Break Bread, Break Boundaries: Welcome to Yale Schwarzman Center

Photo: Francis Dzikowski/OTTO

Since opening our doors digitally in October 2020, and then in real life for dining on September 1, 2021, Yale’s first-ever center for student life and the arts has come to life with students, faculty, staff, visiting fellows, and community members—local and global—at its core.

A Culture of Invitation

In the summer of 2020, YSC’s cadre of staff, students, and fellows gathered on Zoom to plan for the opening of the Center. The challenge was to essentialize the invitation—to describe in just a few words what we were inviting communities within and beyond Yale to come and experience. With dining, performance, and exhibition spaces, and a charge to bridge Yale, New Haven, and communities beyond, we imagined human connection as a phenomenon more dynamic than the virus that kept us restricted to separate spaces.

The Zoom conversation rendered many ideas, and one hit home. “Break bread. Break boundaries.” It’s a theme that represents our invitation to Yale and the public, an aspiration for the Center’s future, and the action bringing YSC and its programming to life.

The start of spring on Yale’s academic calendar feels like a rebirth despite the challenges of the public health crisis. The distances between invitation, aspiration, and action are beginning to fade as we plan gatherings in spaces like Commons and The Underground—not just for meals, but also for performances—and open the doors to refurbished spaces like The Dome. 

When we say that YSC is a center for student life and the arts, we are declaring that academic study is enhanced through the arts. We recognize that artistry is inherent in all forms of experimentation, be it in a laboratory, a gallery, or on a stage. When we say that YSC is a center for student life and the arts, we are embracing our role as gate-opener. We take seriously our ability to increase access between artists, scholars, and non-academics in ways that build empathy and belonging. When we say that YSC is a center for student life and the arts, we are holding space for those who have come to explore. The building may prove itself just large enough to embody our ambitious vision.

Although our doors have opened to Yale badge holders this academic year, it’s still too soon to say that we’ve fully opened. We’ve delayed our ribbon-cutting until we can celebrate with the city that makes it possible. We are eager for campus to reopen more widely to our families, friends, and neighbors. In the meantime, the YSC invitation stands: “Break bread. Break boundaries.”

Arts at the Intersection

Access & Digital Programs

YSC’s foray into digital programming, beginning with the launch of our website in October 2020, was as much a response to the pandemic as the acceleration of a plan already several years in motion. When student governments came together in 2014 and issued a joint report calling for a university-wide student center, they stated that “technology should be a key component so that individuals from around the world can participate in certain center events and so that some programs at the center can be live-streamed or otherwise shared widely.” This meant that long before COVID reshaped our lives, infrastructure was being built into YSC’s walls and floors and woven into our conversations about the arts, community engagement, and web design. Over the course of an unusual year, virtual programs have become familiar YSC offerings, augmented in recent months with hybrid and in-person events.

Rewind 2020-2021

To follow is just a sampling of the many programs available in Replay, YSC’s online media gallery. 

One. A 22-episode web series about students’ ingenuity and interconnectedness in a time of physical distance.

Transpositions: Dance Poems for an Online World. A web series made in partnership with Associate Professor Emily Coates, students from the Yale Dance Lab, sixty-six dancers, nine sound designers, three student producers, a video artist, an artistic director, two advisers, and sixteen choreographers from across the globe. 

Between the World and Me. Screenings and conversations in African American studies and film studies around the HBO premiere, which includes a collegiate panel featuring Yale Professor Daphne A. Brooks, Howard University Assistant Professor Natalie Hopkinson, and composer Jason Moran.

The Art of Storytelling in a Time of Disinformation. A conversation with Yale Senior Lecturer Thomas Allen Harris, award-winning filmmakers Sarah Burns ’04 and Ken Burns, and Florentine Films associate digital producer Clark Burnett ’19.

Making the Archive Public: Radical History in Public Television. A screening of the film Mr. Soul by award-winning filmmaker and Yale alumna Melissa Haizlip and conversation about the lasting significance of public art as demonstrated through the Black Arts Movement with Haizlip, Brooks, and Harris.

The Artist and the Institution: Bill T Jones and Marc Bamuthi Joseph in Conversation. Yale drama students join Professor Tamilla Woodard in The Underground for a talk with legendary choreographer Bill T Jones and artist/educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. 

A Conversation with Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson. A college tea conversation, streamed live from Trumbull College in the run-up to Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance at New Haven’s Shubert Theater.

The Yale Dance Lab partnered with YSC to create Transpositions: dance poems for an online world, a year-long research project that unfolded over the 2020-2021 academic year and resulted in an anthology of digital "dance poems" created by sixteen choreographers, sixty-six dancers, nine sound designers, three student producers, one video artist, one artistic director, and two advisers. Faculty and students from Yale College, David Geffen School of Drama, and Yale School of Art participated. Released online in installments by YSC, the project premiered in its entirety in November, projected high on the walls of Commons during lunchtime. The startling presence of innovative, collectively devised Yale arts in Commons—a space devoted to the daily ritual of eating lunch—was especially transformative, a culminating triumph. We never could have pulled off creative work of this scale and scope without YSC's presence and support for big ideas.
Emily Coates, Professor in the Practice of Theater and Performance Studies, Professor in the Practice of Directing at the David Geffen School of Drama, Faculty Director of the Yale Dance Lab

Research & Scholarship

Faculty-led conversations and virtual events are only a small part of YSC’s contribution to Yale’s educational mission. Our staff includes fellows whose research and scholarship are fueled in part by the YSC platform and mission. 

Taiga Christie MPH ’19, Arts & Public Health Fellow. In partnership with Yale School of Public Health, Taiga co-developed the Humanities, Arts, and Public Health Practice at Yale (HAPPY). Her work has led to forthcoming programs including Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man, a play that interrogates public health at the intersections of environmental, cultural, and spiritual conflict. 

Ye Qin Zhu MFA ’20, Innovation Fellow. In a joint fellowship with the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), Ye leveraged his experiences as an artist and educator to launch Beyond the Studio, a series of talks and workshops by artists engaged in social change, and Hub and Spoke, a youth-led platform where Yale and New Haven collaborators generate solutions to common problems. 

Jon-Paul Lapeña GRD ’26, Sessions Fellow. In a joint fellowship with Yale’s Office for Graduate Student Development & Diversity, Jon-Paul, in partnership with YSC’s Assistant Director for Stakeholder Engagement Yuhan Zhang MFA/MBA ’22, is co-developing Sessions, a model for interdisciplinary conversations that move ideas into action. 

Neftalie Williams, PhD, Visiting Fellow in Race, Culture, and Community. A sociologist and University of Southern California Provost's Post-Doctoral Scholar at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, Neftalie investigates global issues of race, diversity, identity, and youth empowerment, using the lens of skateboarding and action sports culture.

YSC has greatly contributed to the creative and intellectual life of multiple communities, harnessing the medium of film and virtual technologies to connect them—all while grappling with the limitations of the pandemic. I am looking forward to future possibilities as well as the communal collaborations with YSC.
Thomas Allen Harris, Senior Lecturer, Film and Media Studies & African American Studies

YSC Sessions

Dana Tai Soon Burgess, long-serving Cultural Ambassador to the U.S. State Department and the Smithsonian’s first choreographer-in-residence at the National Portrait Gallery, logged into Zoom in May 2021 for dinner with novelist and Yale Lecturer in English Susan Choi and 10 on-screen guests. Their conversation topic: Building Bridges in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities. This virtual bread-breaking was one of the earliest adaptations of YSC Sessions, 12-person gatherings that bring students, faculty, and staff into dialogue with thought leaders and community members over a meal. Since then, YSC has set the table either virtually or in person for conversations on New Creative Producing Models, Sleep Disparities in the Arts and Healthcare, Disability and Accessibility at Yale, and Media and the Shaping of Identities. Anyone can be a Sessionist by proposing a topic or registering to attend a scheduled Session that has available seats. 

With its beautiful space and creative programming, YSC is becoming a center of gravity on campus where cross-disciplinary thinking can thrive.
Lynn Cooley, Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Vice Provost for Postdoctoral Affairs C.N.H. Long Professor of Genetics Professor of Cell Biology and of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology


In preparation for the April 2021 premiere of The Wandering, Yale alumni Calista Small '14 and Jeremy Weiss '15 workshopped their immersive media production with a cohort of Yale undergraduate and graduate students. The students, representing a wide range of academic disciplines and creative interests, were selected from submissions on Storyboard, YSC's proprietary media-sharing platform. The workshop experience included opportunities for the students to receive coaching on their own artistic projects from creative professionals. Later that year, YSC launched off the grid, a virtual gallery of Storyboard submissions that centered on navigating space, change, and truth during the pandemic. Experience off the grid in Replay.

Fast Forward

What you’ll find in the pages to follow is a snapshot of the view from here, cataloging much of what YSC offers today and providing a glimpse of some of what’s ahead. Much will emerge along the way. Rather than offering pre-packaged “seasons” of events, we are excited to offer continual programming throughout the year, often in response to current themes in academic or public discourse. Some YSC programs will even span multiple years, engaging campus and the wider community in the development of new works and in relationships with artists and thought leaders along the way. This is only the beginning as we make space for future academic collaborations and respond to the changing needs of Yale and New Haven.