Courtesy of Sam Shoemaker

On April 6 and 7, students at the Yale School of Art opened their workspaces to the public for the annual Open Studios event.

The event took place across three School of Art buildings, which house programs in graphic design, painting and printmaking, photography and sculpture. Open Studios invites visitors from New Haven and beyond to take an immersive tour of the facilities where MFA candidates practice their disciplines. Students who choose to participate prop open the doors of their otherwise private studios, transforming their spaces into transparent exhibitions of the creative process.

“Think of it like going backstage, as opposed to watching a precisely choreographed performance,” said Taryn Wolf, the director of academic administration at the School of Art. “Maybe there are wigs and props and anything you can imagine flying around, it’s frenetic and messy, but there is all this context. I believe people love open studio events because of this — they get to venture into an inspired and totally vulnerable environment, where the actual making happens.”

For students, Open Studios is an opportunity to showcase work and interact with a broader community of artists and art enthusiasts. The event attracted over 500 visitors from a range of backgrounds, including New Haven residents, School of Art alumni, prospective students and art professionals from across New England. To accommodate artists, collectors and gallerists traveling from New York City, the School of Art charters a shuttle to run between Union Station and the campus buildings in which the event takes place.

In preparation for such large crowds, some students curate their studio spaces to engage guests in various ways. According to Sam Shoemaker ART ’20, a first year MFA candidate in the sculpture program, others “leave their studio as it is to give people a window into their working process.”

“I even saw some people making things during Open Studios, which is the performative way of showing people ‘this is what a normal day in my studio is like,’” Shoemaker added. “Some people clean out their studio, move everything out of there, and basically turn their studio into a gallery.”

Students who work with digital media, in disciplines like graphic design and videography, face unique challenges in displaying their works-in-progress. For example, first-year graphic design student Simone Cutri ART ’19 streamed a live radio broadcast, called “Radio Kitchen,” during which a group of MFA candidates cooked meals and exchanged thoughts about their work.

Unlike a typical art exhibit in a gallery, Open Studios does not provide a platform for students to make sales to visitors. Rather, the event gives participants the opportunity to engage in professional development in other ways. Wolf explained that students “were encouraged to have a mailing list sign-up available for attendees, both to cultivate their professional networks and to follow up with those inquiring about pricing or interested in purchasing work at a later date.”

Students can also sharpen communication skills through discussions with visitors, particularly regarding intimate aspects of the artistic process. Shoemaker emphasized the variety of emotions he felt during such conversations.

“I think when you have this very private [space], we’re privileged in having these awesome studios, but you spend so much time alone in there and you’re working on your shows until four in the morning and you’re beating your head against the wall, and then to just have a large group of strangers come through, it can be terrifying, it’s like somebody following you into the bathroom,” Shoemaker said. “That’s how I’ve been thinking of it.”

Lydia Buonomano |