Yale’s art schools grapple with collaboration

Students at the Yale School of Drama said they would like more
opportunities to collaborate across arts disciplines.
Students at the Yale School of Drama said they would like more opportunities to collaborate across arts disciplines. Photo by Yale Daily News .

Yale is the only institution in the country with four graduate arts schools, home to the School of Architecture, the School of Music, the School of Art and the School of Drama. But despite the University’s plethora of arts offerings, administrators say there is still work to be done to improve the schools’ interdisciplinary collaboration.

Though the four schools all offer top-ranked programs in their fields, University Provost Benjamin Polak said he believes there is room for improvement in the schools — specifically, in collaboration between the schools and Yale College.

Recent restructuring in the Provost’s Office this year has reflected the University’s push toward a more interdisciplinary atmosphere. The recent rearrangement of responsibilities in the Provost’s Office is meant to “provide more dedicated energies and attention” to the four graduate arts schools as well as to undergraduate arts-related departments and programs, said Emily Bakemeier, deputy provost for the arts and humanities, who oversees more than 15 undergraduate humanities programs, in addition to the four graduate arts schools.

Though some deans of the arts schools said they have not yet received any direction from the Provost’s Office, collaboration across the schools has already begun to blossom by itself. But still, students in these schools voiced dissatisfaction with the lack of communication between the schools and expressed an interest in establishing a more concrete effort to work together across their fields.

 

LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS

Professors interviewed from within the four graduate arts schools said that while more interdisciplinary work is possible, a considerable amount of teamwork already exists between the schools.

Yale School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 described the level of collaboration between the YSD and the other graduate arts schools as “robust.” YSD students have attended painting classes at the School of Art, he said, and School of Art students have also taken playwriting classes at YSD. Bundy also noted that the current School of Architecture gallery exhibition, “Stage Designs by Ming Cho Lee,” was a joint project by the Schools of Drama and Architecture.

Associate Dean of the School of Art Messer ART ’82 said that he has recently contacted a number of playwrights from the School of Drama to work with students in his graduate seminar on drawing. Messer also noted that the current art exhibition “Lunch with Olympia” — which is on display at the 32 Edgewood Ave. gallery — was a collaborative effort between the School of Art and the undergraduate History of Art Department. Art Director of Undergraduate Studies Lisa Kereszi ART ’00 said she plans to curate an exhibition on human anatomy at the same gallery in 2015 that will involve the undergraduate Theater Studies program.

School of Architecture Dean Robert A. M. Stern ARC ’65 said he thinks the School of Architecture is already a leader in promoting interdisciplinary collaboration across the University. In discussing integrative work between the School of Architecture and other graduate schools, Stern added that students pursuing a doctorate in Architecture sponsor four to six symposia every year in which they invite faculty from various arts disciplines to speak with graduate architecture students. He said he believes that the School of Architecture encourages such programs because in the professional world, architecture projects require the expertise of specialists from across many different realms.

“Architecture as a discipline is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach to its task,” Stern said.

Faculty from the Schools of Music and Drama emphasized that their schools often collaborate with one another, due to the large amount of overlap between the two disciplines. Bundy noted that this year, the two schools are co-producing legendary Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” which will be performed both in New Haven and at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Deputy School of Music Dean Melvin Chen ’91 said that the performance will feature School of Music students and faculty, and will be directed by faculty from the School of Drama.

In spite of all the current collaborative efforts described by faculty members, however, students across the schools did not express the same level of satisfaction.

 

AN UNFINISHED ACT

Out of seven students interviewed in the graduate arts schools, six said they feel there is not enough interdisciplinary work between students in different arts schools. All seven said they would like to see more collaborative projects and programs.

According to Lauren Dubowski DRA ’14, currently, interdisciplinary projects between the schools are not formally structured into core curriculums, and the projects are treated primarily as optional activities. Dubowski suggested that the schools require students to take more courses that demand integrative work across the different schools, so that opportunities for cross-discipline collaboration will not be dependent on how much free time students have in their extracurricular schedules.

Bruce Hancock ARC ’15 also said he wishes that the arts schools would create more joint classes, as the only joint classes currently offered by the School of Architecture are with the Schools of Forestry and Management. He added that the School of Architecture rarely works with the other graduate arts schools.

Other students also echoed the same sentiment about collaboration being strong in some areas, while weaker in others. Shane Hudson DRA ’14 said that while students at the School of Drama frequently work with School of Music students on projects, he does not see the same level of collaboration with the Schools of Art and Architecture and would like to have more opportunities to work with students from these schools. He added that the School of Drama already places a heavy emphasis on fostering its students’ ability to work with those who specialize in disciplines outside of theater.

“I think that pretty much any School of Drama student would be happy to collaborate with someone from a different arts school if they share the same vision,” Hudson said.

Jordan Casteel ART ’14 and Anh Le DRA ’15 said they believe the lack of formal collaboration between the arts schools is partly due to the lack of communication across the schools’ administrations and student bodies. Casteel said the various schools should be more active in publicizing information about the projects their students and faculty are pursuing or plan to pursue. Le added that though interdisciplinary opportunities exist, it is often unclear who is looking to collaborate and how they wish to do it.

 

MOVING FORWARD, A BLANK CANVAS

According to administrators, the University’s budget deficit means new challenges for attempts at interdisciplinary work. But on the other hand, the deficit may also force an increased level of collaboration, as the schools begin to pool their resources together.

Stern said that current budgetary restraints mean that many departments are operating with a fixed amount of resources. Collaborating with other schools to find new ways to work together under the current conditions is preferable to creating entirely new programs, he said.

Chen echoed Stern’s remarks, adding that while no specific instructions have come from University administrators yet, the budget deficit provides the opportunity for collaborative work.

Still, others are wary of bringing together the schools solely as a result of budgetary constraints.

“Yale students have tremendous opportunities because of the professional schools here, but I would hate to see consolidation of faculty resources be instituted for budgetary reasons rather than pedagogical reasons,” said Associate Dean of the Arts Susan Cahan, adding that she believes art fields are “intrinsically interdisciplinary” and that collaboration in general is still beneficial.

Chen said he believes that the general feeling within the Yale administration is that the professional schools ought to integrate into the larger University community rather than operating independently. But some arts school faculty members said they have not received any concrete directions from administrators — Stern, when asked about his thoughts on the Provost’s Office new spotlight on the schools, said he was not at all aware of the discussions around the topic.

Though students, faculty members and administrators voiced concerns about the financial or logistical constraints of inter-school collaboration, all those interviewed agreed that they would like to see the schools come together on a more regular and cohesive basis.

“We need to bring this together,” Polak said. “[We need to] make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

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