When University President Lee Bollinger first came to Columbia, he identified three main goals for the years ahead. Alongside promoting research and collaboration across the University’s campuses and encouraging globalization, Bollinger announced a plan to “integrate the arts more into the University and into the undergraduate program, in particular.” Since Bollinger made those remarks in 2002, CUArts, the centerpiece of the president’s plan for the arts, has established itself as a key driver for student arts initiatives and has provided an affordable means for students to access New York’s museums and theaters.
In 2009, however, this initiative began to lose momentum as Bollinger transfered control of CUArts from his office—the Office of the President—to the School of the Arts. While the effects of the transition were not immediately clear, over the last few years there seems to have been a significant loss of support and funding for the CUArts initiative and CUArts-sponsored programs.
In last Friday’s article (“Student group, former director question CUArts, Miller engagement,” Oct. 5), Spectator reported that the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, an undergraduate student dance group, is incrementally losing its free use of the Miller Theatre space. At the same time, data for Gatsby grants—officially known as the Arts Initiative Student Arts Fund awards—show that the total award money granted out of the fund has been in consistent decline since it reached a high of just over $70,314 in 2008—the last year before CUArts was transferred out of the president’s office.
Especially concerning about the apparent decline in funding is that many campus arts groups are reliant on Gatsby grants for their operations. While there has been no official confirmation that funding has declined, available indicators suggest as much.
When interviewed about CUArts’ 2009 transition in an October 2011 article in The Eye, founding director Gregory Mosher said of the program, “I wanted to build it so deeply into the fabric of the University that it wouldn’t occur to anyone to get rid of it any more than they’d think to get rid of the Core Curriculum.”
To many artists and performing arts groups, the first part of Mosher’s statement has become a reality—CUArts has become an essential part of the University experience. Unfortunately for them, the University has not seemed so devoted to a robust CUArts as Mosher might have desired. Overall funding for CUArts has dropped 40 percent. For one of the president’s earliest and most publicized initiatives, such a drop would previously have been unfathomable. While Mosher’s departure from the program may have contributed to its decline, it is important to note that no CUArts director has the ability to do what was done before with a smaller budget.
Indicative of CUArts’ declining relevance in the University’s institutional priorities is the extent to which Bollinger has taken leave of the initiative. In a recent interview, Spectator asked Bollinger if he had been keeping an eye on the CUArts since it left his office or had heard of concerns about its focus on undergraduates. Bollinger said that he hadn’t.
Steele Sternberg recused himself from the writing of this editorial because he is president of Latenite Theatre, a theater organization sponsored by CUArts.
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