Tag Archive: Arts

  1. Keeping Museums Young

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    It’s hard to believe that, having spent over 17 years in the New Haven area, I had never been inside the New Haven Museum until Thursday. I had often run past its grand columns and its “From Clocks to Lollipops” sign, but was still shocked when I stepped into the ornate foyer and heard dozens of echoing voices from the balcony above.

    The greeter directed me up an intimidating marble staircase and I grabbed a pamphlet on the way up: “The Nation’s Greatest Hits: 100 Years of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre.” I hadn’t expected many people to attend, but there were at least 100 signatures before mine on the sign-up sheet.

    The free food at the top of the staircase gave me the energy to forge into the crowd of mingling locals. As soon as I turned towards the exhibition, I noticed parallels between its curation and the theater itself. The doorway was clearly marked by a red carpet and bright bulbs (even some flashing ones from a real photographer) — I felt like a celebrity. I chuckled at the doorways leading to other rooms, labeled “Stage Left” and “Stage Right,” before heading towards the various displays.

    Plaques marked each section of the exhibit; the first one described the “Early History” of the Shubert. I was astounded to learn that since its founding in 1914, the Shubert had staged twice the number of pre-Broadway shows as any theater in New York City – I guess New Haven is cool after all! An old black and white photo of the theater accompanied the information, and I felt nostalgia even though I hadn’t even been alive when photos were black-and-white. The authentic red usher uniforms, though intriguing, looked like they wouldn’t be fun to wear – especially the women’s one, which had the waist size of my arm.

    An extensive array of photos from Shubert productions, including a performance of “A Raisin in the Sun,” was displayed alongside the plaques. I sincerely had no idea that so many famous plays, including “My Fair Lady” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” had been put on so close to Old Campus. Each new photograph — including a giant one of Julie Andrews in her debut performance — changed my perception of the city. The arrangement of the black-and-white photos combined with the lights and red carpeting brought such an “old Hollywood” feel to the room that I began to imagine performing at the Shubert (until I realized a few seconds later that I can’t act).

    The display tables held brightly-colored, though slightly yellowed, original playbills from the 1950s and 60s that made me wish I had been at the theater myself to collect them. Even the secretary’s index files of the productions looked interesting (mostly because they were clearly written on a typewriter). In the next room, curators had recreated murals from the Shubert’s basement. The contrast between the colorful paint and the purely black-and-white photographs lent a more modern ambience to this side room.

    After I enjoyed a well-done architectural sketch of the Shubert, the mood of the night suddenly changed. A plaque mentioned that the Shubert closed in 1976 due to declining attendance, and I was sent into a panic. (Don’t worry: it’s been reopened.) Looking around me, I realized I was the youngest person at the exhibition by at least 30 years, if not 50. I could suddenly see museums like this one suffering the same fate as the Shubert — if the younger generation stops going, they’ll shut down. Though many of us raised in the digital age normally can’t pay attention long enough to enjoy a museum, I found the opening exciting. So many people — including the exhibition organizer, Jason Bischoff-Wurstle — had put time and effort into the event and their celebration was a long time coming. As many glasses of wine clinked together, I wondered where all my peers were. No one had thought to attend an opening at a museum dedicated to the history of our home, New Haven. Though classes, clubs, and sports take up so much of our time these days, it’s worth it to head down to the New Haven Museum for an hour — not just to enjoy the elegant Shubert Theater exhibition, but to keep the art of the museum alive.

  2. The Art of Getting By

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    Anyone who’s been to the extracurricular bazaar has heard this refrain: “Do you sing?” “Do you act?” “Do you watercolor/beatbox/bhangra?” (Cue tone-deaf freshman-year me signing onto 37 unnecessary panlists.)

    If this scene is any indication, we have a lot of artists at Yale. Enough to fill five improv troupes and seven major theater venues every weekend. Enough to fill 15 world-class a cappella groups. Fifteen! That’s a ton! Now, where do all these talented people end up after senior year?

    Well, according to Yale’s Office of Career Strategy, 15 percent of the class of 2013 took jobs in financial services and 12 percent took jobs in consulting. Only four percent went into the fine or performing arts.   

    We watch our friends act in Dramat shows and sing for The SOBs and perform for Teeth and dance for Rhythmic Blue. And we watch suited-up graduates shuffle off to jobs at Goldman Sachs. I want to know where all that creative juice goes. Are all those poets and actors and comedians really hunched over in midtown cubicles? I don’t think they are. But we don’t really talk about our campus’ aspiring artists — and whether they receive proper preparation at Yale.   

    How To Be a Working Actor

    When Alex Kramer ’13 graduated, he returned home for the summer and dusted off a copy of a book he’d received in high school: “How to Be a Working Actor.” “It was like reading a user’s manual on my life,” Kramer chuckled. “It was so helpful but it was also so straightforward — why couldn’t Yale give me this information? It’s maddening.”

    Kramer had known since sixth grade that he wanted to be an actor. At Yale he’d made all the right moves: performed in shows with the Dramat, studied theater abroad in London, devised a senior project combining the 2012 presidential election with Shakespeare’s Richard III. But post-graduation, things were a bit more complicated.

    “You hear things like ‘you’ve got to move to New York and start auditioning,’ but I had no idea what that actually meant,” he told me. At Yale, Kramer had access to training, mentorship, heaps of funding for theater pursuits and a thriving arts community. But he received little of the guidance he needed to actually make it in acting.

    Had the University offered more resources and preparation for auditions, Kramer feels his path into the theater world might have felt a bit simpler. The lack of practical counsel dissuaded some of his classmates from pursuing careers in acting, he explained.   

    “Some of the theater training at Yale is obstinately and decidedly anti-vocational, especially given the wealth of talent among composers and playwrights,” said Bonnie Antosh ’13, now a working actress in New York. “I think it’s a shame that the department doesn’t host a senior showcase for casting directors and literary agents.”

    Joseph Roach, former chair of Yale’s Theater Studies program, is quick to defend the University’s lack of pre-professional focus. He notes that a good number of Yale students have gone on to become successful actors — many likely came to Yale for a liberal arts education, not any sort of career training. “From my perspective, no major in Yale College has, or ought to have, a self-limiting vocational focus,” Roach wrote in an email to me.

    Susan Yassky ’16, a Theater Studies major, also felt that Yale strikes a delicate balance between theory and practice, an academic education and pre-professional training. “The department focuses more on cultivating our passions and less on training us in practical skills,” Yassky said, “But that’s what I want from my classes here.”

    And it’s not every school where you would find Theater Studies majors like Yassky taking science credits along with screenwriting classes. For some students, that’s a huge perk. Yale certainly doesn’t offer the vocational preparation that conservatories do but our liberal arts approach has its advantages — like diverse academic offerings and funding in the form of Creative & Performing Arts Awards.

    Nathaniel Dolquist ’15, a Theater Studies major, feels that the University’s distributional requirements make for more well-rounded artists, “People who appreciate many academic disciplines and can bring what they’ve learned back to their art.”

    To Tim Creavin ’15, also a Theater Studies major, Yalies know that they won’t be receiving the same training as conservatory students. He said that those who want to further develop their craft after Yale can enroll in MFA programs.

    What Yale does offer, Creavin argues, is a ‘Do It Yourself’ mentality, and Matthew George ’11, a working playwright, agreed. “Yale provides opportunities to self-create and insofar as self-creation is how you make art, that prepared me,” George said. “But it didn’t offer me much in the way of practical experience. Everyone you talk to sort of ends up saying, ‘just find your own path!’”

    And finding your own path can be difficult — especially when others have theirs clearly defined.   

    The Scapegoat

    Katherine Paulsen ’14 began her senior year the way many Yale kids do — with interviews and case preparation for consulting jobs. She assumed she’d take the same route as many of her friends, getting work as an associate and moving to a large city nearby. The trouble was, the job descriptions on Symplicity simply didn’t excite her. Toward the middle of her senior year, Paulsen realized she wanted to pursue work in theater. The choice wasn’t easy to make when so many of her friends were entering more lucrative fields.

    Looking at the stream of Yalies entering consulting and finance post-graduation, many students pin the blame on Yale’s Office of Career Strategy. Recruitment events for Morgan Stanley and Goldman abound on campus, but jobs in theater and writing can be harder to find.

    “When I was a senior, all these people were going into consulting and banking,” says Yael Zinkow ’12, currently in Los Angeles pursuing work as a comedian. “It was scary because we didn’t have any recruiters coming onto campus to say, ‘hey here’s how you pursue comedy.’”

    Recently, however, the University’s career services took a significant step in catering to the undergraduate arts community. In the summer of 2013, OCS appointed an advisor for students pursuing careers in the arts, Katie Volz.

    Since stepping into her new role, Volz has launched a wide range of initiatives, from hosting screenwriting workshops to connecting students with alumni in theater. She finds that alumni in the arts are particularly eager to lend a hand, recognizing the unique stumbling blocks in their fields of work.

    Volz strives to remain particularly sensitive to the financial difficulties that aspiring artists encounter. Last semester, she organized a financial planning workshop for musicians and performing artists, during which OCS outlined sample budgets and encouraged students to consider alternative revenue sources.

    Volz takes an optimistic — though realistic — approach in helping students finance their artistic careers. “I don’t entirely ignore the ‘starving artist’ notion,” she explained. “While a life in the arts is possible, one has to plan for it in order to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding — like anything else!”

    The new OCS approach operates under a simple premise: Yale students don’t have to exchange artistic dreams for recruitment sessions at the Omni. It’s not easy to make the leap from the Calhoun Cabaret to Broadway, but it’s also not impossible.

    Take Gabrielle Hoyt-Disick ‘15, a senior major in Theater Studies. Eventually, she told me, she is going to be a theater director. Hoyt-Disick has found OCS’s new arts-focused resources “quite helpful” and said she plans to attend an upcoming OCS workshop on careers in theater.   

    “I just met with Katie Volz a couple of days ago, and I can’t say enough good things about her,” Hoyt-Disick said. “She answered every question I had with thought and specificity.”

    Creavin imagined that OCS resources are geared toward students not as familiar with arts opportunities. Those who have already learned about major casting sites might not find the resources as helpful, he explained. He adds that OCS might take a few simple steps to improve its services: The website might list opportunities according to region and provide contact information for Yale-affiliated arts companies.

    Despite these shortcomings, OCS advisors find themselves in a unique position. In many ways, Yale students are removed from the challenges facing most recent graduates. We’re disconnected from that national narrative — the typical young person who fails to find work and moves back in with his parents. The unemployment rate among workers under age 25 is 14.5 percent. Yet by June 2014, over 95 percent of Yale’s graduating seniors had jobs lined up for the fall.

    “There’s this almost self-indulgent feeling of invincibility because we’re part of this history and we have this name stamped on our diploma,” says Tao Tao Holmes ’14, a former columnist for the News, now teaching English in rural China. “We have this sort of head-in-the-sand mentality of ‘of course we’ll get jobs.’”

    Students with that mentality might feel more comfortable gambling with their careers. Charlie Kelly ’14 said that as a Yale graduate, “It feels like you have a backup plan.”

      “I know that if I sent my resume around enough I’d find something that would keep me alive,” Kelly explained. “It leaves you in a good place to set yourself up creatively.” In other words, being a Yalie affords the opportunity for risk. And for many, these are risks worth taking.

    Double-Edged Sword

    On a Friday evening, Larissa Pham ’14 gathers with other Yale alumni in Teo Soares’s ’13 New York apartment for a writing workshop. One of the graduates in attendance now works at Google, another at a Manhattan dance company, another at a local non-profit. They’re doing what it takes to get by, doing real things and adult things.

    But in their spare time they write and share their work with one another.

    “I love having this group to get together and bounce around ideas,” Pham said. She draws inspiration and support from this network of creative Yale graduates, all finding ways to balance their interest in writing with their day jobs.

    Pham’s writing group is just one example of an alumni cohort staying connected in the working world. New York City — colloquially known as “Yale Part II” — is home to many communities of alumni who live and work and socialize together.

    “Almost all of my friends from college live within 10 blocks from me,” says Willa Fitzgerald ’13, an actress living in Crown Heights. As she was making the decision to move to New York and audition for shows, it helped her to know she could rely on the friends she’d made in Yale’s theater community.

    Paulsen told me that, right before our phone interview, she went out to dinner with three other Yale graduates who are also auditioning for shows in New York. They all traded tips and advice on New York theater — what to wear for auditions, how to prepare in advance.

    Dolquist said he sees no drawbacks to New York’s theater world, where Yale graduates can find a broad range of opportunities and a welcoming alumni community.   

    Lucy Fleming ’16, an aspiring actress and writer, is a bit more skeptical of the post-Yale migration to New York. “I do think there’s value in taking time away from the Yale bubble,” she explains. “I know it’s a huge shock to leave undergrad and suddenly not be surrounded by all your friends, but that’s also an important aspect of transitioning into adult life.”

    Living and working with friends from college, many graduates do indeed make a concerted effort to break into new social circles. Antosh decided to actively seek out new friends in New York. “Staying totally immersed in an exported Yale bubble was never attractive to me,” she explained.

    It’s for that reason that some Yale graduates leave the Northeast. Holmes told me that one of her Global Affairs advisors urged her not to “continue Yale” by moving to New York City. “I see Yalies living together and I anticipated feeling a small pang of FOMO, but I haven’t had even the smallest bit,” she said. “Four years is enough. I was ready to leave.”   

    New York’s expansive Yale network didn’t really appeal to Holmes. And she isn’t the only Yale graduate navigating a complicated relationship with the institutional name on her degree. Graduates say that in the theater industry, stamping the Yale brand on your resume doesn’t always work in your favor.

    “I find that the Yale pedigree is a double-edged sword,” said Antosh. “I’ve had directors who probably gave me a second look because they assumed I was a ‘smart actor,’ and I’ve had other directors almost not cast me because they’d worked with other Yalies who had a chip on their shoulder.”

    Kelly, who’s looking for work as a writer in Los Angeles, said that he has noticed a similar adversity toward Yale graduates. He finds that employers respond well to narratives of desperation, tales of sacrifice for art’s sake. “If you come into meetings like ‘I’m this well-bred Yale graduate,’ they don’t respond well,” Kelly said. “They automatically assume you’re this trust fund-y preppy graduate who already has their ducks in a row.”

    Summer Homes, Starving Artists

    John Stillman ’14 and Brian Loeb ’14 were roommates their sophomore year at Yale. Post-graduation, they’re living in the same place again: New York. (Surprise!) But this time, they’re not sharing a bedroom — they’re not even in the same neighborhood.

    Loeb is working at J.P. Morgan, living in a Tribeca apartment with two other graduates. He typically gets into work around 9:00 in the morning and can finish anywhere between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m., sometimes even later. Though the hours are long, Loeb said he’s enjoying work and loves living in New York City with its myriad bars, restaurants and concerts. His apartment, he added, is “a lot bigger than I would’ve expected.”

    You’ll find Stillman in Williamsburg, where he’s working as a freelance journalist. He has taken on side jobs to support himself; he has worked as a caretaker and he has done gallery installations. He has even modeled for a Facebook messenger ad. Right now, he said, he’s not ready to determine his lifelong career — he’s experimenting, trying to see what fits.

    That’s somewhat difficult in a costly city like New York, where the disparities between professions become apparent pretty quickly.

    “I’m making enough to live, but my friends are making enough to buy summer homes,” Stillman laughed. “I’m happy for them, but it’s crazy how the disparity is not something that takes time to set in.”

    Charlotte Parker ’13, now working on a farm in New Jersey, has also found that class divisions take root after graduation. “When you’re at Yale, finances aren’t totally relevant,” she explained. Of course, she continues, there’s that small subset of students who eat at posh restaurants and throw lavish parties — but frequently students’ financial situations are unclear. “Once you graduate, you can tell a bit more about what people’s financial situations are by what they’re doing on the weekends, where they go out to eat.”

    Sometimes, Parker sees the Instagram photos posted by her classmate working at Vogue. Despite living and studying together for four years, she said, their lifestyles won’t ever be the same.

    Even if you’re doing what you love, you might not find it easy to pursue your passions when your classmates are making six figures. And some say it’s not all a matter of personal choice: Our undergraduate lifestyle informs our career plans. Yale and its frills — its parade of comestibles, its endless fellowships and grants — might encourage certain expectations of future wealth. To some students, the emphasis here is on the luxe (and not the lux).

    “You become accustomed to a lifestyle at Yale that’s kind of unattainable if you really do the starving artist thing,” explained Kelly. “You get chained to a kind of fanciness.” Finance and consulting recruiters give us the chance to latch on to that fanciness, Kelly said, with their lavish information sessions at the Study.

    Paulsen certainly felt the pressures that Kelly describes. She says it wasn’t easy to turn down a high-paying consulting job and its accompanying prestige. “But I realized that sort of work is always available,” she said. “If I don’t try to do acting now though, I never will. I’ll never again put a two-year pause on my life to be a starving actress.”

    Not a single person asked me if I wanted to audition for a management consulting troupe freshman year. On the other hand, I was accosted by about five comedy clubs and nine publications and all 15 a cappella groups.

    So what happens between an extracurricular bazaar and senior year? At Yale, are the arts just a hobby, or are they a possible career?   

    I guess there’s no easy answer.

    But still, so many graduates are making art and making ends meet. Right now, they’re the four percent. And as OCS expands its arts resources, their numbers may grow.

    Antosh told me she was willing to make sacrifices for a career in theater. Unlike some of her peers, she gave up money and security and outside affirmation. But to her, the art was worth the risk.

    “Deciding to pursue a career in the arts was never a matter of courage,” she said. “It was a matter of hunger and love.”

  3. A Dead End into a Dark Place: Leon Botstein on the Humanities

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    Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College and the conductor and artistic director of the American Symphony Orchestra, began his talk on Wednesday night at the Yale Center for British Art by warning the audience that he intended to “infuriate you as much as I can.” Between the title of the night’s talk, “Beyond Fashion and Fear: The Future of the Humanities in the American University” and his opening promise, Botstein provided a humorous opening for what is hardly a funny concern for many humanities students: that their degrees are irrelevant and their prospects poor for finding paid work in a depressed economy.

    Botstein’s opening remark in some sense typifies the man himself, who is well known for his outspoken disregard for CollegeBoard, the SAT and college rankings publications. Botstein was ironic throughout his talk, moving effortlessly between jokes satirizing the response of parents to their children’s choice of major and deeply serious suggestions about the state of art and culture in the United States and society at large.

    According to him, many parents now dread their children’s turn to English literature, seriously believing that the major is a “dead end into a dark place.” He delighted in recounting his recent visit to Stanford, when he dined with humanities faculty who fret about their increasingly slighted role in the intellectual emphases of the university, quipping that the Stanford arts faculty have “always been marginal” there.

    Botstein did take a more serious tone about contemporary society’s real disinterest and detachment from the arts. According to him, our educational system has failed to cultivate an understanding of the relevance and importance of the arts and humanities in the American student. Most Americans, Botstein says, lack a personal attachment to music, art or literature.

    To use his example, unlike crazed soccer fans, who literally kill each other over the results of games, such passion does not exist around arts because many people lack even an amateur association with them — most Americans cannot draw or paint or play an instrument. It’s debatable whether even the most hardcore violinists ever think about beating each other up after concerts gone wrong, but this is beside the point to Botstein.

    Yale itself, Botstein continues, plays a role in perpetuating some of the “fear” surrounding involvement with the arts and humanities. Strict departmental structure and archaic, technical language of academia prevent scholars from considering important questions that span across disciplines. Students who choose to specialize in tech or natural sciences graduate with degrees that lack a background in the humanities and thus find themselves unprepared to tackle moral and ethical questions that the humanities investigate in depth.

    Botstein’s charisma and good humor gave his talk a levity that saved it from falling into a rant about the lack of public interest in the arts and the failings of institutions like Yale to help correct society’s apathy. And according to him there is hope for the future; he sees technology as a positive force for bringing the arts back to the people. But he doesn’t offer much of a vision for how technology can be effectively used to bring classical music and literature back to everyday people.

    Nor does Botstein offer an alternative to organizing departments by major, but he is sure that the status quo presents structural impediments to practical application of the arts and humanities. He refused to acknowledge the simple fact that any expansion of music or art programs in schools will require funding that is scarce. Maybe individual science and math teachers can do more in their classrooms to embrace history and literature in order to instill an ethical and moral education in their students. But for schools to emphasize the arts on an institutional level, they will have to spend.

    Botstein hints at this conclusion when he acknowledges that struggling orchestras and operations like the Met will potentially have to be subsidized in order to survive. He is clearly wary of the sensitive subject of money, though, and doesn’t press the issue. He explains how at Bard the precarious financial situation drives them to innovate, but the school is practically dedicated to creative study, and public schools have to emphasize the core curriculum over anything else. Most schools simply don’t have the same flexibility that Bard does to throw what little money they have into strengthening their arts programs.

    Ultimately, Botstein argues for vast structural changes to public and higher education in order to include the arts and humanities as central pillars of their core curriculums. This is a noble ideal, but in order to cultivate an appreciation of the arts among American students in college, that education will have to start at an elementary school level. And this is a question of funding that Botstein is not ready to address.

  4. Perfection Unveiled

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    Most people today would probably say that perfection is subjective — a simple matter of perception. But as I looked through “The Perfect Man” exhibit, housed in the Rotunda of the Harvey Cushing Medical Library, I found myself contemplating the possible objectivity of perfection and questioning whether humans — who are generally seen as imperfect — may actually be able to embody such a quality. In 1895, Yale School of Medicine graduate and physical education expert Dudley Sargent believed that he had found perfection in Eugen Sandow, a bodybuilder who Sargent described as “… the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen. He is strong, active and graceful, combining the characteristics of Apollo, Hercules and the ideal athlete.”

    Ten lantern slides in the Rotunda contain photographs of Sandow in various positions –— nude, and proudly placing his flawless body on display. Flexing, Sandow’s figure resembles the bodybuilders of today, but the perfection he exemplifies is not simply physical. Sargent also praised him for possessing the qualities of a “perfect gentleman” and for his vast knowledge of anatomy. To the right of the photographs sits Sandow’s book “Life is Movement.” Its subtitle reads “The Physical Reconstruction and Regeneration of the People (A Diseaseless World),” and the book contains numerous illustrations of healthy bodies, including Sandow’s own. This display is a celebration of physical and mental excellence, a tribute to the idea of perfection, and an exploration of how perfection can be achieved by an individual.

    But among the other posters, books and artifcats in the Rotunda, this section is an anomaly. While the Eugen Sandow display is a testament to human greatness, the other pieces serve as reminders of human mortality. One of the cases holds British Medical Officer James Haran’s notes on plague patients in Nairobi in 1902. Haran studied 48 different patients who contracted the plague, and juxtaposed with “The Perfect Man,” his extensive notes on human sickness are a rather depressing — albeit much-needed — dose of reality. Each patient in Haran’s notebook is an individual who suffered at the hands of the plague, contrasting heavily with Sandow’s idea of “A Diseaseless World.”

    The case directly next to “The Perfect Man” focuses on mental illness by displaying “The Mind Unveiled,” a book containing photographs and information about 22 people who attended the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children in Philadelphia. The book in this case is open to a picture of one of the 22 “imbecile children”. The child is sitting in a chair with an almost pained expression on his face — a stark contrast to the photographs of Sandow contained in the case to the left.

    The other displays contain rare works of medical history like Clarence Ussher’s book “An American Physician in Turkey,” which recounts events Ussher experiences with a hospital in Turkey, such as his witnessing of the Armenian genocide, the destruction of his hospital and outbreaks of malaria, typhus and cholera among the Turkish people. Leslie Buswell’s rare first-hand accounts of being an ambulance driver in France have also been acquired by the Cushing Library and are on display in the case next to Ussher’s.

    But the case at the opening of the Rotunda, containing a testimonial to Dr. Belfast Burton, returns to the more optimistic idea of humans possessing a certain greatness. Burton was born a slave, but practiced medicine in Philadelphia and Haiti and is praised in the testimonial for his “thirst for knowledge,” “sagacity” and “sound judgment”. Although Burton is never given a title like “The Perfect Man,” he still stands as a symbol for human potential, as he was able to rise above his slave status to accomplish great things and receive recognition for them.

    By presenting samplings of ideas like human strength and excellence alongside examples of human weakness and disease, “The Perfect Man” is not only a fascinating journey through medical history, but also a comprehensive display of what it means to be human.

  5. Health in Harmony

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    In 4th grade, I fractured my right humerus in an arm-wrestling match with my elementary school crush and shortly afterward caught a terrific bout of cold. Bed-ridden, arm nestled in a cotton sling adorned with blurred orange and red Sharpie signatures, and unable to write, I lamented my fate with mournful, out-of-tune limericks.

    Peering into the glass display cases in the foyer of the Harvey Cushing Medical Library, those old ditties played scratchily in my head. The posters and songbooks on display are culled from the William Helfland collection in “A Cure for What Ails You,” an exhibit devoted to music about medicine. Pieces are arranged by venue (British town halls) or subjects (children, nurses) in the quiet space near the lobby of the building. Medical students brush past, preoccupied and tight-lipped, while their depictions inside the cases are open-mouthed with song.

    A series of surgical compositions is especially sharp-humored. “Oh Would I Were A Surgeon,” from the 1890s, opens with these lyrics: “You cut and saw and chisel, you cauterize and drill/ you wrench and twist and amputate, and possibly you kill!” Frankly, I think I would prefer waiting room muzak to a medical professional whistling this sort of tune. Nearby is a set of Argentine tango sheet music, with a print of doctors and nurses dancing passionately in blood-spattered white coats.

    Facing each other from the opposite ends of the foyer are two cases, one dedicated to children and the other to nurses. The curator’s notes — written by librarian Toby Appel — discuss the function of medical-themed music in early education: teaching disease awareness and healthy practices. In the nurses’ case, World War I songs praise the white angels of the battlefield, with melodramatic titles like “I Don’t Want to Get Well” and a picture of a sick soldier gazing adoringly at his caretaker.

    In another case, we learn that those Pepto-Bismol jingles are the bubble-gum pink progeny of other medicine campaigns. In an attempt to sell its cure-all Bromo-Seltzer, the Emerson Drug Company distributed popular sheet music with ads on the front and back. “Murphy’s Head, or After Kelly’s Party” is a particularly loud example of this marketing. On the cover is an apish gentleman, clutching his head in pain, waiting at the druggist’s. The refrain runs: “A little Bromo-Seltzer, when we get awake. This is why our heads are cool and why they never ache.” The song follows a particularly long night for Lord Murphy, who is miraculously cured by a seltzer solution. Patrons could pick up these 54-song collections at pharmarcies, or mail in Bromo-Seltzer wrappers and receive a music packet in return.

    But perhaps the most interesting idea that occurs within this crossover of music and medicine is the metaphorical capacity of “sickness.” Hence, we find Irving Berlin diagnosing a case of rag-ititis: complaining to the doctor that “any little rag will start me doing it” and “some peculiar something sets my feet a-jumping.” By the end of the recording, the conclusion is “there is no cure” — everybody, including the doctor, is dancing. In “You’re a Sweet Little Headache,” Bing Crosby serenades his migraine mistress. The performing arts become ‘addictive’, and love can be an ‘ailment.’ In the sheet music on display, then, we find the creative ability to transform medical terminology: to move from the sterile, hygienic rooms of a clinic to the feverish, sweaty, destabilizing realm of human emotion. All of a sudden, Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug” or Lady Gaga’s pleas of “I want your disease” are framed by a robust tradition.

  6. Judging by More Than its Cover

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    Inserted discreetly between a book’s binding and its text, endpapers are easy to overlook. “Under the Covers” — an exhibit at the Beinecke Library dedicated purely to the visual history of these small slips of parchment, textile and silk — felt like a much-needed homage to the neglected underdog of the world of books and book arts.

    The exhibit traces the development of endpapers from their utilitarian beginnings through to the 21st century. Samples from the medieval codex of 1450, for example, are rough and pale, made mostly from manuscript waste and serve simply to protect the elaborate illustrations within the book. Moving through the displays to the 18th century, you begin to see endpapers assume an aesthetic role, such as in the intricately wrought veins of more decorative pieces. The marbled endpapers of a volume of letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawne, with their pastel blues and pale pinks, were added in the late 19th century. They serve no other purpose but to complement the beauty of Keats’s naïve and ephemeral love affair.

    There is a jarring shift to the 20th century. Pages of Dutch gilt and French marble are replaced with advertisements for everything from medicinal remedies to foodstuffs to legal services. Moving through the displays, it’s easy to feel a progression, not only of the history of endpapers, but of our artistic culture as a whole — from pragmatic to aesthetic to commercial. Finally, we arrive at the nostalgia that defines the art world today. One display shows a collection from Persephone Books — a shop in Bloomsbury, London that has built its entire brand around the art of endpapers. The endpaper of one book, “A Writer’s Diary” by Virginia Woolf, imitates the white of the dust jacket that Vanessa Bell designed for its first edition. We are reminded from this display that endpapers are making a resurgence, attempting to restate the significance of physical, tangible books in the midst of the eBook revolution of the 21st century.

    What intrigued me most about the exhibit, however, were the areas of intersection between the physical world of endpapers and the intangible world of ideas and narratives. Walter Crane, a British artist whose works are displayed in the exhibition, championed the marriage of aesthetics and text. He took part in the arts and crafts movement — a reaction against industrialization and the uniformity of machine-made goods — and stated that a book should function like “an architecturally interesting house or museum, in which the author and illustrator work together to take readers by the hand and lead them from ‘room to room’ of the unfolding narrative.” E.H Sheppard’s map of the “100 Aker Wood,” displayed at the end of the exhibit, for example, was integral to A.A. Milne’s narrative. According to Elizabeth Frengel, research services librarian at the Beinecke who put together this exhibition, it was the play between Milne’s story and this illustration that inspired her to explore endpapers in more detail.

    But endpapers can do more than just complement the narrative, they can elevate it and transcend it. In the “Imaginary Landscapes” display, the endpapers of a miniature-book edition of William Wordsworth’s poems, covered in soft watercolors reminiscent of a sylvan landscape, perfectly capture the spirit, tranquility, and pastoral elegance of his ballads. A 1969 edition of Rachel Carson’s 1951 Marine study, “The Sea Around Us,” achieved a similar pairing of content and form. Its endpapers, painted seascapes, wrap around the text in a way such that the reader seems perched on the edge of the cliff upon as they open the book. Carson’s work is scientific and yet, thanks to these endpapers, it is imbued with poetry.

    When talking to Frengel about the exhibit, she mentioned in passing that endpapers, hidden inside the bindings of books have little direct influence on their sales. When you buy a book, you examine its exterior and the quality of its material, but rarely consider craftsmanship past that. So it’s all the more intriguing to witness that, throughout history, bookbinders and bookmakers have spent meticulous attention and effort on the endpaper’s creation and perfection. The end result is a subtlety pleasant surprise to encounter upon opening the pages of a book; a wink from the craftsman.

  7. Lines and Letters

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    You have to be buzzed in to enter the Institute Library — an unusual formality in the otherwise casual hullabaloo of Chapel Street, and yet it lends the institution an air of old-timey charm. I press the button, wait for a crackling, and when asked, “What are you here for?” answer honestly: “I’d like to see the books.”

    Indeed, you should enter just to take in the library — it’s a fully somatic experience: breathe in the old pages, run your fingers along leather-bound volumes, bask in golden sunlight and linger among words.

    But today, I’m on a mission, so I continue upstairs to the gallery that the Institute Library opened over two years ago. Since then the space has hosted a number of exhibitions, organized primarily by writer-turned-curator Stephen Kobasa. The latest one is a collection of drawings titled “Crossing the Line.”

    The space itself is spare: four white walls, pictures framed or raw-edged, sitting on the floor or hung several feet above a scuffed red parquet. A few radiators with herbivore teeth, rounded and yellow, grin with their grilles. Outside through the windows is a parking lot with ant-people waving little arms about some issue or another.  You can hear Sterling-style construction work outside, but for the most part the room is silent and well lit.

    Two printed gallery guides lie on the table. There are no plaques or labels on the walls, only these papers that identify the surrounding pieces. Later Mr. Kobasa tells me, “I don’t like footnotes,” and I take the lack of guidance to mean I should explore intrepidly: experience without explanation. I pick up the list and begin a slow museum shuffle — triple step, pause, triple step — towards item #1.

    As I look around the room, I begin to notice many graphite caterpillars. In Dave Bassine’s untitled drawing, I take the liberty of seeing a handful of charcoal tapeworms, mouths open, body segments collapsing into each other. In Livingston’s acidic “Worms,” large ones lounge around in their striped pink sweaters, suspended in white space. After all, if a line were given a heart and a few gastrointestinal necessities, wouldn’t it most closely resemble those striated critters?

    The rest of the pieces have more disciplined worms, lines that have arranged themselves obediently into shapes.

    Indeed, the nature-oriented works find lines as they appear in the world, like gentle Euclidean fingerprints in the ground. Lenny Moscowitz’s “Landscape Study” features chunky blobs that subside and uplift into hills, and, in Joan Backes’ “Berlin Series,” ragged gray bands recall magnetic anomalies on the ocean seafloor. In Rick Shaefer’s stunningly rendered “Sugar Maple,” old men’s wrinkles emerge out of inked bark. Kelly Schmidt’s “Bones” is a micro-exhibit of small skeletal bits; I thought I saw a pelvic bone, some vertebrae and a lone hollow scapula.

    The portraits and more comprehensive, detailed challenged the primacy of the stroke. Caught up in the whole, I lost sight of the fundamental unit — I could see automobiles, or freckled faces, but the crosshatches were swallowed up by complex layers. I longed for the simple fullness of “Blind Contours of a Lily,” a stunning work that fleshes out petals with black continuous lines.

    “Luce Drawing II,” halfway through, made me smile. Pondering, I thought I recognized the outline of a mug with a teabag inside, but I couldn’t be sure. The lines were endearingly crooked, and I was reminded of that favorite children’s activity of “draween” — grabbing pencils in fistfuls and making skirts from triangles and heads from circles and sometimes not drawing the ears or nose because they were blocky.

    On an upside-down table at the entrance to the exhibit, there’s a clean, bound guestbook. Inside are yet more lines, wriggling circles, fluid script strokes and straight-angled bends: everyone with their idiosyncratic signature. Downstairs, in a large filing cabinet, there are other autographs, thousands of index cards listing the library’s book collection in a neat, disciplined hand. I remark that the writing looks like calligraphy, thick lines and carefully inked forms. Chelsea, a volunteer with a recent master’s in library science, tells me that there used to be a font for cataloging collections: “Library Hand,” for uniformity in documents.

    Over the phone on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Kobasa tells me, “In our culture, people don’t like to be called on to put imagination to work; they want the blanks filled in.” We demand high definition in pixels; books will soon be enhanced with multimedia. But the Institute Library and this exhibition both stand in defense of the line. Chapbooks and sketches, the Library Hand font and the charcoal silhouette — the white-and-black spaces that our minds color with thoughts.

  8. At 177 College St., Artists in the Making

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    It’s 10:30 on a Thursday morning, and Mr. McAfee’s juniors are warming up for class.

    “Head voice!” he calls out, then “Chest voice!” and the row of students whooeep and heeay and hiiii, shaking from side to side before they’re told to inhale. “Now say your names, say, ‘Hi, my name is,’ and then the name of your character,” he continues. “It has to be big and full and vibrating, so everyone in the space can hear it without even trying.”

    “Hi, my name is Polonius.”

    “Hi, my name is Claudius.”

    McAfee stops a girl in a blue sweatshirt who he doesn’t think has spoken loudly enough, and asks her to try again.

    “HI, MY NAME IS OPHELIA,” she shouts.

    “See you’re going to hurt your voice that way, you can’t be hurting your voice,” McAfee tells her. “You can be that loud without straining yourself. You have a lot of lines so I want to make sure everyone hears them, because you’re doing some great stuff.”

    There’s a collective “awwwwww” from the other students standing on stage, and after a couple of giggles the group carries on.

    “Hi, my name is Hamlet.”

    “Hi, my name is Rosencrantz.”

     

    * * *

     

    These students are putting on “Hamlet” as a class as part of their work at the Theater Department at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in downtown New Haven (known as the Co-op). The school is located less than two blocks from Old Campus, on the corner of College and Crown streets.

    While 65 percent of students at Co-op live in New Haven, 35 percent come from outside the city. The Interdistrict Magnet Schools system provides free bus transportation to students, including those from towns such as Guilford and North Branford, and travel can take as much as an hour each way.

    Like all of the 18 New Haven Magnet Schools, the only way to get into the Co-op is by a lottery which takes place in February of each year. Though no one can audition or submit a writing portfolio, students must select one of the school’s five arts departments to apply to: creative writing, visual arts, music, dance and theater.

    Infinity Jean, a junior at the school, said that she was so set on working on theater that Co-op was the only school to which she applied. “It’s a good thing I got in,” she added. “Or I would have gone to Hillhouse [her neighborhood public school in New Haven].”

    Jean was luckier than a lot of students: for each spot in its freshman class, the school is forced to turn away many more students than it accepts. With a total enrollment of 650, Co-op consistently has the longest waiting list each year of any school in the magnet system, according to Arts Director Suzannah Holsenbeck ’05.

    A passion for the arts is not the only reason some apply to Co-op. Theater teacher Robert Esposito said that he always begins with a new group of students by asking, “Why are you here?” And for some students, the answer is simply “because my mom doesn’t want me to go to Hillhouse.

    Esposito can sympathize with the parents: Co-op, he said, has a kinder environment than some surrounding neighborhood schools. On top of the Co-op’s strong academic reputation and sparkling new facilities, Esposito said students are less likely to be bullied there. The school is heavily female, and has a large openly gay community.

    “I know for me, I have an 11-year-old daughter. I would love for her to come to Co-op,” Esposito said. “I think that says a lot — I totally understand why parents force their kids to come here.”

     

    * * *

     

    While the Co-op offers a standard, college preparatory academic track, students spend an hour and a half on their chosen arts every day — a full 25 percent of their total instructional time, and the largest concentration in any subject matter that they have.

    For the first two years the theater curriculum strives to expose students to the widest possible range of aspects of theater, with freshmen focusing on ensemble building and sophomores on scene study. In these two years they’ll study everything from the Stanislavski method of acting to technical theater, read “Oedipus Rex” and learn techniques for auditioning. As juniors they’ll split off into technical and acting tracks based on students’ interests, and study Shakespeare before moving into modern drama their senior year.

    Senior Frankie Douglass said that while she has always liked theater, before coming to Co-op she didn’t consider herself an artist. The Co-op school was her second choice after the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), also located in downtown New Haven — which selects students through a merit-based, competitive application process. “It was my first time auditioning for anything,” she said. “I messed it up.”

    After three and a half years at Co-op, she has realized that not only does she belong among the arts, she needs them. “I feel like we all look at the world differently now,” Douglass said. “Now situations, tragedies we go through, we can take all that and we have somewhere to put it.”

    Despite representing a similar economic demographic as other area public schools, the Co-op can boast significantly higher test scores, and rates of college attendance. Of all the students who graduated from the Theater Department last year, Esposito said that maybe all but two are now in college, while noting that funding can remain an obstacle for many students from low-income families.

    “When you’re dealing with any kind of at-risk population you have to give students a reason to come to school,” he said. “When they realize they have a show in a month and people are depending on [them], they’re gonna go to school. The largest step is getting them in the building.”

    Senior Lyanne Segui thinks having arts every day helps their academics by giving them something to do that requires focus but still gives them a break.

    Co-op students’ enthusiasm for the arts is palpable. During a break between classes, a girl asks her friend about the student dance show that took place the weekend before while fixing her hair in the bathroom mirror. Later, two boys talk about a visual arts student’s capstone project presented earlier in the day on their way to lunch. One girl in McAfee’s class actually complained that the school had closed the day before, “for just like, two inches of snow,” making the group miss a day of rehearsal for “Hamlet.”

     

    * * *

     

    Because of the lottery system, the students who come to Co-op each year come from very diverse backgrounds, theater teacher Christi Sargent explained: some come from arts magnet middle schools, others have little experience, or interest, in the arts at all. While this range of experience can pose a challenge to instructors, Esposito said that he wouldn’t necessarily change the system.

    “There would be so many kids we’d miss out on because they wouldn’t have the confidence or savvy to come and audition,” he said. “When I look back, all the kids I think were most special and got the most out of it would never have had the guts to audition, would have had no clue they had any talent.”

    And Sargent maintains that with enough hard work and focus, everyone can succeed in the theater program. One of her main tasks is simply helping those who don’t come in with a high level of confidence in themselves to grow comfortable with the kind of risk-taking theater requires.

    “The people you meet in theater class are not people you’re going to meet in creative writing,” senior Yasmari Collazo said. “They’re out there, they don’t care, that weirdness rubs off on you.” Simone Ngongi, a junior, said the Co-op theater program has helped her get used to stepping out of her comfort zone.

    Esposito said that the Co-op is not immune from problems that plague lower-income schools, such as students who come in with low reading levels, and with a correspondingly low level of faith in their own abilities. Nevertheless, teaching at Co-op is “easy” compared to the Fair Haven Middle School where he began working as a teacher.

    The main task for Esposito is to focus on what students do well and build from that, no matter how small the victories may seem at first. He recalled one past student who, when first asked to do a presentation as a freshman, simply lost her breath and ran out of the room. But by her senior year, he said, she was the lead in the class mainstage.

    Sargent said one of her current freshman initially broke down in tears when asked to participate in class, and she had to work in small increments to overcome her fears. “Every day I gave her new goals to accomplish,” Sargent said, “Tomorrow she’s going to be in her first play.”

     

    * * *

     

    Sargent does not push her kids to go into theater professionally, and doesn’t see that as the purpose of the program. “I want to show students how this can change their lives in terms of confidence,” she said. “These skills transition to all aspects of life, whether you want to be a nurse or a secretary.”

    When it comes to the future, students themselves are largely pragmatic. According to Segui, most of her classmates don’t plan to pursue theater because they want to be financially stable, not because they don’t enjoy it. Douglass said that she plans to be a culinary nutritionist in college, and perhaps someday later she will go back to acting, perhaps even attend a conservatory.

    But though Segui is very aware of the uncertainty involved in a career in theater, she is certain that she wants to pursue it nevertheless.

    “There’s just never been anything else I’ve found as interesting,” she said.

    Collazo, who recently finished her college applications, said that she used to dream of growing up to be a famous actress and starring in movies, but that over the years her perspective has gotten a dose of reality.

    “I realized I need a game plan,” she laughed. But while Collazo said acting isn’t the main thing she wants to focus on in college, she was equally apprehensive about quitting it altogether. “How do you let go of something you do every day?” she said. “This school takes the arts and really shoves them into our personalities.”

  9. Art professor Papageorge to receive Lucie Award for photography

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    Yale School of Art Professor Tod Papageorge has been selected to receive a Lucie Award for documentary photography.

    The Lucie Awards are given by the Lucie Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to honor “master photographers.” The award, which honors exemplary photography, will be given out at The Lucie Awards ceremony, which will be held on Oct. 8 at the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom in California.

    Papageorge is perhaps best known for his black-and-white street photography, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s concept of “the decisive moment.” He has previously won two Guggenheim fellowships on photography as well as fellowship grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.

    Papageorge was also the director of graduate studies for photography at the School of Art until 2011. During his tenure, the program produced 35 Guggenheim fellows and counts artists Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Lois Conner and Katy Grannan among its graduates.

    He has also authored three books and had his work published in three monographs, including Passing Through Eden, which consists of photos taken in Central Park in New York City over a 25-year period.

  10. Yale alums perform in East Village “barplay”

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    Recent Yale alums are taking over the East Village’s theater scene — or, at least on Tuesday night, they took over East Village Tavern in New York City for a performance called “barplay.” The show featured the work of six “truly spectacular” playwrights — four of whom are Yale graduates — putting on a series of short dialogues set in a bar.

    Directed by Maggie Burrows ’09 and Cordelia Istel ’10, “barplay” featured the performances of William Alden ‘10, Cory Finley ‘11, Charles Gariepy ‘09 and Sophia Lear ’08, and was put on in coordination with Brooklyn theater company Rudy’s Meritocracy and art and publication salon Blue Stocking Society. All the performers are young writers and artists — Finley is a playwright, Lear is assistant literary editor of The New Republic, Gariepy writes freelance reviews and Alden writes for The New York Times’ Dealbook section.

    The dialogues were “performed simultaneously, perhaps more than once” at the tavern. The audience was asked to show up to the bar, drink, wander and eavesdrop on these performed dialogues. Mother Yale flexed her creative muscle, and she said “it was good.”

  11. School of Architecture alums win national award

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    Two alumni of the School of Architecture are among this year’s winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters award.

    One of five firms to receive a distinction in architecture, the New-Haven based practice Gray Organschi Architecture — run by Elizabeth Gray ’82 ARC ’87 and Alan Organschi ARC ’88 — accepted the $7500 prize on March 20.

    Since 1991, the Arts and Letters Awards have honored American architects “whose work is characterized by strong personal direction.” They’re are selected by a committee of architects and architecture critics. Gray Organschi will display their work along with the other 2012 winners on the Audobon Terrace in New York City from May 17 to June 10.

    In honoring Gray and Organschi, the Academy described them as “teachers, architects, and fabricators whose New-Haven based practice has explored the intersection of environmental constraint, social need, and available resources to produce architecture that is environmentally sensitive as well as culturally and physically durable.”

    The Academy also commended the firm’s skill at transforming everyday structures into “elegantly, exactingly detailed buildings that are as spare and as astonishingly rich as a poem.” Nice. Read more here.