Yale University offers for-credit introductory art seminars, Basic Drawing and Painting Basics, during Yale Summer Session on Yale’s main campus — and now at a high-security facility in Cheshire, Connecticut.

In partnership with the Yale Prison Education Initiative, the School of Art organized an inaugural summer art program for incarcerated individuals at the Manson Youth Institution, which hosts inmates aged 14 to 21. The program offered two five-week courses in sequence — Basic Drawing and Painting Basics — as well as two extracurricular workshops for inmates between the ages of 18 and 21.

“One credit after another opens up worlds for those students — both independently in their own intellectual space and outside of prison as well,” said Zelda Roland ’08, GRD ’16, the founding director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative, at a panel hosted by graduate instructors and program organizers Tuesday evening.

The partnership is the flagship program of the Yale School of Art’s new schoolwide Art and Social Justice Initiative, which will contribute to scholarships, promote research, extend pedagogical offerings and explore projects that foster critical and collective consciousness around social engagement.

The initiative began in November 2017 with a $750,000 donation by two anonymous Yale alumni.

“[The donors] felt it was important to respect artists who both now and historically sided with being involved in social engagement, civil discourses, looking into repression, prejudice and injustice,” School of Art Dean Marta Kuzma said.

Classes offered by the program at Manson are identical to existing courses offered by the Yale School of Art to undergraduates on campus. Roland said that course materials and subject matter was not altered, and inmates receive the same instruction and guidance as Yale students.

To apply to the class, incarcerated individuals answered questions such as “Do you have a favorite book, painting, film, poem or song?” They also had to create a drawing from observation. Lastly they had to select two of six printed paintings to compare and contrast color, content, style, technique, tone and meaning.

Ernest Bryant, ART ’18 taught Basic Drawing this summer. He said the class focused on the articulation of space, observational studies and alternative interpretations of drawing, as well as art history.

Bryant told the News that he began the class teaching pieces from Gardner’s “Art Through the Ages” textbook to give students foundational terms so that they could begin be on the same page when speaking about works. The class also analyzed movie posters with hierarchy of scale in mind, and made drawings with different perspectives — on the grid, in an abstract form and from observation.

Roland said that one of Bryant’s students who was recently released got permission to audit an introductory architecture course at Yale College.

Clare Kambhu ART ’18 and Julia Rooney ART ’18 co-taught a course focusing on basic painting techniques. Instead of structuring the class by genre, Rooney said the class focused on concepts that could be applied and used in situations outside the prison facility. Students also kept their own sketchbooks which they could use inside and outside the classroom.

The students created over 100 individual color cards, which were used to assemble a large color wheel as a group. The wheel remained in the classroom for the rest of the course, serving as both a resource and a visually rich work, Rooney told the News.

“In a place where you’re supposed to be as separated from your body as possible, we wanted it to be as much of a body experience as possible,” Kambhu said.

The program organizers also held study halls, or “studio time,” twice a week when students could have an opportunity to ask questions and complete homework with access to the drawing materials and paint.

In addition to the weekslong courses offered, graduate students hosted shorter workshops.

Nate Pyper ART ’18 taught a one-day workshop about zine production, which he said encourages autonomy through self-publishing. After reading and discussing the Russian revolutionary children’s book “About Two Squares” by El Lissitzky, his students used one sheet of paper to make a 6-page zine.

Danny Ginsburg ART ’18 taught a three-day workshop — entitled “Painting Materials” — in which students learned how to make gesso and paint from raw materials to complete a conceptual painting. Before creating their final work, the students were given a piece of paper with dichotomous artistic qualities to constrict and define their painting. One student, whose chosen parameters were “Three colors, with a brush, slow and fast,” had time to create two final pieces. In red, black and white, he painted curved and straight lines that intersected in the middle of the page.

Kuzma told the News that the School of Art hopes to continue, and possibly even expand, the program in the future. She and Roland are considering extending the program to other correctional facilities in Connecticut.

The School of Art was established in 1869.


Correction, Sept. 29: A previous version of this story said that the the Manson Youth Institution houses inmates between the ages of 18 and 21. In fact, the inmates’ ages range from 14 to 21. However, the students involved in the YPEI and School of Art’s partnership program are between the ages of 18 and 21. 

Clarification, Sept. 29: This version of the article clarifies that the program at Manson Youth Institution is owned by the YPEI, not the School of Art. It also clarifies that the YPEI classes were offered through the Yale Summer Session. 

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu .