Slifka Center to expand art programs

This spring, the number of undergraduate-run art exhibitions hosted by the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale will increase.

The Slifka Arts Committee — which was informally founded in spring 2013 but has gradually grown in size and scope — has lined up at least three student-run exhibits for the rest of the semester, a substantial increase from previous years, said Lucy Partman ’14, the Slifka Arts Curator and a member of the committee.

The next exhibition, which will feature T-shirts and explore material culture, is opening in March, followed by an exhibit of cyanotypes — cyan blue prints produced by a photographic printing process. Finally, either in April or May, the committee will present an exhibit of portrait photography focusing on issues of faith.

The Arts Committee has already organized three entirely undergraduate-run exhibits, Partman said. Partman herself was the artist featured in the first exhibit, “Times Ten,” which opened in February 2013. The following exhibit, “I Asked for Wonder” – which includes photographs by Wesley Chavis ’14, Victor Kang ’14 and Emily Cable ’15 — opened in December 2013 and remains on display in Slifka’s dining hall. “Time is a Place,” a series of paintings done by Max Budovitch ’13, opened last week.

The Slifka Arts Committee currently has six members and is almost entirely run by Yale undergraduates, but the students receive mentorship from Chino Kwan, known as CHINO, Slifka’s Director of Operations. This year, Partman and CHINO said they hope to expand the committee by adding more members and developing its structure.

In the past, the Slifka Center has had several versions of an arts committee, but they were never undergraduate run, CHINO explained, adding that the Center began its effort to move towards a more undergraduate-driven arts program last spring. Partman added that the effort is still in a formative stage.

CHINO said he thinks the Center’s previous artistic efforts, which were mostly staff-driven, were not ideal for a college campus.

“Here, where we’re on a college campus and students are at the heart of everything we do, it’s a much better fit,” he explained.

The undergraduate-run art initiatives are also advantageous for students because they allow them to go through every step of the process of creating an exhibit, CHINO noted. He explained that students choose, vet, hang and, in some cases, even create the art.

In addition to the new committee, Slifka has also made physical accommodations within the building, allowing students to display more art. Thanks to a new hanging system installed in fall 2012, art can now be displayed in every room in Slifka, CHINO said. Such adjustments have given curators the opportunity to show exhibits in different parts of the building as well as to display some pieces from Slifka’s permanent collection, which had previously remained in storage.

“The most exciting thing with the art and the formation of the committee is that very rarely do students have an opportunity to get in on something on the ground floor,” CHINO said. “Here is really an opportunity to shape an organization.”

Rabbi Leah Cohen, Slifka’s executive director and senior Jewish chaplain, explained another advantage of Slifka’s many display spaces is their fluidity. She added that curators can first feature an exhibit in the main gallery and then move it to either a more intimate place, like the chapel, or a more busy space, like the dining hall.

The Slifka Arts Committee’s ultimate goal is to present art that will create a dialogue among its viewers, Partman said, opening them up to new perspectives and ideas — regardless of their religion.

Cohen noted that she thinks student-run initiatives can engender constructive exchanges better than staff-driven ones could. When students prepare, create and attend the exhibits, Cohen explained, the ensuing conversations are much broader than they would have been had the exhibits been staff-curated. Such broad conversations are also effective in making non-Jewish people feel welcome and included at Slifka, she added.

“The conversation is not only Jews talking to Jews,” Cohen said.

The Slifka Center is located at 80 Wall St.

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