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New program brings students
face-to-face with top artists
May 10, 1999

eated at a round table in the portico of South Campus dining hall overlooking Mirror Lake, art students and faculty engage in lively conversation. Among them is Yale art historian and professor Thomas Crow.

Between bites of lunch, the discussion ranges from Crow's work and current issues in the art world to job opportunities for a particular student. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable; and, for now, the distinction between students and mentors is blurred.

The gathering is part of a series of spring events designed to mesh academic experience with students' daily lives, says Gina Werfel, head of the art and art history department.

The events were hosted by the Department of Art and Art History, the Institute for Teaching and Learning and the Department of Residential Life. The guests in the series presented a public lecture, had breakfast (or in this case, lunch) with students, and gave a master class or seminar to a select group of undergraduates.

The series included video artist Mary Lucier, painter and Columbia University professor Gregory Amenoff, and Crow, the Robert Lehman Professor of History of Art at Yale.

A special lecture and discussion, also followed by a master class and breakfast, was given by photographer Sally Mann and former New York Times art critic Andy Grundberg.

"The series has generated a ton of excitement both within our department and in other departments," Werfel says.

"Having breakfast with professors, the department head, the dean and the artists gave me a feeling of really being a part of the art world."

Amy Pierce
Art Major

Robert Gray, dean of the School of Fine Arts agrees. "These guests are leaders in their fields. The response to the program has been extraordinary. What is particularly exciting is the interest the series has generated throughout the University and out into the community," he says. "I hope that we can find ways to continue and expand what Gina has started."

Werfel, who came to the University last year, says that providing these kinds of events helps promote a sense of community.

"My previous experience has been in small liberal arts colleges, so this feels natural. It's the kind of thing that should be happening in a big place like this," she says.

The events are also opportunities for students to make contacts that may be important for their future. "These are connections that can last a lifetime," she says.

"We're close enough to major cities that we can bring in high profile people," she adds. "Why not have them interact with our students and see how great they are?"

Both undergraduate and graduate students have enjoyed interacting with the visiting lecturers.

Amy Pierce, an art major who lives in Buckley, attended most of the events. "Having breakfast with professors, the department head, the dean and the artists gave me a feeling of really being part of the art world," she says. "It's an opportunity that students don't normally get, especially with such well-known artists."

At first, says Werfel, the informal breakfasts targeted the art and art history cluster students living in South Campus. But interest in attending grew beyond that group.

Assistant to the dean of students David Ouimette, who helped organize the breakfasts, said they break down a lot of barriers.

"I think the lecture series is an incredibly important and invigorating supplement to the program here," says Russell De Young, who will be graduating with an MFA in drawing and painting later this month. "With receptions and breakfasts, there has been ample opportunity for students to interact with important outside scholars on a fairly intimate level," he says.

Pierce, an art major with a concentration in photography, particularly appreciated Grundberg's seminar, which included a critique of the students' photographs. "It was very exciting for me to have a real critic come in, look at my work and tell me what he thought," she says.

Heather Masciandaro, who is majoring in art, with a concentration in painting, and English, enjoyed listening to the artists discuss their work.

"You can hear about an artist's work, but it's not the same as when you hear from the artist himself," she says. "It's very inspiring."

Sherry Fisher