Monumental Developments: Contemporary Approaches to Commemorative Public Art
November 9 - November 11
Breaking (Bad) Glass: Remaking Commemoration at Yale University
The sound of breaking glass in what was then called Calhoun College at Yale University on June 13, 2016, signaled the death knell for that college’s name and highlighted the university’s reticence in addressing school history and its problematic relationship to the city in which it resides. The city provides the university with much of its service staff, who work across campus—a campus which exists as intertwined with downtown New Haven—in positions such as janitorial, food, and administrative services. The sound of breaking glass at Calhoun was caused by a member of this class of worker, a 38-year old New Havener named Corey Menafee, a dishwasher who took a broom handle to one of the painted stained glass window panels in the dining hall of Calhoun College and pushed the rectangular glass out of its leaded frame, which then fell to the Elm Street sidewalk below, where it smashed into pieces. Against the political backdrop of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States later that same year, Yale began a multi-year process which would result in the first name change for the college, and a new series of windows created by female artists Faith Ringgold and Barbara Earl Thomas.
This presentation takes a critical approach to the process, which was capped by a celebration of the installation of the new windows titled, “The Art of Mending.” Who are these new windows for and have they made an impact on the lives of those who both live, work, and study in this college building? This is the first paper to take a holistic glance at the events on the campus of Yale University in a period of societal tumult and active resistance on the part of students as well as community members. A small pane of glass purposefully broken changed many things, but what about the ghost of John C. Calhoun—has he been expunged from the university and the city?