A petition calling on Columbia students to “save the arts initiative” has been signed over 1,000 times. Clearly, many people believe the Arts Initiative is trouble. But Melissa Smey—the current director of both Miller Theatre and the Arts Initiative—is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not one of them.
She just sent us a statement highlighting the continuing accomplishments of the initiative. In the statement, she says that the Initiative’s “budget has not been reduced since my appointment as director,” in summer 2011. She also addresses concerns that cuts to the Initiative have led prices for Broadway tickets at the TIC to skyrocket, insisting that “though the face prices of some Broadway shows have climbed over the past few years, our discount rate has remained steady.”
We’ve reached out to CCSC’s VP of Policy Will Hughes, who has led the campaign to Save the Arts Initiative, for a response.
UPDATE: Will Hughes got back to us, saying, “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. While she is correct in saying the budget has not been cut further, it seems we fundamentally disagree as to the adequacy of this reduced budget.” Read his full statement, and Smey’s, after the jump.
Melissa Smey’s statement, with most interesting parts bolded:
To the Editor:
The Arts Initiative programs that so many Columbians love and depend on are secure and, indeed, thriving.
The Ticket and Information Center (TIC) in Lerner Hall sold more tickets to arts events, on- and off-campus, last school year than in any other on record—a total of 106,682 tickets. This includes managing sales of over 65,000 tickets to on-campus events, many of which are directly produced by student groups. Though the face prices of some Broadway shows have climbed over the past few years, our discount rate has remained steady, and student use of the TIC is higher than ever. Rudy Scala, the TIC manager, and the entire 13-member student staff at the TIC are dedicated, hardworking, and passionate about the arts.
Last semester more than 3,000 students from over 150 classes attended performances from BAM to the Metropolitan Opera as part of our ArtsLink program, which makes it easy for professors to organize class trips to cultural events. And there were over 39,000 museum visits last year as part of our Passport to New York program, which provides free museum admission for Columbia students to 34 museums. Participating museums include the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, El Museo del Barrio, and the Cooper-Hewitt. The Morgan Library and Museum is a new addition this fall.
We are committed to continuing the grants for non-curricular student arts projects that the Gatsby Charitable Foundation has so generously supported. Each year we set aside $60,000 to fund those projects that meet the eligibility requirements, which are posted on our website and reviewed in one-on-one meetings with every candidate. The number and total dollar amount of grants awarded fluctuates from year to year, however, we have been able to award funds to all the projects that met the eligibility requirements.
My focus for the coming year is to continue our core programs while adding new ones that will help us realize even more fully the mission of making the arts a part of every Columbian’s experience—students, faculty, and staff—and building community through the arts, both here on campus and in our neighborhood. I have so enjoyed working with faculty from across the campus, especially those in the Music Department, the School of the Arts, and the Core Curriculum. Conversations with Columbia College Dean Jim Valentini and Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger have begun to explore ways in which the Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre can continue to enhance the undergraduate student experience.
Other new and recent initiatives include exciting partnerships with some of New York’s best cultural organizations, such as the relationships that brought internationally renowned conductor Valery Gergiev to campus last fall and will bring acclaimed actress Vanessa Redgrave to Columbia later this month; Museum Meet-Ups, which pairs groups of interested Columbians with faculty guides to explore lesser-known museums; and Morningside Lights, an illuminated procession in Morningside Park which brought together hundreds of campus and community members this past September.
While the Arts Initiative, Miller Theatre, and the School of the Arts all have separate funding allocations from the University, the adjacency and collaborative spirit of the staff in all three units allow us to continue to expand and develop our programs and services collectively. And the University’s commitment to The Arts Initiative remains strong, its budget has not been reduced since my appointment as director. Last year, I was invited to present to the full Board of Trustees of the University and was delighted with their enthusiasm and support.
The Arts Initiative is a unique and inspiring campus resource, and I look forward to working with the University community to help ensure a bright future for the arts at Columbia University.
Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre at Columbia University
Will Hughes’ response:
We stand completely by the information outlined in our petition, as well as the reforms we feel would help CUArts. More than one thousand students and alumni have signed the petition, a very strong signal that we, as a community, share a commitment to strengthening the presence of the arts in the lives of everyone at Columbia.
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. While she is correct in saying the budget has not been cut further, it seems we fundamentally disagree as to the adequacy of this reduced budget for the continued health of the Arts Initiative.
We’d like to echo what Melissa said in her statement: the Arts Initiative has the ability to be a unique and inspiring campus resource. We hope that moving forward those charged with overseeing the program will include students, alumni, faculty, and staff in the decision-making, and directly address the concerns of more than a thousand Columbians.