British art center vies for student attention

The Yale Center for British Art is trying to grab students’ attention.

For students seeking a quick study break, the intersection of Chapel and High streets can be a popular destination.With hotspots such as Starbucks, Atticus Caféand — of course — Froyo World all within one block of each other, it is no wonder that Yalies flock here there on a nightly basis.

Yet the Yale Center for British Art, which stands amid these three havens, has not had the same patronage, and over the past several years has been working hard toremedy the problemby marketing itself more to the public. As a result of various campus-outreach initiatives, the YCBA’sstudent guide program received more applicants this year than in years past. But, despite these efforts, several students interviewed remained unaware of the YCBA’spresence on campus.

Beginning in the fall of 2002, the Center’s Education Department, led by Linda Friedlaender, launched the Student Guide Program, with the aim of increasing the visibility and use of the YCBA among Yale undergraduates. The program was designed to teach student guides about British art, careers in museumsand presentation skills, whilevisitors would gain the chance totour the YCBA’sgalleries with the help of Yale students who hadproven their expertise in the field of British art.

This year 52 students applied to the program, said Jennifer Kowitt, a postgraduate research associate in the Education Departmentat the YCBA and one of the first student guides in the program. Nine new student guides were admitted this year, with an overall acceptance rate of 46 percent, and a rate slightly lower than 25 percentfor first-time applicants.

David Mogilner ’12, one of two head student guides, said the competitive application process involved three parts: a written section about the applicant’s interest in the program, a personal interviewand an impromptu demonstration of a gallery tour.

One of the strengths of the program, Mogilner and the other head guide Sarah Armitage ’12 said, is the range of backgrounds represented by the students.

“The class of student guides includes art history majors, to be sure, but we also have music majors, English majors, American studies majors, ER&M majors, architecture majorsand more,”Armitage said. “These perspectives and experiences bring energy and freshness to our discussions about art.”

Mogilner said he also enjoyed the unique opportunity to create his own tours of the gallery. One of the key features of the program, student guides are required to lead at least one tour each semester that they have designed themselves, he said. These usually occur on weekends or during special campuswide events, like Bulldog Days and Family Weekend.

Though no official process or form for evaluating the student guides exists, reviews for the program have been positive.

“Visitors tell us they appreciate the opportunity to learn about the collection through the guides’ innovative and creative perspectives,” Kowitt said in an e-mail, adding that some visitors plan to attend the student tours well in advance. “One woman traveled quite a distance to see a tour on changing fashions represented in our collection!”

Kowitt also said that student guides reach out to the larger art community at Yale through enrichment activities such as Art Cluband Art in Focus, an academic initiative that introduces students to the logistics of putting on exhibitions.

Yet, despite these initiatives, interviews with five students on Old Campus showed that awareness about the YCBA might not be as far-reaching as the YCBAintended.

Two of the five students could not identify the YCBA’slocation, while one had never heard of the YCBA before. Another anonymously interviewed undergraduate confused the YCBA with the Yale University Art Gallery.

Regardless, Amy McDonald, the YCBA’spublic relations and marketing manager, said that student guides remain a consistent draw for the YCBA’saudiences.

The deadline for applications for the student guide program was Sept. 8.

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