A Commitment to the Arts at Columbia

Artists hold the possibility of hope in their consciousness and in their work by offering another kind of world.


When we want to access the hearts of our fellow citizens, we often turn to the arts to reveal and communicate our deepest concerns effectively, so they might be heard, seen, and understood. Art, in all forms, can be extremely powerful. It is an argument and an encounter that begins between the artist and a chosen form and extends out to the world. Its intent is always to convince us of something, experientially. 


Increasingly, artists take on complex problems in uniquely interdisciplinary and unexpected ways. They approach social issues as felt knowledge that comes to them through the senses and helps us all to engage the world directly—reflecting our interiority in relationship to others. 


As a result of this immediacy, artists now are increasingly called upon to communicate complex ideas and messages about health, sustainability, climate change, tolerance, and social justice to large populations. Art has become the lingua franca of many emerging societies; it is how we speak to each other across disciplines, geographical/cultural boundaries, language, difference and conventional discourses; it is how we access our individuality and collectivity.


Now is the time to strengthen Columbia University’s renowned School of the Arts, so that its artists can emerge uniquely prepared to engage such important global concerns.



Columbia University School of the Arts is proud of its unique position as the only Ivy-League art school located in New York City.


Over the last five decades, the School of the Arts has earned a reputation as one of finest and forward-looking educational environments for artists. Students and faculty alike are confronting vital issues and inventing new forms of creativity and expression. Never before have the successes of faculty, students, and alumni been so visible nationally and internationally.

Students attend Columbia to study Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing at the graduate level.


They are inspired by the important contributions of faculty and alumni, including professor of Visual Arts Sarah Sze, who represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and whose work challenges people to think deeply about form, space, and process; playwright and professor of theatre Lynn Nottage, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Sweat, a play that encourages debate about identity, class, and race; professor of film Ramin Bahrani whose films, such as 99 Homes, tackle important issues of the future of the United States and the situation of democracy; and professor of writing Gary Shteyngart, whose books inspire reflection on displacement, the immigrant experience, and the resilience of spirit. These are a few of the prominent artists and teachers at the School of the Arts whose work challenges students to think about how their own work might impact society.

The School of the Arts attracts students from throughout the U.S. and over 50 other countries.


This creates an exciting blend of cultures in conversation with each other in the classroom and studio. Students go on to build communities in film, visual arts, theatre, and writing throughout the world, inspired by their access to the multitude of art-making and art-viewing opportunities that exist in New York City. The vibrant resources of this great city are crucial to the pedagogy of the School. They allow it to assemble an incomparable faculty of artists who choose to live at the center of the multifarious New York contemporary art worlds. Prominent voices also include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford, Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, film historian and curator Richard Peña, Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker theatre critic Hilton Als, National Book Award-nominated poet Lucie Brock-Broido, as well as iconic visiting artists such as Joan Jonas and Kiki Smith.

As modes of artistic expression become increasingly interdisciplinary, the School of the Arts benefits tremendously from the investigations and scholarship undertaken in academic departments throughout Columbia University. A painting student interested in depicting images of the galaxies visits with scientists in Columbia’s astronomy laboratories; a film student whose short film explores scientific themes is mentored by a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. The School also regularly collaborates with renowned arts organizations to broaden students’ experiences, including Lincoln Center, the Tribeca Film Festival, the Shubert Organization, the Sundance Institute, Roundabout Theatre, the Cannes Film Festival, the Jewish Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the New Museum, MoMA, PS1, and many others. These collaborations prepare students with invaluable internship and apprenticeship opportunities. Substantive, hands-on experience is critical for bridging classroom learning and students’ eligibility for more challenging positions when they graduate. 

Now is the time to think expansively about the School and its role educating future artists.


In 2017 Columbia University deepened its engagement with New York City when it opened a new 17-acre campus in Manhattanville, north of 125th Street and west of Broadway. The arts are central to this new campus; a building dedicated to showcasing the arts was one of the first to open. Designed by Renzo Piano, the Lenfest Center for the Arts—named in honor of Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest—is a cultural nexus in northern Manhattan. For the first time, Columbia University School of the Arts has a space grand enough to welcome the city to experience what it does best: produce new artwork and educate the next generation of cultural innovators. With a film screening room named for alumna​ ​Katharina Otto-Bernstein, a flexible performance space, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery​, and a fabulous multi-arts presentation venue, there ​are numerous​ ​opportunities to engage the public and the campus in the work of​ ​students, alumni, faculty, and renowned visiting artists representing all​ ​fields.  


The opening of this new building creates a thrilling and opportune moment in Columbia University School of the Arts’ 50-year history—one full of potential. 

We cannot do this alone.


Columbia is seeking extraordinary partners who care deeply about the arts and the vital role they play in society to commit transformative support for the School of the Arts, ensuring a vibrant future for generations of artists. 


This support will allow the School to greatly expand global opportunities for all MFA students; enhance the curriculum to more completely explore the significance of creativity in addressing 21st-century problems; increase the ranks of outstanding faculty who champion the engagement of artists in a challenging world; modernize the facilities where art-making takes place across campus; improve offerings for undergraduates in the arts; and–most importantly–ensure that talented artists are able to attend Columbia University School of the Arts regardless of financial circumstances.

Far more than any single piece of art, support for the School of the Arts will serve as an investment in many works of visual art, theatre, film, and writing that will be produced by future generations of students. Such an investment will accrue great value as graduating artists go on to make influential work to address the important questions affecting the evolution of multiple societies.


We cannot envision new structures for society if we do not know how to access the imagination. It is the vehicle through which we envision what does not yet exist. The world is in great need of creative, talented citizens fearless enough to embrace its complexity in original ways. Artists are such people. They will help to shape a global consciousness and imagine a transformed future. Columbia University School of the Arts, educating the next generation of creative practitioners, is where such profound thinking begins. 

Impact Stories

Inaugural Max Ritvo Poetry Series Celebrates Beloved Poet, Alum

Inaugural Max Ritvo Poetry Series Celebrates Beloved Poet, Alum

October 19, 2017

The spirit of Max Ritvo ’16 shined through his words during the Columbia University School of the Arts inaugural poetry series in his name Wednesday night at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.  

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