The Schwarzman Center directors hosted two information sessions this week, previewing what Yalies can expect to see when the Center opens this fall.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, SC directors met in Sudler Hall to present updates to students regarding the Center’s progress at sessions that drew around 15 and seven students, respectively. They presented multiple schematics describing the building’s new features, including the revamped Commons space, four dining options and a “dome room,” which will serve as a performance space. According to Executive Director Garth Ross, the “big hairy audacious goal” of the Center is to serve as a hub for the arts while also increasing social cohesion within the Yale community. Alongside Ross, other SC administrators shared their own perceptions of the Center’s forthcoming role at Yale.
“The Schwarzman Center is an opportunity to create more porous boundaries,” Associate Artistic Director Jennifer Newman DRA ’11 said during Tuesday’s session. “What I hear more often than not is that [what] happens here at Yale where everybody is working very specifically in their spaces and residential colleges … but where can there be a central platform where folks can come together for interdisciplinary work and see what work can actually be born when folks get together?”
Newman said that the Center will host large University traditions and events, such as alumni programs and holiday dinners. It will also provide a location for student-driven programming like dance concerts, a cappella shows and comedy performances. She added that students will likely be able to book events online, aligning with the team’s emphasis on the Center’s digital presence.
Newman also mentioned a model in which students could book a table in the Center to hold a “session” — a meeting for a group to discuss, strategize and organize project ideas. From there, Schwarzman staff would work with the group to implement their vision. Newman expects this model — and the Center more broadly — will relieve pressure on overcrowded spaces on campus.
“It’s really important for us to think about how to build the systems and the structures that are nimble and responsive not just to the needs and desires of students but also to the dreams that we can build out,” said Estefani Castro DRA ’21, assistant director of stakeholder engagement. “The Schwarzman Center will bring in large-scale projects, but it’s important to have a balance of that student-generated work.”
In addition to its support for the performing arts, the Center will feature a rehearsal studio, meeting spaces and several locations in which they will display students’ visual art. These galleries will be located in the corridors near the President’s Room — a space for formal dinners and receptions — the “dome room” and the Grotto — a new 21-and-over bar.
In the Q&A portion of the information sessions, several students asked for elaboration on the Center’s food options. While the directors said they have yet to finalize many specific details, the Center will have four food locations: Commons, the Bistro, the Grotto and a “grab and go.”
Ross added that Commons will bring a different approach to food service. Instead of a single swipe at entry, he said there would be “a different approach to food service.” Students will be able to cash in their meals at several stations offering a range of options — including Asian cuisine, a pizza oven, a rotisserie section and a “greens area.”
According to Kenneth Xu ’21, a student staff member focused on strategy development, Commons in its current form can hold up to 800 people at lunchtime and more than 2,700 people in a standing room. Xu noted that these numbers are not final and they have yet to determine the occupancy capacities of the other spaces in the Center.
On the lower level below Commons, the Bistro, which will be both a dining and event space, will serve different types of food at different times of the day — sushi in the middle of the day and “bar-type” food in the evening, for example. The lower level will also include the Grotto and a “grab and go” similar to Durfee’s.
“The Schwarzman Center is more than just a building. It’s an idea formed by our campus, and when you come to events like this, you get to be part of shaping that idea as something to be durable on campus for decades to come,” said Alex McGrath ’21, a student employee working on stakeholder engagement. “We get to define the contours of what an organization like this not only is, but can be.”
Hiring is an ongoing project — one that Ross described as “profoundly different” for a start-up like the Center as opposed to an established organization. Several positions on the hospitality team have yet to be filled, and the Center still lacks half of its professional staff. Ross emphasized that the Center — alongside the University’s human resources department — is still finalizing the details of essential positions and that “wonderful and diverse slates of candidates” have already applied. Administrators added that the Center will also offer various student positions in addition to full-time openings.
In an interview with the News, Ross explained the role of Stephen Schwarzman ’69, the Center’s namesake and primary funder. According to Ross, Schwarzman said he chose to make his donation because he felt welcomed at Commons as an undergraduate, and the building served as a place for him to learn how to fit into Yale.
Ross also noted that the new Center fits into University President Peter Salovey’s vision of “One Yale,” which emphasizes collaboration across all sections of the University.
“The vision for the Schwarzman Center was really strong before it was the Schwarzman Center, before the gift was given,” Ross said. “The idea of renovating this really important building, to bring it into the 21st century as a place that brought people together over dining, social and artistic activities as part of President Salovey’s One Yale vision, just really strongly resonated with the donor, and that’s what inspired the gift.”
The University first announced Schwarzman’s $150-million gift to fund the Center in May 2015.
Ako Ndefo-Haven | firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie Pavilonis | email@example.com