The four undergraduate student councils and two largest governing boards have all passed resolutions supporting an increase in funding to the Arts Initiative and calling on new administrators to take a bigger role in running the program.
The unanimous approval of the councils and governing boards is the latest addition to the growing chorus of student concerns that CUArts has not been proactive in supporting students’ artistic endeavors, whether on or off campus.
Several student leaders began making noise last month about what they describe as a lack of support and transparency from CUArts and its executive director, Melissa Smey. Smey met with leaders of arts groups in November to discuss their concerns and has been defensive of the program in interviews, saying that she has been meeting with other administrators and considering ways to improve the initiative’s outreach.
The resolutions called for an increase in funding to the program, the appointment of a full-time director to oversee it, and the creation of an advisory committee. They also supported moving the program out of the purview of the graduate School of the Arts and re-establishing a subsidy that would allow the Columbia Ballet Collaborative to perform for free in the only place it can on campus, Miller Theatre.
A statement from the Advocates of the Arts Initiative, a group of student leaders organizing the petition, called the support of the councils and governing boards the next step in “our ongoing campaign to save the Arts Initiative and bring transparency and accountability to this vital campus resource.”
The Advocates’ statement called on School of the Arts Dean Carol Becker and Dean of Academic Administration Jana Wright “to listen to the concerns we are raising, and institute the reforms we propose.” Citing University President Lee Bollinger’s comment to Spectator in September that he had not kept tabs on CUArts since it left the purview of his office—where it had resided from its creation in 2004 until its move to SoA in 2009—the Advocates urged him to restore its funding.
The Activities Board at Columbia, the governing board that represents arts clubs and other special interest groups, was the first student organization to pass a resolution in support of reinvigorating the Arts Initiative. In its Oct. 31 resolution, the ABC’s four board members and 13 representatives-at-large noted that many of its dance, vocal, and theater groups rely on CUArts to fund their programming.
“Since then, we’ve tried to personally reach out to club leaders to have them send the position to their group members,” ABC President Saketh Kalathur, CC ’13, said in an email.
Columbia College Student Council, the Engineering Student Council, Barnard’s Student Government Association, and the General Studies Student Council unanimously adopted resolutions this week authored by Will Hughes, CC ’13 and CCSC vice president for policy. Hughes, the president of the Columbia University Performing Arts League, began the petition.
The executive board of the Student Governing Board followed suit on Tuesday evening, expressing its dismay over dwindling funds allotted to performing groups.
“CUArts provides a unifying presence to Columbia that creates the vibrant campus atmosphere in which our groups prosper,” the SGB’s statement read. “Its downward spiral is a detriment to the Columbia undergraduate population and the principles of community that the SGB represents.”
Smey has said that $60,000 has been set aside annually for student groups in the form of grant money through the Gatsby Student Arts Fund. “The number and total dollar amount of grants awarded fluctuates from year to year, however, we (CUArts) have been able to award funds to all the projects that met the eligibility requirements,” she said in a statement.
Hughes, who gave a presentation to all of the councils about the Save the Arts Initiative campaign, has criticized that number as misleading. “It is a matter of public record that the budget for CUArts was cut 40% in the two years before Melissa Smey began serving in her dual role” as director of Miller Theatre and CUArts, he said in a statement.
“It seems we fundamentally disagree as to the adequacy of this reduced budget for the continued health of the Arts Initiative,” he said.