Expanding Context: The Arts at Columbia
Our faculty and students are New York artists, and they tap into one of the worlds deepest creative pools. The Citys energy courses through our studios, workshops, and gallery spaces. We enjoy unparalleled access to exhibitions, performances, and productionsand to exhibitors, performers, and producers. Students are in turn propelled into the arts world, as when an MFA thesis show mounted in Harlem launches a graduates career. We are proud that at least 15 solo shows held in New York galleries in the first half of 2003 featured recent alumni and students.
Being at Columbia also brings us into regular conversation with the academic avant-garde, people with the latest and best thinking in fields ranging from architecture to cancer therapy to international law. This rich palette has colored the School of the Arts since its founding in 1965, lending much more than Ivy League prestige and a high-octane ambiance. School of the Arts faculty collaborate with researchers in medicine and engineering, law students take theatrical production classes, and our MFA students, to our delight, explore anthropology, aesthetics, computer sciences, history, languages, architecture, and a hundred other fields. Faculty from the arts and sciencesincluding Ann Douglas in English and Hamid Dabashi in Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culturesenrich our offerings. New partnerships across the University, including dual degree programs, will soon open more borders between disciplines and schools, creators and scholars, art and interpretation.
Art is an ever-changing discourse invoking new values in response to new cultural impulses.
In short, arts and sciences, the traditional rubric of the liberal arts education that Columbia has passionately championed, begins with the arts. In thinking about this context we should remember the artists who over the past century attended Columbia but studied other subjects: Rockwell Kent 1904CC studied architecture; Eudora Welty 82HON, business; Walker Percy 41PS, medicine; Jim Jarmusch 75CC, English. Remembering these artists suggests how fertile a soil Columbia provides for the emergence of creative talent, how adventurous are the spirits who make their way here.
The pages that follow highlight the arts across Columbias campuses, sample the creative work of faculty, students, and alumni of our schools four divisions, suggest our boldness in interdisciplinary endeavors, and invite faculty to muse on the enterprise of teaching. They also highlight the Midnights Children Humanities Festival, a dizzyingly ambitious month of programming built around a dramatization of Salman Rushdies Midnights Children at the Apollo Theater last March. The festival, a whirl of performances, panels, lectures, debates, and roundtables, proved to be as multicultural, multimedia, and multidisciplinary as we had hoped. We are now planning for an arm of the school to commission and present new works, and present new festivals as ambitious in scope and concept.
Art is an ever-changing discourse invoking new values in response to new cultural impulses, and the School of the Arts is ready to respond. As we expand to meet Columbias growing appetite for the arts and art-related programs, we are working to acquire the space we desperately need (truly a universal theme in Morningside Heights). We have completed a feasibility study for a new facility on 125th Street west of Broadway and look forward to moving ahead to realize this vision within the context of a much larger University plan being developed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
And as we pursue these plans, I take pride in the enormous talent we can draw upon, within the school, the University, and the City. I cannot help feeling wonderfully optimistic as we work to put the arts and artistic understanding at the center of the University, and I cannot help thinking: only in New York, only at Columbia.
Bruce W. Ferguson is the dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia.
Photo: Eileen Barroso