Igniting Imagination

Inspired by the Strategic Plan’s challenge to explore new opportunities for cross-disciplinary experiences within the Creative Arts, Hackley’s Visual and Performing Arts Departments recently held their first ever co-departmental Upper School Creative Arts Field Trip.

Although Hackley Upper School art students enjoy a number of day field trip opportunities during the course of the year, these experiences traditionally involve small groups of students from a single course traveling to NYC for an intensive day of gallery and museum visits. Looking for ways to bring larger groups of student artists from different creative disciplines together for a shared experience, the Visual and Performing Arts Departments jointly conceived and organized an exciting day of creative activities at Yale University. And so, on Thursday January 30, after homeroom, 13 visual and 14 performing arts students boarded a coach bus with their art and music teachers, and set off for New Haven.

The group began the day with a quick snack at the popular Yale student stops -- Claire’s and Atticus Bookstore Cafe -- before heading off to our morning activities. The AP Studio Art seniors spent their morning viewing the 2020 MFA Thesis Exhibitions at the Yale School of Art, while the Performing Arts students met with the Yale a cappella group, The Spizzwinks, for a choral workshop.

With its emphasis on formal and technical instruction, as well as on the critique as an essential tool of the creative process, Yale’s School of Art program has long been an inspiration, and in some important respects, a model for Hackley’s upper level visual arts courses. So, it was both interesting and exciting for this year’s talented group of Hackley senior AP Studio artists to meet some of the Yale MFA candidates and view their portfolios.

The Hackley artists arrived at the School of Art gallery just as several MFA candidates were gathering to begin their final pre-reviews with the Yale art faculty and critics. Themselves thoroughly familiar with the critique process and atmosphere (and its accompanying jitters), the Hackley AP Studio seniors could sense the tension in the air, and no doubt empathized with the graduate students as they waited to present their portfolios. Some of the work was more conceptual than we expected, and the Hackley seniors were challenged to unpack the meaning behind it. Several Hackley seniors had the chance to speak directly with some of the artists, and were given insights into the thinking behind the work on display. There were 10 MFA candidates included in the exhibition, and their portfolios ranged broadly from realism to non-objective abstraction, and from traditional paint on canvas, to kinetic, electrically powered, machine installations.

The Performing Arts students participated in a morning workshop designed for them by members of The Spizzwinks -- the Yale a cappella group founded in 1914, and the oldest a cappella underclassman singing group of its kind in the country.

The Yale students discussed their musical approach, the audition and rehearsal process, and demonstrated their choral technique to the Hackley group. Break-out sessions in small SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) groups followed, as the Spizzwinks taught an original arrangement of “Let it Be” by John Lennon. At the end of the session, the Hackley students performed the song together with the Yale singers. The Spizzwinks members then answered a variety of Hackley student questions concerning music at Yale, and the college experience.

The two groups returned to Chapel Street for lunch, before heading off for our afternoon museum visits together. Our first stop was at the Yale University Art Gallery -- directly across from Paul Rudolph’s renowned Art & Architecture building. The YUAG, as it is fondly known on campus, houses one of the finest collections of art anywhere in the world, so the Hackley visual and performing arts students were in for a memorable experience. The museum staff divided our large group into smaller viewing groups, and with two Yale graduate students as our guides -- one from the Painting Program and the other from the Film program -- we dove into the collections. Highlights of our YUAG visit included 19th century paintings by Edouard Manet, Edwin Austin Abbey, and Ralph Blakelock, and a number of large 20th century canvases by American abstract artists. Coincidentally, our guide from the Painting Program was one of the MFA candidates the Hackley AP Studio students had met and spoken with earlier that morning at the MFA Exhibition. The seniors were able to continue their conversations with him, and ask further questions about the visual arts at Yale, as well as about life as an artist after graduate school.

From the YUAG, the group crossed over Chapel Street to view the collection at YCBA, or The Yale Center for British Art. As at the YUAG, the students were divided into two smaller groups, and taken through the collections by two outstanding guides. And again coincidentally, the students were happily surprised to discover an unexpected connection with one of the guides, who happened to be a former French teacher at Hackley some 50 years ago! She fondly remembered her years on the Hilltop, and raising her children in Allen’s Alley. She reminisced with the group about Hackley life, and we all enjoyed sharing stories back and forth. Highlights of our visit to the YCBA included a room full of spectacular 19th century canvases by J.M.W. Turner, and an enormous whimsical painting by contemporary artist, Kehinde Wiley, the recently celebrated portrait artist of Barak Obama.

After our museum visits, the group stopped at various shops along Chapel Street on our way to dinner -- most notably Hull’s Art Store -- a veritable institution at Yale. In the shadow of Rudolph’s A&A building, Hull’s has been supplying Yale student artists (including Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Nancy Graves, Robert Mangold, Mathew Barney…) with art materials since the 1940s!

The entire group finished our creative day with a memorable dinner at Heirloom restaurant--located in the new and stylish Chapel Street hotel, the Study at Yale. Seated around two long tables, the students enjoyed a delicious meal together, and swapped stories about their creative experiences that day on the Yale campus. There was unanimous consensus that the trip was a success, and must be repeated for future Hackley creative arts students. And, in fact, plans are currently being discussed to include Technology students next year!

These are exciting times on the Hilltop for the creative arts, as the Visual, Performing, and Technology Arts Departments continue to look for ways to make meaningful connections between our disciplines for our students. Our time together at Yale, initially conceived as an opportunity for students with different creative backgrounds, interests and talents, to join together for a day of shared practical activities in the arts, proved to be not only a rich experience for all participants, but a potential model for other such cross-disciplinary Hackley trips.

All the participants would like to thank everyone who helped make the experience possible, including the parents who met the returning bus on campus late in the evening.