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Mission & History

The Arts Initiative at Columbia University is a pioneering venture to make arts and culture a meaningful part of every Columbian's experience. Founded in 2004, our diverse programs encourage students, faculty, and staff to experience the creative life of the campus, engage the cultural riches of New York City and the wider world, and create arts and performance. Under the auspices of the Arts Initiative, Columbia students, faculty, and staff attend cultural events across New York City, benefit from ticket discounts and subsidies, and connect with each other through our vibrant arts programming. Our programs benefit from engagement with Columbia's world-class faculty, especially those of the School of the Arts, of which the Arts Initiative is a part. At its core, the Arts Initiative creates and facilitates opportunities for cross-disciplinary exchange and is integral to the fabric of campus life.

Our ongoing core programs include:


The Arts Initiative website, where 500,000 annual visitors find
information about Columbia’s creative community.

The Ticket and Information Center (TIC), our box office
and information center located in Lerner Hall.

ArtsLink, which allows faculty to assign attendance at cultural
events with ease.

Passport to Museums​, which provides Columbia students with free
admission to over 30 museums.

Student Arts Grants support undergraduate and graduate students in creating non-curricular arts projects.

Columbia Arts Experience, a partnership with the Columbia University Center for Career Education, allows students to explore careers in the arts.

Columbia Nights, which offer opportunities to mingle with Columbians from across the university and meet creative minds working in the industry today.

Museum Meetups, where students tour New York City’s museums
up close and personally.

Creative Conversations, our thought-provoking series that brings practitioners in the arts and cultural fields to campus.

Student Perspectives, which allow students to share their thoughts on the arts on campus and in the city.


The Arts Initiative was founded by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger in 2004, directed by Gregory Mosher from 2004 - 2010, and is now under the leadership of Melissa Smey. From its inception, the Arts Initiative has nurtured strong and collaborative relationships with students, faculty, and staff. Past programming highlights include Peter Brook’s residency in 2005 which culminated in the U.S. premiere of Tierno Bokar; former Czech Republic President Václav Havel's residency in 2006; the University’s 2008 appointment of Oliver Sacks as the First University Artist; and the launch of Morningside Lights, a large-scale participatory community arts program, in 2012.