Alumni Spotlight | Janet Rodriguez (Art Administration '88)

I think the concept of the now defunct MFA in Arts Administration Program being housed at Columbia School of the Arts was brilliant and I credit the founder, Stephen Benedict. Its core value was that artists should manage their own destinies. The program was designed for artists who needed to understand the business of being artists or managing art institutions. Its interdisciplinary curriculum has served me well during my professional career. In addition to being part of the School of the Arts, we were required to take courses in the Business School, School of Journalism and School of Law. I was very privileged to be accepted into the inaugural class in 1980, which only accepted 18 students from hundreds of applicants. And, I was the only woman of color.  All 18 of us shared a common thread, whether we were artists, art historians, art advocates or filled some other, art-related role.
Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

My favorite professor was the late Phyl Garland, the first tenured African-American woman at the Journalism School. She opened a world to me about how the media views art, the challenges of getting media coverage and how important it is to communicate effectively.

What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?

The exact same issues we still face today: inequality, vicious cycles of poverty, racism, classicism, like "the arts were for the elite," a key point in the speech the former Dean of the School of the Arts used to welcome our class. For me, the arts have been a vehicle for social change throughout my professional career. My experience in the Arts Administration Program, coupled with my personal understanding of the critical role the arts play in child and community development, have all contributed to my ability to serve on boards, manage institutions, initiate change, and become a social entrepreneur.

About Janet Rodriguez

Janet Rodriguez is Founding President  & CEO of SoHarlem, Inc., a community-based social enterprise founded to ensure that artisans and the local community benefit from economic development in the Manhattanville Factory District. It is dedicated to forging partnerships that contribute to transforming Manhattanville’s creative spirit, cultural economy, and public spaces through mentoring, training and educational programs.
Prior to establishing SoHarlem, she served as Vice President of the JPMorgan Chase Global Philanthropy Group and was responsible for providing leadership and support to the National Community Relations team charged with developing and implementing philanthropic strategies in their local communities. She was central to the integration of the three focus areas of JPMC’s philanthropy -- Community Development, Education, and Arts and Culture -- in a coordinated, holistic manner to benefit low-to moderate-income communities, and to identifying opportunities for leveraging grant dollars by collaborating with other public/private partners. As the subject matter expert in arts and culture, she was responsible for directing the national arts & culture initiatives across the country.  
Rodriguez was the owner Straight Out of Harlem, Inc. (SOH) a creative outlet in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem ensuring that the ethnic, cultural, aesthetic traditions and practices of the community were kept vital during a time of social change and neighborhood transition. SOH’s storefront was an integral part of the neighborhood, addressing its broader needs by producing public programs, exhibitions and salons that explored contemporary cultural issues, as well as promoting and selling the work of more than 250 local and global artists who created functional and wearable art.
Other professional experiences include: Program Officer with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Managing Director of the Aaron Davis Hall; New York Philharmonic’s Music Assistance Fund; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Program Director for the Kentucky Arts Council; and Co-Founder of Latin American Music in Alternative Spaces.
Rodriguez is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, MFA in Arts Administration; Columbia University’s Teachers College, MA in Art Education; and New York University, BS, Art Education. She has served on many boards, among them the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, the World Media Foundation, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and Grantmakers in the Arts.

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.