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Reflecting Our Community in the Artwork on Our Walls

February 27, 2019
Photo by Terry Dagradi
A new portrait of Carolyn Walch Slayman will be included in an exhibit of photographic portraits of women faculty at YSM on the second floor of Sterling Hall of Medicine.

The art on the walls of our public spaces at the School of Medicine provides an opportunity to critically reflect on our history as a conduit to facilitating honest and respectful conversations about our past, present, and future. Recognizing the importance of examining our artwork and its place in our community, in January we formed the Yale School of Medicine Committee on Art in Public Spaces (CAPS).

CAPS is developing an approach to our artwork and how it is displayed that is inclusive, thoughtful, and intentional, with a focus on looking at how art can be used to encompass the stories we wish to tell, as well as how it can more accurately reflect our community. Comprised of students, faculty, and staff and co-chaired by Darin Latimore, MD, and Anna Reisman, MD, CAPS collaborates with the Program for Humanities in Medicine; the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE); and the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.

Because the task of evaluating and choosing the art in our public spaces is nuanced and complex, two subcommittees have been formed under CAPS. The Standards and Process Subcommittee is charged with articulating the values we wish to embody in the art we display. The subcommittee will develop a framework for evaluating the art that is currently on our walls and developing a transparent process for reaching decisions regarding artwork we choose to display on a permanent—or at least long-term—basis. As it proceeds with its work, this subcommittee will be reaching out to the wider YSM community to solicit input. The Rotating Exhibits Subcommittee is in the process of identifying spaces and developing themes for temporary exhibits of artwork created by members of the YSM and New Haven communities, as well as establishing a process and criteria for artwork selection.

I’m pleased to report that the first rotating exhibit, officially opening on March 13, will feature photographic portraits of women faculty displayed on the second floor of the Sterling Hall of Medicine in the hallway and rotunda between the Dean’s Office and the Beaumont Room. Many of these portraits were created in connection with the 100 Years of Women at YSM celebration last spring. Photographer Robert Lisak, MFA ’81, presented the School of Medicine with a gift of archival prints of these portraits; this collection will be augmented with additional portraits throughout its duration. The exhibit also supports Yale University’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of coeducation in Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women students at the university.

It gives me great pleasure that a highlight of the exhibit will be the recently commissioned portrait of the late Carolyn Walch Slayman, PhD, which will be unveiled on March 11 in the Historical Library. Professor Slayman graced us with her presence for almost 50 years, serving as deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, Sterling Professor of Genetics, and professor of cellular and molecular physiology. Her portrait will temporarily reside adjacent to the Beaumont Room; its permanent home will be determined at a later date, based on recommendations by CAPS.

Assessing and reshaping the artwork displayed on our walls requires a considered approach that takes into account many different voices and viewpoints as we seek to embody the values that define our school and our community. I hope you will avail yourselves of the opportunities that CAPS will provide going forward to participate in these timely discussions as its work unfolds.