Harvard looks to Yale as arts model

A team of Harvard officials looked to Yale as a model for the arts in a visit to campus on Monday.

Several members of the Harvard Task Force on the Arts, including students and faculty, traveled to New Haven to examine up-close Yale’s way of organizing and supporting the arts on campus. Task Force members, who toured Yale facilities and met with graduate and professional school deans Monday, said the visit highlighted the differences between the arts at the two universities, particularly in how they are financed and divided between undergraduate and graduate programs. Yale officials, while touting the University’s programs, said they also learned from their visiting peers.

Stephen Greenblatt ’64 GRD ’69, chairman of the Task Force and a humanities professor at Harvard, called his visit to Yale inspiring given its exemplary integration of art and academia.

“Yale has for a long time had a very deep and serious engagement with the arts,” he said. “It is a model for how a University can take arts-making seriously.”

Historically, members of the Task Force said, Harvard’s arts life has differed from Yale in three areas. Harvard focuses on extracurricular arts, does not have a graduate program and does not have financial subsidies for arts programs. Yale, on the other hand, touts its rigorous undergraduate arts classes, top-tier graduate arts schools and funding for programs from central University finances.

According to Director of Harvard’s Office for the Arts Jack Megan, who was part of the visit, this disparity encouraged Harvard President Drew Faust to create the Task Force upon her inauguration in 2007. It is charged with asking questions such as what a practicing artists’ place is and should be at Harvard, whether there should be graduate programs in the arts and where Harvard can most uniquely contribute. The Task Force will also explore how to integrate Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre and Graduate School of Design with undergraduate culture. Upon completion of its survey of peer institutions, it will submit a report to Faust with recommendations pertaining to the arts at Harvard.

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker, School of Drama Dean James Bundy and School of Art Dean Robert Storr each noted Yale’s effective integration of graduate and undergraduate life as one of Yale’s triumphs and Harvard’s shortcomings.

In particular, Storr recognized Yale’s legacy as the first major university to engage in such a comprehensive and sustainable visual arts program.

“Harvard has never had a graduate program in the practice of the arts and has only some of the elements of a fully developed undergraduate program in the practice of the visual arts,” he said. “They are looking at the whole program, at how you educate people in the arts in a university context.”

Bundy said he participated in a conversation on the importance of American theater and theater training as well as “the relationship between a great university’s mission and artistic practice.” Like many other officials from Yale and Harvard, he discussed the extracurricular versus curricular discrepancy.

“We talked about the relationship of the School of Drama to Yale Rep and to the undergraduate theater community, and the ecology of theater practice and teaching at Yale,” Bundy said in an e-mail. “Extracurricular theater opportunities for students at Harvard are plentiful, but the options for graduate and undergraduate study are limited.”

Financially, the Harvard model demands that each program prove its monetary viability in what Jack Meyers, assistant to the provost, called an “every tub on its own bottom” policy.

“At Yale, we are willing to subsidize something like the drama school or art school from central University funds,” Jack Meyers said. “Drama and Art get the greatest subsidies from us. There are two very different models and I think Harvard is really interested in looking at ways they can change.”

Yet, while the visit stemmed from noticeable differences between Harvard and Yale, there was a spirit of camaraderie, according to Yale Center for British Art Director Amy Meyers. Storr formerly taught at Harvard and Greenblatt studied at Yale as both an undergraduate and graduate student. The arts community speaks across many artistic fields and universities, Amy Meyers explained.

“This kind of collaborative conversation only cross-fertilizes to extraordinarily rich, intellectual communities in the best of ways,” Amy Meyers said. “It’s not like strangers were visiting us. It was terrific that they could turn to us to begin a conversation.”

Amy Meyers also emphasized that this is not a one-sided relationship — Yale can learn from Harvard too. With the largest university art collection in the world, Harvard has a thriving conservation program that Yale will turn to for advice and ideas when crafting its own program this fall, she noted.

And, as Yale begins the daunting development of the recently acquired West Campus, Harvard also stands in the face of significant expansion into Allston across the Charles River. Both Yale and Harvard’s expansions will include the sciences and the arts, among other areas.

Deputy Provost of the Arts Barbara Shailor said the two universities face similar challenges as both develop new locations within a larger infrastructure. The same issues and guiding principles face Yale and Harvard while they attempt to make vacant areas lively, she said.

While both universities acknowledge shared academic and institutional methods, the main takeaway for Harvard, Yale officials said, was how to communicate across arts disciplines in Yale’s style.

As for the student art life in general, Megan remarked, Harvard is thriving, much like Yale.

“Personally, I was also struck by how very much like Harvard students some of the Yale students are,” Megan said. “They explore everything, and feel empowered to create and share work. There is a spirit in that that I recognize.”

The Task Force will also tour Princeton, Columbia and Harvard.

Comments

  • Mark Gallegos

    During all the fussing' and fiddling, did you put together a definition for "Art"?