Yale School of Management Embraces Social Practice With a Display of Mirrors

"Espejismo" is an attempt to build leadership skills with art. And mirrors.

Image from "Espejismo." Image courtesy Yale School of Management.

Yale’s famous School of Art doesn’t specialize in social practice. So when students at the School of Management teamed with an artist, hoping to use art to cultivate community leadership skills among its crop of future CEOs, they had to do it their own way. The result is “ESPEJISMO: A Festival of Borrowed Reflections,” a show that asks the public, “When people see you, what would you like them to know?”

The show gathers both personal narratives in response to that question, as well as actual mirrors donated from people in New Haven and beyond: students, artists, writers, homeless people, foreign dignitaries, and recent immigrants to name a few. The resulting display includes mirrors donated by notables including painter Hiroshi Senju, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Du Yun.

The submissions, laid horizontally on the floor end to end, are on view in the school’s Bekenstein Atrium through April 30.

“ESPEJISMO” is the brainchild of Colombian-American artist Yazmany Arboleda, who is trained as an architect but frequently incorporates social engagement into his practice, working with student leaders Elaine Dang and Gayla Burks.

Dang said fostering civic engagement is part of the school’s mission. “As they contemplated the current cultural polarization, they felt that art would be a powerful catalyst to help bridge divides between communities, leveraging openness and empathy to create greater understanding and acceptance. They felt that community-built art would be a powerful catalyst to bridge divides.”

Arboleda explains that they reached out to Yale School of Art to see if their artists could be commissioned, but found that they didn’t have a focus in the field. They then reached out to limeSHIFT, a start-up Arboleda has worked with that brings artists into communities to co-create work.

Installation of "Espejismo" at Yale School of Management. Photo by Mike Burch.

Installation of “Espejismo” at Yale School of Management. Photo by Mike Burch.

“I quickly learned that the entire community wanted to engage, honestly, with the rest of the world beginning with their neighbors in New Haven as well as focusing on communities that are not being seen around the United States,” the artist told artnet News.

“The act of self-reflection can lead to self-improvement,” says Arboleda. “Reflection on the lives of others leads to empathy, awareness and the strengthening of community through curiosity. This garden of mirrors will be a monument to this considered forward movement.”

When artnet News caught up with Arboleda in New York, it was one day before the deadline for physical submission of mirrors (Friday, April 21). He was wrapping up a multi-city driving tour to collect contributions, which took him to both Boston and New Haven (submissions can still be made on the project’s digital platform).

The donations, he notes, ranged “from preciously kept heirloom mirrors to ones acquired at childhood dentist offices.” He said that he was struck by the vast range of submissions, including two homeless participants, who submitted smashed mirrors.

Yazmany Arboleda, rendering of Espejismo at Yale. Courtesy the artist.

Yazmany Arboleda, rendering of Espejismo at Yale. Courtesy the artist.

Student co-leader Gayla Burks says the personal stories submitted in response to the prompt “will allow our community to see others, challenge our conclusions, and check our assumptions about one another, while making people know that they are seen and that they matter.”

Installation of "Espejismo" at Yale School of Management. Photo by Mike Burch.

Installation of “Espejismo” at Yale School of Management. Photo by Mike Burch.

“The whole idea is pretty timely,” remarked Yale School of Management dean Ted Snyder (who also donated a mirror) in a statement. “It’s about everyone being able to participate. This seems to me to be an incredibly powerful idea.”

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