Amy Meyers GRD ’85 first set foot in the Yale Center for British Art on the day of its opening in 1977. She originally arrived on campus as a student in the American studies program, but Meyers returned in 2002 to direct the center that had captivated her 30 years earlier.
Meyers was reappointed last month for a second five-year term as the museum’s director, which she hopes to use to continue strengthening the center’s educational and research focus. Meyers said she believes her central responsibility as director is to use the center’s unmatched collections in British art, the scholarly expertise of the center’s staff and the location of the center at the heart of one of the world’s great research universities to create a model research institute in the history of art. Colleagues and students have greeted news of Meyers’ reappointment with enthusiasm and said her energy has helped to revitalize the center.
Jules Prown, emeritus art history professor and the first director of the center, said Meyers’ passion and intellect secured her the position five years ago.
“She was just full of ideas — exceptionally good, strong ideas — about how a collection of British art fits within an academic institution,” said Prown, who was on the search committee that hired Meyers. “It’s set up not only as a place to go for aesthetic enjoyment but also as a center for research and scholarship. It was her energy and her ideas and her positive take on things [that convinced the search committee].”
University administrators agreed that one of Meyers’ greatest successes has been translating these educational goals into concrete programs and positions.
Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery, said he thinks Meyers’ most significant accomplishment has been expanding the investment of students, faculty and scholars in the center.
“What I most admire is the way she’s deepened the involvement of Yale undergraduates and graduates in the teaching of the museum.” Reynolds said. “She has also deepened the quality of research and publications coming out of the center, and those are key things.”
Julia Marciari-Alexander GRD ’99, the associate director for exhibitions and publications at the center, said Meyers has balanced the energies of the exhibition and research tracks of the center.
“She came in understanding the original intent of the institution … and saw that we needed to equalize our efforts,” Marciari-Alexander said. “This institution needed to be considered a leader in the research field, and I think she’s done that.”
Meyers created a new position, head of research, in 2003 and reconfigured existing fellowship programs. She expanded the previous one-month term of the center’s postdoctoral fellowships so that scholars could stay at Yale for up to four months.
“It was important that scholars were able to become a part of the Yale community more broadly … to partake of what we have to offer scholars as they pursue research — and that just takes time,” Meyers said.
Meyers also created a fellowship for graduate students and multiple three-year postdoctoral research positions. She said it is important to create extended positions for young scholars so they can learn how to undertake collaborative research on laboratory models.
Theresa Harris ’77, chief conservator of works on paper, has worked at the center for 25 years and said she is especially impressed by Meyers’ work on these postgraduate positions.
“It’s a terrific asset to have the ability to have young people come and join your department and contribute their knowledge,” Harris said.
Graduate students are not the only young people drawn to the center. Meyers said she has actively offered the institution’s resources to undergraduate classes and extended opportunities for Yale students to work on research projects. In addition to summer fellowships for undergraduates, Meyers said, she has helped develop four undergraduate academic-year research internships, implemented for the first time this fall.
Andrew Lee ’09, the coordinator of the student guide program at the center, said Meyers has given the student guides significant opportunities to develop the program on their own terms.
“She has been very supportive of our growth as an undergraduate organization and has allowed our role at the museum to expand quite dramatically,” he said.
Apart from hosting a tea for the guides each semester at which she listens to the students’ feedback, Lee said, Meyers has helped the students create a new exhibition curated entirely by the student guides. The exhibition will go up in March, and the center plans to institute it as a regular program, Lee said.
Another of Meyers’ accomplishments has been creating a preservation committee for the Center, which occupes a building designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn. Although the University is building many new arts facilities, Meyers said, she is adamant that her first priority is to establish and maintain a conservation plan for the current site.
“The building we occupy is one of the great jewels of our collection,” Meyers said.
She said it is rare for a building as modern as the Kahn building, which was completed in 1974, to have such a conservation plan, but she believes it is essential to define the key attributes of the building and to develop rational guidelines for what can be changed in the future.
But even as Meyers has focused on preserving the original intent and appearance of the center, she said she is excited about potentially expanding the center’s facilities in a new shared site at 149 York St. as part of the University’s plans for the arts area. The site might accommodate a major special exhibition space, a conservation lab and new classroom areas, she said.
Meyers taught at six universities and worked at the Corcoran Gallery, the National Gallery of Art and the Huntington Library before assuming her role as director of the Center for British Art. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1977.
University President Richard Levin announced Meyers’ reappointment on Oct. 17, but she will officially begin her second term in July 2007.
“She’s done a fabulous job as director of the center,” Levin said. “Most notably, she has expanded the academic programs at the center … so that the museum now has a much stronger educational emphasis.”
Meyers said she is honored to have been appointed to another term, but much of the credit for her success is due to the center’s staff.
“I have the privilege of being the person who’s been hired to help them do their work,” she said. “It’s really working collaboratively with them that has made life at this institution so special over the past four years.”