A new $20 million pledge to the Yale University Art Gallery will fund an expansion of the gallery’s education programs and facilities.

Half of the $20 million donation will be used to create a new education center in Street Hall, and the other $10 million will be directed toward endowing the department and its fellowships, said Jock Reynolds, the director of the gallery. Six members of the Nolen family, five of whom are alumni of Yale College, decided in late June to contribute to the gift, donor Eliot Nolen ’84 said.

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Gallery administrators said a gift of this type and magnitude is unprecedented.

“It’s the largest gift ever made to fund education at a university art museum,” Reynolds said.

Jill Westgard, the gallery’s director of development, said the Nolen family has already begun payments of the pledge and will donate the full $20 million within the next five years. The family decided to use the first payments to fund the endowment portion of the gift so that those funds might benefit from the successful growth rate of Yale’s endowment, Westgard said.

The donation comes in the midst of major facilities improvements at the museum. The 1953 Louis Kahn-designed wing of the gallery reopened last December after a three-year, $40 million renovation. Once renovations to adjoining Swartwout Hall and Street Hall are completed in 2011, the gallery will expand to fill all three buildings.

Following renovations, the ground floor of Street Hall will house the new education center. Anna Hammond, deputy director for education, programs and public affairs at the gallery, said the center will include a seminar room and a library, among other facilities.

“Most importantly, we’re looking at how offices and study areas and gathering areas are laid out to maximize conversation and work between people, around works of art,” Hammond said.

Nolen, who majored in art at Yale and is an artist, said she is particularly interested in creating more than “a bland office space,” and she hopes visitors to the center will have exposure to works of art.

Polshek Partnership Architects, a New York-based firm, is renovating all of the gallery’s facilities and will be designing the center.

Eliot Nolen, who spoke on behalf of the family, said the $20 million gift was pledged by six members of the Nolen family: Eliot Nolen herself; her husband Tim Bradley ’83; Eliot Nolen’s brothers Malcolm Nolen ’83 and Christian Nolen ’82; and their parents Eliot and Wilson Nolen ’48.

Nolen said the gallery’s first-rate collection and educational programs inspired her family to make the gift.

“Jock Reynolds is really an exceptional director, and he brings a lot of personal talent and has brought in some exceptional curators and a really fantastic education department,” Nolen said.

Nolen said she has been impressed by the student tours and student-curated shows she has observed at the gallery. She and her family are convinced that Yale students respond well to the educational programs already underway, she said.

Few museums now emphasize education and public outreach, she said, so giving to Yale “seemed like a golden opportunity.”

“As a lab for educational programs, you can’t hope for a more fertile ground for experimentation,” Nolen said.

Hammond said the Nolen family gift has allowed her department to think creatively about the gallery’s education program and how it might affect the culture of the University. The center will pursue programs directed toward both Yale students and local residents and will stay open beyond the normal operating hours of the museum, she said.