New arts dean takes office

As the first associate dean for the arts in Yale College, Susan Cahan has plans to both preserve and improve on Yale’s standing in the artistic world.

Cahan began her new duties Monday after being appointed in May, and said she spent the summer thinking about a new vision for undergraduate arts across the University.

“Over the summer, I thought a lot about Yale’s role as the school that offers, in my opinion, the best arts education in the country,” Cahan said in an e-mail message. “I noticed how often Yale graduates make the news. This inspired me and instilled a deep sense of responsibility to preserve Yale’s legacy and help make undergraduate arts here even stronger.”

In her new role, Cahan will help develop new programs in the arts and manage current resources, including course offerings and extracurricular spaces, by collaborating with various administrators. She will work with the professional schools on the logistics of arts courses offered through them, make more art space available, sit with the Council of Masters on the review and allocation of Sudler funds, and work on the plans for the new residential colleges to help integrate the arts.

Still, the position is likely to be flexible during its first year, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said in November.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said that Cahan, who was formerly the associate dean for academic affairs of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, had specific work experience that made her an excellent fit for Yale.

“Her experience in working to repurpose the spaces and physical locations in St. Louis was a particular strength,” Miller said. “Her own graduate degree is in art history, and she has worked so extensively with theater and music that she brought a particularly good foundational range.”

Cahan said she believes the arts are a crucial part of the Yale experience, from architecture to museums to performances; from beginner-level activities to professional study. She said she hopes to work collaboratively to enhance this range and develop new projects.

During the first days in her new position, Cahan has been attending orientations to become better acquainted with the University.

“I have been talking with as many people as possible to learn more about the riches within this community and to understand how to get things done,” Cahan wrote. “This is the upload phase.”

At the University of Missouri–St. Louis, she also served as the Des Lee endowed professor in contemporary art. She has taught at Bard College and the University of California–Los Angeles and has overseen educational programs at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Cahan was the senior curator for philanthropists Eileen and Peter Norton’s art collection as well as the director of arts programs at the Peter Norton Family Foundation.

The impetus for creating the position originated in 2003, when the Committee on Yale College Education noted in their report that Yale lacked comprehensive arts resources.

“It recommended that students not only study the arts but that Yale ramp up opportunities in the arts,” Miller said. She said that in many ways, this has already been done since the report was released. But the new position — which parallels William Segraves’ post as associate dean of science education — is one more step toward expanding the arts at Yale.

The arts deanship was approved in November, after being recommended by the University’s committees on the new residential colleges in March 2008.

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