At least in part due to the economic downturn, the Yale School of Art received 11 percent more applications for the 2009 fall class.

As of January 7, the application deadline, the School of Art had 1,278 total applicants, marking the greatest number of applicants the school has ever had. Director of Academic Affairs Patricia DeChiara said new records were set in all departments — painting and printmaking, which received 618 applications; sculpture, which received 248 applications; photography, which received 243 applications; and graphic design, which received 169 applications.

Associate School of Art Dean Samuel Messer cited the current economic situation as a driving force in applicants’ decisions to continue their educations.

“As the economy tanks, young people seek refuge in institutes of higher learning for a variety of reasons, some obvious other less so,” Messer said. “The obvious reason might seem that students are willing to shoulder the cost of loans instead of unemployment.”

In such difficult times, Messer said he thinks students are more likely to pursue their creative interests, which enable them to obtain a more “full life.”

“The number of applications to our graduate program is up substantially this year, and I would like to think that in times of crisis people go to what they care about and feel is necessary for a full and productive life,” he said.

Despite the increase, DeChiara said, the School of Art will not be admitting more students than in years past — an average of 66 students — due to a finite amount of studio space. Last year the School of Art admitted 65 students out of the 1,142 applicants, of which 56 enrolled.

“The fact that we are up 11 percent over last year has increased our workload in terms of processing materials and reviewing them, but it will have no effect on the number we accept as we are limited by the fixed number of studios we have available,” she wrote in an e-mail to the News.

In the coming months, the School of Art will assess the applicant pool.

Inevitably, Messer believes the School of Art is a haven for students seeking to be productive and creative during a time when many are left with fewer options. Messer recalled a line in President Barack Obama’s inaugural address: “ the maker of things.”

“That is what we do in our school, and its importance is often recognized in hard times,” Messer said.

The School of Art will mail preliminary selections in mid-February and final selction decisions by mid -April.