she is incredibly nice, incredibly enthusiastic, and that she has a very sharp mind.”

Like Yale, the Huntington has one of the premier collections of British art outside of London, and the Huntington is also the largest fellowship-granting research institute in the humanities in the world. Meyers, local arts leaders said, is essentially transferring from one sister institution of high caliber to another.

The first British Art Center director, Yale professor emeritus Jules Prown, was her thesis adviser, and both acting Paintings and Sculpture Curator Julia Marciari-Alexander and Wilcox have worked with Meyers before.

Marciari-Alexander said she was excited that Meyers would be the first full-time female director of the art center.

“I think it’s fantastic that the University has been leading the way in putting more [women] in high-level positions,” she said. “It’s a real beacon and a light to young female art historians.”

Both Levin and Prown, who was on the search committee, have said that gender was not a factor in selecting Meyers.

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