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Jessica Sack ’96

Jessica Sack believes that art is an indispensable part of life that everyone should experience.

Libby Blanchette
March 03, 2014

UW Majors: English, History and History of Culture, L&S; Certificate in Integrated Liberal Studies
Age: 39 | New Haven, Connecticut
Jan and Frederick Mayer Senior Associate Curator of Public Education, Yale University Art Gallery

Jessica Sack believes that art is an indispensable part of life that everyone should experience. After graduating from UW-Madison with a triple major (and earning honors in each one), she is putting her beliefs into practice as senior associate curator of public education at the Yale University Art Gallery.

She knows that art can change lives. "I believe the arts are an integral part of our society and that people of all ages, abilities and economic levels should have access to them," she says. Sack has made it her life's mission to provide this access.

During her sophomore year at UW-Madison, Sack encountered an opportunity that would eventually set her current career in motion. While taking courses in ancient Greek and Roman history, she was allowed to develop and teach a program to middle-school students at the Elvehjem Museum of Art (now the Chazen) under the mentorship of curator of education Anne Lambert. The program used the museum's extensive collection of ancient Greek and Roman art to explore how ancient Greece and Rome had an impact on art, literature and more for centuries.

"This experience inspired me to find a career that would connect people and ideas through the arts," she says.

Sack went on to earn a master of philosophy degree from the University of Oxford and an MA in performance studies from New York University. Next came an appointment as senior museum educator and coordinator of teacher services at the Brooklyn Museum, where she created and administered programs in museum education that were both innovative and effective.

At the Yale University Art Gallery, she works on programs to make art and the gallery accessible to everyone in the New Haven community. One example: the Wurtele Gallery Teachers Program trains Yale graduate students as museum educators and gives them an opportunity to teach and perform public service while providing the community with a unique way to explore art. It has allowed many children and adults to experience their very first visit to a museum.

"I infuse the arts into the daily lives of residents through free art instruction, visits for schools that relate art with their curriculum and programs for adults and those with special needs that allow for exploration and conversation about ideas and the world," she says.

Combining art with education, Sack works with local school administrators to incorporate art into the curriculum. She also collaborates with reading specialists in a program to help sixth-graders with low reading levels to develop comprehension skills through art analysis.

"For the second year in a row, 90 percent of the students in the program are entering seventh grade at or above their grade levels," she says.

Similarly, Sack has pioneered numerous programs for adults, including one that uses art to stimulate memories of seniors living with memory loss, and another that helps blind veterans to reintegrate into society. "I love my career and the way I have been able to connect with people through the arts," she says.

In her own words

What do you miss most about campus?

I miss the classes and the intellectual exchange with friends and faculty.

What is your proudest UW achievement?

Developing the museum education programs for middle-school students at the Elvehjem (now the Chazen) that would become the springboard for my future career.

What advice would you offer graduating seniors?

Don't expect everything you have learned in college to have immediate application. You will find 10, even 15 years later, that books you read, ideas you discussed have new relevance. The degree you earn is just a piece of what you will become.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading Salt, Cod, Major Pedigrew's Last Stand and a biography of Genghis Khan.

What three items would you take to a desert island?

It is unlikely I'd find myself on a desert island, but assuming I'm there by choice and not stranded, I'd take a sketchbook, pencils and suntan lotion. Or if I'm being sent there, then suntan lotion, a tent and water.

Who is your hero?

Laura Fagin, my adopted grandmother who just turned 95 and still walks five miles a day, works at a women's shelter and drives from upstate New York to Virginia to visit her family when she feels like it.

What do you do in your free time?

I play violin in and run the New Haven Chamber Orchestra.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I don't have guilty pleasures, but I enjoy lazy weekend mornings in my pajamas with coffee, the paper and the promise of a classic movie.

What is your favorite quote?

"I demand excellence and lead by example." — Samuel L. Sack. [Those were] my grandfather's words of wisdom, shared while he was living in a nursing home but thought he was running a factory.

If you could trade places with any person for a week, who would it be?

A journalist or a food critic.

What would you be if you hadn't chosen your current career path?

A professional musician or a plumber.

What's next for you?

I'm starting a number of writing projects based on my work and life.

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