Marcia Sells' appointment will enable the School to strengthen its engagement in the cultural development of Upper Manhattan.
From the Columbia Spectator, February 16
by Allison Malecha
Columbia’s and Harlem’s art scenes may be physically adjacent, but they can feel entirely disconnected. A new School of the Arts department hopes to bridge the gap by facilitating interaction between the arts scenes on and around campus. This Office of Community Outreach at SoA was officially announced on Feb. 14 and will have Marcia Sells, BC ’81 and Law ’84, at its head. Sells currently serves as the associate vice president for program development and initiatives in the Office of Government and Community Affairs.
According to Sells, the office came about through conversations between SoA Dean Carol Becker, SoA Dean of Academic Administration Jana Wright, and GCA Executive Vice President Maxine Griffith. “Something that Carol said was the idea of really helping the School of the Arts be at the forefront of showing what very well trained arts practitioners in a range of fields can do to support a community,” Sells said.
Although Sells will maintain a joint appointment, two other key members from her arts-focused office at GCA—Orit Yakuel and Lamar Lovelace—will now dedicate all of their time to the Office of Community Outreach. “We see it as a natural fit—we’re continuing our work, and we have more resources and wonderful colleagues to work with on it at the School of the Arts,” Yakuel said.
This community outreach department is a first for SoA, but having community interaction is nothing new—and neither is the participation of Sells, Yakuel, and Lovelace. “This now formalizes what we’ve been doing for a while,” Sells said, citing a situation from last spring as an example. P.S. 125 called GCA asking for assistance in a poetry month event, and GCA in turn reached out to the Columbia Artists/Teachers Program, run by SoA professor Alan Ziegler.
“Within hours, a student volunteer [Chris Garrecht-Williams, SOA ’11] agreed to go to P.S. 125 the next day, taught a whole course in poetry and creative writing, and really inspired a lot of students,” Yakuel said. “The teachers who got to work with this student had rave reviews and are really looking forward to working with Columbia students in the future.”
The Office of Community Outreach intends to structure these types of connections and encourage more of them. “We just hope we can grow something and not have it be a last-minute thing,” Sells said, adding that the Office of Community Outreach will also allow “bigger approaches to assisting funding to help the students connect.”
Sells mentioned that the office was created with an eye to further SoA’s efforts on the Manhattanville campus as well. It is about “recognizing the opportunity for the University to use the arts as a way to connect with the community in the same way that the University is going to use science and other things,” Sells said.
The initiatives and overall mission that Sells, Yakuel, and Lovelace have employed at GCA should transition well to the SoA office. “Only now we will have a base—which is important since we are a university—from a school that is focused on the arts and to place them at the center,” Sells said.
Since the office is so new, its specific functions are still a bit ambiguous—Sells first wants to find footing for the new department. “We’ll be spending at least the first three months or so really getting to know and talk to people,” Sells said. “Carol and Jana … really want to see us learn and understand the School of the Arts and see what, from within, are some of the things that people would like to do and add our ideas from what we have done before.”
Which is not to say that they will be program-less in the coming months—instead, events already in the works at GCA and involving SoA will infuse a new perspective. The annual summer Children’s Art Carnival, for example, is sponsored by GCA but held at SoA’s LeRoy Neiman Gallery and showcases a multitude of artworks from 14- to 18-year-olds from Harlem.
One goal is to get more SoA writers and artists out into the community and to give them recognition for being there. “We get the awards at the Oscars and the people mentioned at the Best Writers Under 40, but you know, our artists, our faculty are in the trenches—they’re there, they’re working, and they’re also working to build communities,” Sells said. “So this is a great opportunity.”