Melissa Smey

It was announced today that Melissa Smey, Director of Miller Theatre, will be taking over leadership of Columbia’s Arts Initiative. In his university-wide e-mail, PrezBo praised Smey’s work in revamping Miller’s agenda — remember Sonic Youth? — which we chronicled in our profile of her in the November issue of The Blue & White. Bollinger, with generic dry enthusiasm, was pleased that the appointment “brings together Columbia’s principle resources for innovative cultural programming and those for engagement with the arts.”

We hope that Smey will breathe new life into the CUArts program, which was significantly lacklustre during 2010-11. The weekly e-mails, despite their piquant subject lines (“Get Your Sexypants On”), were woefully low on either good programming or value for money. Smey has improved both of these things during her leadership of Miller, where inspiring more student engagement with the University’s arts program was one of her main priorities. This student-oriented attitude could be just the ticket to ameliorate the common complaint that making the most of NYC’s cultural offerings is often too difficult or expensive.

NEW YORK, July 12, 2011 — Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger today announced the appointment of Miller Theatre director Melissa Smey as executive director of Columbia’s Arts Initiative effective immediately. The new joint appointment for Smey brings together for the first time two of the University’s innovative organizations providing cultural programming for both the campus community and New York City audiences.

“Under Melissa’s stewardship, Miller Theatre has continued to enhance its role as a critically acclaimed venue for contemporary and classical music and dance in New York City, while increasing attendance and theater subscriptions,” Bollinger said. “She also succeeded in forging new partnerships among the School of the Arts, the Music Department, and arts organizations across the city and region. Melissa’s position in New York City’s performing arts scene, combined with her deep familiarity with the University’s culture, ensures that the Arts Initiative will be able to build on its success in connecting Columbia’s students, faculty, and alumni to the creative life of our campus and the larger world.”

Smey was elevated to director of Miller Theatre in 2009 after serving as the theater’s general manager for eight years. Under her leadership the theater has continued to produce innovative concerts and ballet, increased subscribers and attendance, and established creative partnerships with Columbia’s School of the Arts, department of music, and arts organizations across the city and region. These include highly popular free events, such as lunchtime chamber music at Philosophy Hall’s reading room and a recent percussion performance in neighboring Morningside Park, as well as performances at Miller by campus groups including the CU Orchestra, Jazz Ensembles, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, and the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard Exchange Program.

“This is a great moment for the arts at Columbia,” said Carol Becker, dean of the School of the Arts. “As a School, we have a responsibility to educate artists, to encourage public dialogue about new work, and to bring the arts to all our constituencies on campus and in the City of New York. This appointment reinforces our commitment to leading in all these areas.”

Columbia’s Arts Initiative, established by President Bollinger in 2004, encourages students, faculty, staff and alumni in all fields to generate, study, and engage the creative life of the campus, the city, and the wider world. Its founding director was award-winning theater director Gregory Mosher who established an eclectic mix of programs and events — including a widely used free and reduced-price ticket service – that made the arts more accessible to members of the university community. This new alignment of Miller Theatre, the School of the Arts and the campus-wide Arts Initiative, will advance the University’s goal of becoming a center for students, scholars, and members of the general public in New York City interested in studying and experiencing the arts. It also anticipates the school’s needs as it prepares to open a new multidisciplinary academic and performance facility in Manhattanville.

“Audience development has always been a vital part of what we do at Miller,” says Melissa Smey. “Much of our focus is on how to make unusual, innovative performances accessible to a broad public audience. My goal for engaging the campus community, through the Arts Initiative, is much the same: to encourage people to explore the arts, and give them the tools to help them have the best experience possible.”

Smey studied music theory at the University of Connecticut before earning a master’s degree in performing arts management at Brooklyn College.

Miller Portrait via Columbia News