Salovey and the arts
Throughout Salovey’s 11-year tenure, Yale welcomed new arts faculty, including School of Music Dean José García-León, and created new projects like LUX, a new cross-collection search tool.
Yale Daily News
University President Peter Salovey’s announced in August that he intends to step down from the role at the end of this school year. During Salovey’s time, the University has seen milestone events such as David Geffen’s $150 million donation, the appointment of new faculty such as School of Music Dean José García-León and, most recently, renovations to the Peabody Museum.
As stated in his inaugural address, Salovey hoped to “enhance excellence” in art faculties and foster “inspiring galleries, museums and library collections.”
“These aspirations have since guided my focus on the arts across disciplines,” Salovey told the News. “Significant strategic investments have not only maintained but augmented Yale’s standing as a preeminent institution of the arts — and produced many memorable milestones of which I am proud. Each of these was only successful because members of our community have worked together toward those goals.”
Salovey’s involvement with these projects has ranged from spearheading University-wide initiatives to appointing personnel to execute these visions, to securing funds for these plans. Specifically, he was closely involved in the Robina Foundation’s $18 million endowment of the Binger Center for New Theatre in 2012, said James Bundy, dean of the David Geffen School of Drama.
President Salovey also “forged the extraordinary partnership” with American business magnate David Geffen, according to Bundy. These efforts led to Geffen’s $150 million donation — the largest gift made in the history of American theater. The donation has covered, and will continue to cover, tuition for all School of Drama students since the fall of 2021.
Juilliard followed in Yale’s footsteps and made its graduate acting program tuition-free in 2023.
“The Geffen School is an exemplar of access,” said Bundy. “It was wonderful to see a peer school like Juilliard also expanding access by making its MFA program tuition-free — our field needs more quality training programs that prioritize access in this way.”
Salovey has also made significant headway in supporting literature at Yale.
According to Michael Morand, Director of Community Engagement at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Salovey is someone who “walks the walk” in supporting and participating in the arts at Yale.
Morand specifically pointed to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes, which launched in 2013 and annually provide eight writers with prizes of $185,000. Recent winners include Cathy Park Hong, C.E. Morgan, Ike Hotler and John Keene.
“He’s a cheerleader and participant in the [Windham-Campbell] program,” Morand said. “All of the winners come to a festival at the beginning of September. The prize ceremony and lecture is always led by President Salovey. President Salovey has been an enthusiastic and important part of the prize program and the festival.”
Salovey’s contributions to the arts are reflected in the personnel that he has appointed over the years. He welcomed Susan Gibbons as the vice provost for collections and scholarly communication and chief of staff to the president in 2021, an “unprecedented collaboration amongst arts institutions and museum collections at Yale,” said Morand.
In 2019, Salovey appointed Courtney Martin as the sixth director of the Yale Center for British Art. Since then, her work has championed Salovey’s greater vision for engagement with the New Haven community, said Salovey.
“Yale Center for British Art is thriving under the inspired leadership of Courtney Martin,” said Salovey. “As the Center undergoes a fourth phase of conservation and renovation, I especially appreciate Courtney’s work to retain its programmatic focus on New Haven students, including through Community Day and after-school enrichment activities.”
Beyond collaborations with the local New Haven community, Salovey has aimed to connect Yale resources and faculty to a global audience.
Salovey said that arts faculty members were important facilitators of these international partnerships. He named the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage — a research collaborative dedicated towards the study of material culture — and the Yale University Art Gallery’s partnership with museums in Nigeria — a part of an initiative launched during Salovey’s own travels to Nigeria.
When asked about his hopes for the next president, Morand said that he hopes to see “continued cheerleading and support” for Yale arts. While there has been significant development in collaboration, accessibility and community engagement, Morand said that there is “always room to build and strengthen them further.”
Bundy said that he hopes for Salovey’s successor to expand upon his “impressive legacy.” According to Bundy, the interactive nature of Yale’s arts collections offers a unique asset to the institution.
“I see opportunities to strengthen Yale’s conception of … practice — along with scholarship, teaching, research and preservation — as central to the University’s strategic competitive advantage,” said Bundy. “Across the campus, what unites us, and lends efficacy to our work, is creativity.”
In 1955, the Department of Drama in the School of Fine Arts, now the David Geffen School of Drama, was reorganized as a separate professional school — the first of its kind in the Ivy League.