Updated, 3:40 a.m.
Changes are coming to CUArts following a student campaign to “Save the Arts Initiative.”
The initiative’s executive director, Melissa Smey, announced the changes Thursday evening in response to the petition, which has garnered more than 1,300 signatures. But while Smey addressed a few of the demands laid out in the petition, she left others unanswered, and the students behind the campaign say the changes aren’t nearly enough.
In an email to students, Smey announced the creation of an advisory group for CUArts, which will include students, faculty, staff, and a representative from University President Lee Bollinger’s office. This group, which Smey said will “bind the Arts Initiative to the community of thousands of Columbians invested in the arts,” answers the petition’s call for a reinstitution of the initiative’s dormant advisory committee.
The initiative will also hire an associate director, whose “presence will substantially expand the Arts Initiative’s ability to involve you in the Initiative’s programming and keep you informed of our day-to-day activities,” Smey said. This is not a new position—it was previously held by Chad Miller, who left Columbia in September.
Smey is in charge of both CUArts and Miller Theatre, and the petition calls for an executive director whose sole responsibility is the Arts Initiative. The petition also calls for CUArts to be moved from the School of the Arts to “an administrative home that reflects CUArts’ mission of serving all students, faculty, and staff,” but Smey’s announcement did not indicate that it would be moved.
The petition was organized by the Advocates of the Arts Initiative, a group of students led by Columbia College Student Council Vice President for Policy Will Hughes, CC ’13. The group said in a statement that, while it was pleased to hear of some of the changes, “the proposals offered tonight are not enough to ensure the success and sustainability of the Arts Initiative.”
“An advisory committee is a good first step towards rebuilding the dialogue and trust between students and the administration of the School of the Arts, however it is not in and of itself a solution,” the statement read.
The group said that it would still like to see a full-time director of the Arts Initiative and an increase in its staff. It also reiterated its request that CUArts be transferred from the School of the Arts to “a more flexible administrative home with experience working with many different constituencies.”
Smey also said that the initiative is working with the deans of Columbia’s undergraduate schools to “develop an equitable application process and identify funding to enable expanded access to Miller Theatre for use by recognized undergraduate student groups.” The Columbia Ballet Collaborative has had to pay higher rates to perform in Miller Theatre the last two years than it did in years past, and the petition called for Miller Theatre to restore the CBC’s original subsidized rate.
CBC artistic director Ariana Lott, CC ’13, said in an email that she was “really happy that they are addressing some of the reforms that were mentioned in the petition.”
“I look forward to seeing this application and what is meant by ‘expanded’ access in terms of availability and pricing,” she said. “Everything that she said was great—we just have to see how all of this gets implemented.”
CUArts, which was established in 2004, has come under increasing criticism for its out-of-date website, the decreasing amount of funds it awards to undergraduate performing arts groups, and what students perceive as a lack of transparency. Before Smey was tapped to lead the initiative last year, it saw its budget cut by 40 percent over two years.
Additionally, for the last two years, CUArts has not published a formerly annual report that documented total award money distributed via the Arts Initiative Student Arts Fund, also known as the Gatsby Student Arts Support Fund—a major source of funding for performing arts productions. Data on the CUArts website show that funding from Gatsby grants has been declining since its high of just over $70,000 in 2008, the year before CUArts was transferred from Bollinger’s office to the School of the Arts.
Smey said in her email that “the continuation of the Gatsby Grants remains a bedrock commitment of the Arts Initiative,” and that she is looking for ways to “make the grant-making process more transparent.” She also said that she wants to hear student input regarding the incoming associate director and the CUArts website.
Smey also said that, despite the name of the petition, the changes “cannot be understood however, as ‘saving’ the Arts Initiative.”
“The Arts Initiative is alive and well, and in no danger of departing the Columbia stage,” she said.
Updated, 3:40 a.m.