A cappella groups jam at art gallery

The Yale University Art Gallery shattered the stereotype of a stuffy, quiet museum at its open house last night, as university a cappella groups filled the galleries with upbeat, modern music and visitors spilled out onto High and Chapel streets where jugglers and dancers performed.

The gallery is in the midst of renovations, but one of the objectives of the open house was to remind the campus and New Haven community that the art is still accessible to the public, and to emphasize its increasingly visible place in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, said Amy Porter ’97, associate director of communications for the gallery.

“We wanted to convey the idea that a museum can be a very lively place — it doesn’t have to be an uptight or exclusive institution,” said Catherine Sellers, a gallery intern who helped organize the event.

The performances drew passersby to the open house last night, and High Street turned into a block party, with food and beverages adding to the festive atmosphere. The dance troupe A Different Drum kicked off the festivities at around 6 p.m. with a performance on the gallery steps. Several a cappella groups also performed in the next few hours — The Yale Spizzwinks and The Duke’s Men on the front steps, The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus and The Baker’s Dozen upstairs in the American Galleries, and The New Blue and Shades in the Trumbull Gallery.

Harmonizing voices reverberated throughout the building and visitors filtered through the gallery, with many exploring the paintings for the first time.

“The idea was that the a cappella groups would spike some intrigue outside and draw people in, and then the art would speak for itself,” Sellers said. “Once we get people in here once, they’re more likely to come back.”

Several volunteers, including Annie Hirschhorn ’08, were available to give tours and distribute information.

“I know seniors who never set foot inside the museum and it’s really sad,” Hirschhorn said. “This is a great way to show people the opportunities the gallery has to offer.”

Volunteers distributed information about the gallery’s new educational programs, including several projects that bring art to New Haven inner-city students and pediatric unit in-patients.

The gallery is also taking a more active role in university classes, said Pamela Franks, curator of academic initiatives. Classes such as “Modern British Novel,” “Colonial Period of American History” and some language classes will all use the gallery in their curriculum.

Another goal of the event was to remind the community that Yale’s museum is free and accessible to all, Porter said, especially in the wake of The Museum of Modern Art’s decision to charge visitors a $20 fee.

“It’s elitist,” Porter said. “It’s telling a whole segment of the population that they can’t come here because it’s so expensive. We want to counteract that.”

The open house took place in the Swartwout wing of the gallery, which remains open during the renovations. The gallery’s Kahn building is still under construction, and is scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2006. The gallery plans to renovate the Swartwout building and Street Hall following Kahn’s reopening.

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