The Yale School of Art’s Art and Social Justice Initiative aims to foster an awareness as to how a practicing artist in today’s landscape is both challenged and influenced by the current climate of political and social dissonance, turmoil of public opinion, and structural problems of inequity—all amid rising costs of graduate art education.
Founded in November 2017 by Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean and Professor of Art Marta Kuzma, and launched by a $750,000 gift from an anonymous Yale alumnus, the Art and Social Justice Initiative endeavors toward equity in graduate visual arts education, within which personal or social circumstances, race, gender, ethnic origin, or economic background might in no way serve as an obstacle to higher learning.
The Initiative proceeds in:
- Pursuit of scholarships for financial aid to foster increased diversity and inclusion in graduate arts education.
- Community outreach and engagement in the form of programs and offerings that promote exchange between art and non-art audiences.
- Teaching opportunities for current and recent graduate students that connect art with the broader public.
- The development of programming and curricula within the Yale School of Art that reflect on art’s role in society.
- Cooperations undertaken with Yale University schools and organizations, engaging the work of MFA students within the context of a larger research university.
The Initiative’s inaugural program is the Yale School of Art Prison Education Initiative, that in Summer 2018 established an annual teaching fellowship that expands access to arts education in the Connecticut correctional system by giving selected graduating MFA students the opportunity to teach courses for incarcerated youth. Made possible through a partnership with the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall and Yale Summer Session, the annual summer art program facilitates the development of MFA students’ pedagogical practices by offering the freedom to design, develop, and implement their own curricula. Initiated at the Mason Youth Institution in Cheshire, Connecticut, the program’s regular seminars are the same as those offered to undergraduate students at the Yale School of Art, and include Basic Drawing, Painting Basics, and Visual Thinking. Together, these foundation courses constitute a program through which incarcerated students can advance an interest in art practice and earn credit from Yale College that may culminate in a degree at a degree-granting institution.
The Art and Social Justice Initiative is pursuing a wide-ranging constellation of workshops, seminars, projects, and publications that emphasize the essential nature of interdisciplinary collaboration within the School of Art and the international Yale community. As the leading graduate art school in the United States, Yale School of Art promotes research through a dialogue with other professional schools and departments in the University that offer students a unique post-graduate and undergraduate art education that is also relevant within the broader visual arts field both nationally and internationally. Collaborations include the continued development of applied research projects and cooperations across the university that result in expanded programming and curricula. One such cooperation came through a partnership with the Yale Farm in Fall 2018: As part of a seminar series that focused on social and environmental justice and anthropogenic climate change, School of Art students engage in hands-on activities through a number of harvesting efforts and sustainable food systems. A developing collaboration with Yale Natural Lands similarly explores art in relation to environmentalism through a year-long research initiative across three uninhabited natural forest and coastal areas in Connecticut: Richards Property, Horse Island, and Linsley Pond.
Other cooperations manifest as interdisciplinary workshops through which students come to more fully understand art’s role within the broader economic, social, and political issues of the day. These included a Fall 2018 cryptocurrency workshop led by artist and theorist Hito Steyerl in which School of Art and School of Management students collaborated to develop unique cryptocurrencies and engage in larger conversations around social contract theory and trust in an increasingly digital, anonymized world. In the coming year, through a recent partnership with the Yale Department of Economics, another interdisciplinary workshop on game theory will address the expansive dialogue between artists, economists, mathematicians, and game theorists as students consider the social underpinnings of chance and risk with respect to their foundational space in cultural production.
The interdisciplinary aspect of program development expands beyond the mere address of various disciplines to include those voices and communities historically overlooked in conversations around art and its role in society—a model of thinking supported by the School’s reimagining of Critical Studies within the context of community engagement and social justice. This is further elaborated in recent lectures and programs led by visiting scholars: Poet and scholar Fred Moten contributes vital research to black studies and contemporary American literature; Theorist Stefano Harney applies postcolonial theory in examinations of social hierarchies; Returning Visiting Professor Hito Steyerl investigates the roles that developing technologies and contemporary capitalism play in our evolving cognizance and ethics; Artist Walid Raad takes a critical lens to the decades of wartime trauma in his home nation of Lebanon; Artist Cameron Rowland confronts America’s slave-holding history and its reincarnation through mass incarceration; Artist Andrea Fraser charts the intersections of wealth and private-nonprofit art institutions through a practice steeped in feminist and institutional critique. Workshops, lectures, and expanded pedagogical offerings developed by central players in contemporary art and theory continue to be successfully integrated into Yale School of Art’s studio-based education. Through a holistic reconsideration of critical thought in relation to art practice, the Art and Social Justice Initiative explores the relationship between art and social justice and the possibilities of art for social change
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Yale Prison Education Initiative Partnership
As an integral component within the Art and Social Justice Initiative, Yale School of Art partnered with the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall in 2018 to create an annual summer art program for incarcerated students at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, CT, with courses and extra-curricular workshops led by recent MFA graduates.
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“Speak to Me,” an online forum organized by Marta Kuzma with Claudia Rankine & Leah Mirakhor
The Yale School of Art’s Speak to Me series is an online forum with invited speakers, activists, writers, and artists organized by poet, playwright, and author Claudia Rankine, Leah Mirakhor, Lecturer in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, alongside Dean and Professor Marta Kuzma, in an effort to address the NOW. Envisioned as a series of virtual events through which the work of activists and organizers engaging in the continued fight for justice can be lifted up, the program will feature a series of individuals from different cities across the United States, in order to facilitate a nationwide conversation on what is going on across the country geographically at the moment. With the aim of spreading awareness as to how ongoing conditions of state violence, racial capitalism, and COVID-19 concerns manifest in the protests and calls for justice we ask: What is to be done?
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