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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.


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.


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