Expenses a concern for arts majors

Photography student Miranda Lewis ’12 said she worked all summer to purchase a new digital camera for her “Digital Photography” class. The cost of the camera — typically upwards of $500 — was in addition to the $400 Lewis spent on darkroom supplies and photo paper for the course last semester. And this was just for one class in her major.

A four-figure price tag each year is typical for art and architecture majors, who have to pay materials fees to enroll in courses as well as large sums for supplies necessary to produce architectural models or works of art. In light of the current economic recession, the Yale College Dean’s Office recently asked administrators in these departments to survey students’ expenditures to evaluate whether the University could or should subsidize art and architecture classes, according to Bimal Mendis ’98 ARC ’02, the director of undergraduate studies in architecture.

Though the cost of the art major has been stable over the past few years, the issue has become more of a concern in the present financial climate, Clint Jukkala ART ’98, the director of undergraduate studies for the art major, said.

“The fees haven’t changed in recent years, but it’s on people’s minds more,” Jukkala said. “The School of Art, Yale College, students and their families just don’t have extra money. That might be why we’re talking about it now.”

According to the Yale College Programs of Study, all art majors are charged a facilities fee of $200 per term. Additionally, each course has a materials fee ranging from $25 for introductory-level courses to $150 for some intermediate and advanced courses. These baseline fees can range from $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the area of study.

The money collected is given to the instructor of each course and used at his or her discretion. Jukkala said the money often goes to materials, models, guest lectures and class trips to New York.

“We try to be thoughtful when deciding how much to charge,” Jukkala said, noting that the fees have not gone up in recent years, “but it’s very expensive to run these classes.”

Jukkala conducted a survey among art majors last week to gauge how much arts students pay for their courses beyond tuition, and see whether they spend more on art supplies than on textbooks for other classes. One of the questions asked whether high fees discouraged students from taking studio courses. Students’ answers varied, he said, and often depended on discipline and type of work produced. Results for the survey are not yet compiled and it is unclear how the School of Art will respond to the situation, Jukkala said.

He added that he met with other administrators this past week to make sure that materials fees charged by the program are not excessive.

While six students interviewed said they don’t mind paying the course fees, problems arise when they have to pay additional out-of-pocket costs as the semester progresses.

Loide Marwanga ’10, a student in the graphic design concentration of the art major, said that she spent around $300 of her own money — in addition to the $150 she paid per class — on higher-quality printing last semester.

“You can find ways to print for free,” she said, explaining that basic paper and printing is available in the art school. “But it’s not the kind of quality you would want for your stuff.”

Jukkala said part of the problem is that students don’t always know what supplies they will need for a class at the beginning of a semester.

“It’s hard to anticipate costs,” he said. “Even with professional artists you can start out painting and end up welding.”

While students are by no means happy to pay hundreds of dollars on art supplies, none of the 11 students interviewed said they were resentful of the costs.

“They’re not making money off of us,” sculpture student Sean Owczarek ’11 said of the fees. “It was annoying at first, but I’m not going to fight it.”

Lewis added that though she spends more on art classes, she sees these expenses as an investment for her future.

And expenses for architecture majors can be even higher.

Kyle Briscoe ’10 spent over $1,500 on school supplies last year. Like all architecture majors, Briscoe had to fork over huge sums of money on printing fees, modeling supplies and drafting equipment for the three required studio courses that make up an architecture major’s junior year. Four additional architecture students interviewed said they spent between $500 and $1,500 on their courses last year.

Unlike the art major, architecture does not charge specific materials fees for each class; students decide how much to spend on each project. But six students interviewed said putting more money into a model often translates into a more complete and detailed project and, consequently, into a better grade.

“How much you spend depends on what you want to show through the model and what you’re trying to specifically make,” Johna Paolino’11 said. “But you do have to spend a certain amount for it to be worthy.”

Though costs to juniors are especially high, the School of Architecture does provide computers and access to all the equipment in the school, Mendis said. And ultimately costs are inevitable, he added.

“Purchasing supplies and books, it’s part of the educational process,” he said. “What we need to do is ensure that those costs are not exorbitant and that they don’t detract students from participating in those classes.”

The surveys are a first step in the process of reevaluating the cost of the majors and determining whether the Schools of Art and Architecture can subsidize courses in the undergraduate major, Mendis and Jukkala said.

Individual professors have found ways to relieve some of the financial burden on students. Scott Braun, who teaches “Introductory Sculpture,” said he spent students’ material fees for this year on buying tools for the class so that students will not have to buy their own sets.

“Asking students to buy their own set of hand tools is too much,” he said. “But if we can pool the money and buy tools they can all use, we get more bang for our buck. All we’re doing is hoping for as much money from the administration as we can to help the students.”

Students can also rent cameras from the School of Art or apply for grants to subsidize some costs.


  • Ken Lovell

    I’m surprised that you don’t mention the Digital Media Center for the Arts. An enormous amount of the printing that is done for classes in both the Art School and the Architecture school is accomplished at the DMCA. Many of the students you interviewed for this article are regulars at the facility. It is likely that the “higher quality” printing that you describe was done at the DMCA.

    We have fought to keep the costs for this type of printing down and to keep the achievable quality high. We charge no more than is necessary to recover the cost of consumables. We try as much as possible to recover student print charges from their class fees, rather than charge the student over-and-above the fees they have already paid to take the class. The printing capabilties at the DMCA offer the students higher quality output than they can achieve in their respective Schools at much lower costs than they will find either at the University printing service (RIS) or at a commercial printer. Perhaps more importantly they will learn to be self-sufficient print-makers in a supportive environment.

    The DMCA also has dozens of cameras, both still and video, that it maintains and lends to students. While this equipment is in high demand, it does offer a “no cost” alternative to students who are unable to afford to purchase a camera. This gear is of particular importance to students that are trying to make video or film projects where out-of-pocket expenses can easily grow staggeringly high.

    The DMCA has also helped build resources and programs around campus that address these issues. We helped establish a small but growing collection of cameras available for loan at Bass library and the Digital Media Lab facilities at Davenport, Pierson, Silliman, and Saybrook Colleges where residents have access to higher quality printing, funded fully, or in part, by the College.

    Perhaps a follow-up article could detail some of the resources that are available to help students offset these expenditures as well as systems that have been put in place to help keep the costs down.

    Ken Lovell

    Associate Director
    Yale Digital Media Center for the Arts

  • y ’08

    I totally agree with Ken. High-quality printing was really easy to do for free/relatively cheap as an undergraduate, between the DMCA and college media labs. However, having taken many undergraduate photography classes, I have to say that the expense was almost prohibitively high. For certain advanced classes, weekly work requirements meant that a student had to spend at least $50-60/week on film, processing, and paper, adding up to $500 or more per semester. While buying a camera is a lifetime investment, expendable materials should be subsidized by the university. (I and many of my classmates got university subsidies from their masters’ discretionary funds or sudler funds, but we shouldn’t have had to beg!)

  • The Contrarian

    While photography may be the art of the untalented, it certainly isn’t the art of the impoverished.

  • kmd

    First, the DMCA is wonderful. Second, making art will cost as much as the material to make that art costs. MFA students also pay for all of their equipment and materials. Artists pay for materials. No news here.

  • Teach

    To The Contrarian:
    Come take a photography class at Yale, and let’s see how well you do.

  • A pro photog

    To The Contrarian: It’s funny, I often think that my profession is easy and can’t understand why people pay me to photograph them. Then I look at photographs I have taken compared to pictures taken by people who do not have my education, which includes both extensive formal photography training and more than a decade of work experiance. If you truly do not see photography as an art you are walking around with your eyes shut.

  • Yalie

    Let’s be honest – there’s a big difference between an amateur’s photography and a professional’s. That difference is entirely in PRACTICE.

    There’s nothing else to photography besides practice. As an art major, I consider it the easiest of any artistic medium I’ve worked with.

  • Photographer

    The cost of the photo paper alone is outrageous, being a photographer is tough enough as is.

  • Restaurant Recipes

    keep quoting these dead white guys for a reason. We seem to be repeating some particularly nasty history, right now.