President Bollinger showed remarkable vision and leadership in creating the Arts Initiative, or CUArts, in his first years as president. His support allowed CUArts to succeed in its goal: bringing the arts into the lives of every Columbian. This connection to the city and the resources of New York rightly became central to the way Columbia markets itself to potential students. However, the perfect storm of the move in 2009 to the School of the Arts, the budget cuts the University faced in the financial crisis, and the appointment of a director to two full time positions, has led to a decline in the programming of the Arts Initiative.
CUArts has been forced to take at least a 40% budget cut in two years. The staff has contracted from nine full time staff and twenty student employees to three full time staff, one vacancy, and a part time director. Three major museums (The Whitney, Frick, and Guggenheim) have left Passport to Columbia. The annual reports that spoke candidly as to the successes and shortcomings of the program have stopped being issued. NSOP no longer hosts events, such as the private parties at the Met and MoMA. Commencement Carnival, a program that helped bridge the gap between involvement as a student and involvement as an alum, has been canceled.
ArtsLink, the program through which professors can assign tickets to their classes, has a sparse menu of events, and the minimum number of students in the class is twenty, which excludes most seminars. TIC hours have been cut, and ticket discounts at the TIC have gotten less steep, and while ticket prices have risen generally in the city, nothing has been done to maintain the 20 to 25 dollar average prices that once characterized TIC offerings. CUArts Global is effectively defunct, after 37 events in two years, including sending the jazz ensemble to Beijing.
Gatsby grants, which fund student art projects on campus, gave out $70,314 in 2008, giving an average of 890 dollars for each recipient. By 2011, this has fallen to $47,301 total, a 43% decrease, with an average of 509 dollars. The website is no longer continually updated and has stopped being a central resource for Columbians interested in the arts, and often lists information years out of date as if it were current. For everything that is being cut, there is no new programming being created to replace it.
The position of the Director of the Arts Initiative is a full time one, and no one could have inherited the current dual role (with Miller Theater) and kept CUArts functioning at the same level it had at its height. It is a program built entirely on open conversation and connection, and attention to maintaining relationships across various schools and departments, as well as cultural institutions in the city. This necessitates the full time attention of its Director, as well as enough support staff to keep its programs successful and thriving.
In light of the above evidence, we call for the following reforms:
- 1. A move out of the School of the Arts to an administrative home that reflects CUArts’ mission of serving all students, faculty, and staff.
- 2. Increased funding from the Office of the President, and the restoration of the budget that CUArts prospered under for years.
- 3. The appointment, with student input, of a new director whose sole job is Director of the Arts Initiative, who will have their full time to devote to the continued success of the program.
- 4. The creation of an advisory committee that institutionalizes the student, faculty, and staff input that was formerly the hallmark of the program.
- 5. Reinstatement of the generous subsidy for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative to perform in Miller Theater, which gives them the ability to use the one space on campus they can perform in.
We appreciate the financial constraints of the University. However, given how much the Arts Initiative was able to accomplish on a comparatively small budget, and the breadth of the audience it serves, we believe that President Bollinger needs to reaffirm his commitment to the arts being a part of the lives of every member of Columbia’s community.