Gallery visits increase as construction continues

Though some “visitors” to the Yale University Art Gallery have to wear hard hats to do their work, the ongoing construction has not kept professors or students from doing theirs. In fact, more faculty are using the space now than did before the renovations brought cranes and scaffolding to Chapel Street. Data collected by gallery staff show the gallery was used more for teaching last year than the previous year, and this year’s numbers are also on the rise.

Although the gallery’s collection has been squeezed into a single building as the Egerton Swartwout building and Street Hall undergo renovations, staff have made a large effort to reach out to professors and increase the availability of resources, said Nolen Curator of Education and Academic Affairs Kate Ezra.

“With the renovation, we had only one object study room available, so it became urgent to do something to make sure our collection was available for Yale faculty,” Ezra said. “We stepped up our efforts to reach out to faculty and made a space in the gallery for objects that are normally in storage but integral to particular courses at Yale.”

As a result, for the 2008-’09 academic year, there were 575 Yale course sessions held in the gallery and study rooms, for a total of over 7,000 scheduled student visits related to course work, said Adrienne Webb, public information coordinator for the gallery. Last year, those numbers increased to over 600 class sessions and nearly 9,500 scheduled student visits related to course work. The numbers are projected to be even higher this year, according to Webb, but her office hasn’t yet calculated exact figures.

Ezra attributes the increased use of the gallery to outreach as well as the hiring of additional staff dedicated to education. Compared with five years ago, she said, the number of people at the gallery devoted to working directly with professors and students has increased considerably. Ezra herself was hired two years ago, and David Odo, assistant curator of academic affairs, was hired this summer. Deputy Director for Collections and Education Pamela Franks joined the gallery in 2004.

“Pam Franks and other staff have really been encouraging faculty to use the gallery resources,” said art history professor Edward Cooke. “They’re talking to different faculty about how they can use the collections — not just the traditional history of art professors, but also professors in the humanities and at the medical school.”

Indeed, Webb estimated that 25 percent of classes visiting the gallery are from the History of Art Department, 25 percent are from the School of Art and the remaining 50 percent are from other disciplines, including American studies, biology and religious studies. Recently, an intermediate French class visited the gallery to look at works by Manet because they were reading French literature from the period, she said.

Cooke just finished teaching a class on American decorative arts this fall, and he said he has taught using works pulled from storage in the object study room and others on view in the exhibition space. He said he has also used pieces in the furniture study storage room.

“The renovations may have inhibited the number of works on view, but staff have been very active in making sure professors have access to objects,” he said.

Last fall, the gallery ran a pilot program in which it devoted the fourth floor of the Kahn building to a teaching gallery for professors, and the program has continued into this year. Currently, five classes are using the space, including Christopher Wood’s “Pictorial Worlds in Seventeenth-Century Europe” and the introductory survey art history course. And 10 classes are scheduled to use the space in spring 2011, a record number, Webb said.

When the renovations are complete, the teaching gallery will move to the Swartwout Building and be named after University President Richard Levin and professor Jane Levin.

The gallery renovations are currently within budget and on schedule, Webb added.

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