Courtesy of Steve T. Roberts
As students wander past the massive building on the corner of Grove and Prospect streets, they might wonder what has changed within. Besides including a dining hall and several spaces for students to gather together, the Schwarzman Center will be a hub for the arts, offering a new dance studio, art gallery and theater.
The Schwarzman Center is renovating two buildings previously known as Commons, a Hogwarts-esque dining hall, and Memorial Hall, a hall lined with the names of Yalies who gave their lives for the country. In 2015, President Peter Salovey announced that the University would use a $150 million gift from Steven Schwarzman ’69 to remodel the building into a state-of-the-art campus center.
Since then, Schwarzman’s naming rights have repeatedly been called into question — he is the CEO of Blackstone and a loyal donor to former President Donald Trump. But in February, Salovey said Yale will not rename the Schwarzman center.
The center, set to open this fall, now houses several new facilities. These include an expansive dining hall, a bar, a dance studio, several study spots and art galleries.
“The mission of Yale Schwarzman Center is ‘to leverage dining, conversation, and the arts as part of students’ educational experience, convening people across schools, disciplines, and communities for moments of discovery and connection,’” said Garth Ross, the Schwarzman Center’s executive director. “We like this verbiage because it summarizes what students can expect to find: dining, conversation, the arts and moments of discovery and connection with people across schools, disciplines, and communities.”
Ross explained that the University was encouraged to create more arts spaces on campus in September 2014, when three student governing bodies at Yale — the Yale College Council, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly — came together and issued a joint report calling for a University-wide student center. In this report, they noted the need for more opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and professional students to connect, collaborate and build new relationships with each other.
“The report made clear that students are looking not only for more space, but more space to make art together,” Ross said.
Several of the new student gathering spaces are inherently tied to the arts. For example, “The Underground,” a space for casual dining and entertainment, houses a stage for students to perform spoken word, a cappella or stand-up comedy. The Schwarzman Center also has enhanced technical systems to host arts exhibitions throughout the year.
In preparation for its opening, the Schwarzman Center organized several kinds of virtual arts programming this past year. In April 2020, it launched a web series called “One,” highlighting student works that were impacted by the pandemic. Another virtual offering was AREAS, an augmented reality experience featuring art, music, dance, architecture and poetry performances meant to introduce viewers to the Schwarzman Center. Ross said that this digital engagement with the arts, initiated by the pandemic, will continue to be a “pillar” of the Schwarzman Center’s arts programming.
Yet the Schwarzman Center has several new avenues for live, in-person programming. The center has turned the former Yale Banner Yearbook office into a performance space called “The Dome,” which includes technical lighting, infrastructure for visual projections and a sprung floor with Harlequin Steadfast, a slip-resistant surface, for dance. The space includes a full mirror, dance barre and changing room. The space additionally has an AV system for music and video playback, mounted speakers, a projector with a drop-down screen and PTZ camera.
The Schwarzman Center strives especially to restructure Yale’s dance scene. According to several dancers at Yale, the University is still behind in accommodating this art form, and the center may serve to bridge that gap.
Until now, Yale did not have a major dance studio — only smaller dance studios scattered across its residential colleges and other spaces. Yale’s largest dance studio so far, located on Broadway, only…