Columbia University School of the Arts:
A History

1881
Columbia offers its first courses in drawing.

1900
Brander Matthews appointed Professor of Dramatic Literature, first Chair of Drama at any university in the country.

1911
Columbia founds its Undergraduate Creative Writing Program, becoming one of the first schools in the country to offer creative writing classes.

1915
Columbia University becomes the first university in the country to offer a course in film, Photoplay Composition, offered through the adult-education extension program.

1916
Morningside Players founded to present the work of Columbia University playwrights.

1919
Columbia offers first classes in painting.

1921
Department of Fine Arts established for the study of architecture, painting, sculpture and scholarly works in those fields.

1924
Writers’ Club inaugurated, allowing students to register for classes in short story, playwriting, poetry, and other courses offered by the University Extension program.

1936
Columbia offers first Sculpture classes.

Columbia Theatre Association founded as workshop to provide professional-level experience to university students.

1938
Columbia offers first Graphic Arts classes.

1940
Construction of Brander Matthews Hall on 117th Street to house theatrical activities of Columbia Theatre Association.

1943
Opera Workshop organized in Brander Matthews Hall, presenting world premieres performed by students and members of the city’s musical and theatrical community.

1947
The School of Painting and Sculpture and the School of Dramatic Arts established, offering the BFA in Painting and Sculpture and the BS, MA, and PhD in Dramatic Arts.

1953
A one-year MFA program with concentrations in Painting or Sculpture offered through the School of Painting and Sculpture.

1958
Program in the Arts created to assume responsibility for the Schools of Dramatic Arts and Painting and Sculpture.

Demolition of Brander Matthews Hall to make way for Columbia’s Law School.

1959
Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center established in Prentis Hall through Rockefeller Grant; Departments of Graphic Arts and Radio, Television and Motion Pictures added to the Program in the Arts.

1963
Annual Writers’ Conference launched by J. R. Humphreys, chairman of Writing department of School of General Studies, with Eudora Welty as guest speaker.

DECEMBER 1965
Trustees of Columbia University establish the School of the Arts to assume responsibilities of the Program in the Arts, under director Davidson Taylor, in training both graduate and undergraduate students. Its first year, the School offered MFA degrees in Painting and Sculpture; Theatre Arts; and Film, Radio, and Television. It also offered undergraduate courses in drawing, film, painting, photography, printmaking, theatre, sculpture, radio, and television.

Founding of Current Musicology, student-run scholarly journal and today the oldest such periodical in the country.

1967
Graduate Writing Program founded, offering MFA concentrations in Short Fiction, Poetry, the Novel, and Nonfiction, making Columbia one of the first three schools in the country to offer a graduate degree in Writing.

1968
PhD in Theatre Arts offered through the Faculty of Philosophy.

MFA program in Theatre Arts established under direction of Bernard Beckerman, future Dean of the School of the Arts.

Theatre Arts Division offers MFA concentration in Artistic Production and Administration.

1969
Warner Brothers finances and distributes a series of short films by Film Division students.


The School of the Arts joins with three community theater groups to create the Theater Technical Training Program.

Music Composition program instituted, leading to a Doctor of Music Arts awarded by the School of the Arts.

1970
Columbia discontinues MFA program in Theatre Arts, amidst community protest; undergraduate courses offered through Columbia College and the School of General Studies and the PhD offered through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

1971
The School of the Arts moves from Women's Hospital Building at 440 W. 110th (Myles Cooper Hall) into Dodge Hall at Broadway and 116th and into industrial space in Prentis Hall on 125th Street, Morningside Heights Campus.

1972
Columbia’s Translation Center (later the Center for Literary Translation) is founded by School of the Arts Interim Dean and Writing program’s first Chair, Frank MacShane, under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NY State Council on the Arts, to encourage and reward excellence in literary translation, awarding fellowships and publishing a newsletter and the journal Translation.

1974
PhD in Film offered through Faculty of Philosophy and awarded by the School of the Arts.

The School of the Arts and the Graduate School of Business offer a joint course entitled Management and the Arts.

The University Committee on the Arts proposes the institution of undergraduate majors in Film, Theatre, and Visual Arts.

Concentration in Printmaking added to the Painting and Sculpture Division.

1975
Creation of joint program in which Columbia College students can apply for entrance to an MFA program in Writing or Film at end of third year, to earn both a BA and MFA in five years.

1976
The School of the Arts with the School of General Studies offers undergraduates new programs combining courses in creative arts and humanities, leading to a BA degree in Film, Theatre, or Visual Arts.

1977
Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose (later, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art), a student-run biannual magazine, first published.

1978
Film director Milos Forman and Frantisek Daniel of the American Film Festival made co-chairs of the Film Division.

Film Division establishes MFA in Screenwriting.

1979
The Graduate Theatre Arts Division reinstituted as part of the Center for Theatre Studies—a collaborative effort between the School of the Arts, Teachers College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—which became, in 1982, the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies. This program rebirth came about in large part due to efforts by Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernard Jacobs of the Shubert Organization, who wanted to ensure the success of a program that would train students for both the non-profit and commercial theatre industries.

Theatre Arts Division offers MFA in Directing, Playwriting, and Theatre Management.


Columbia-Shubert Internship Program established to provide Theatre Arts students with practical professional experience.

1980
The School of the Arts offers MFA in Arts Administration, designed to train leaders for positions of administrative responsibility in the arts.

1982
The School of the Arts and the School of Law offer joint JD-MFA in Theatre Arts.


Theatre Arts Division offers MFA in Criticism (later Dramaturgy).

1985
Establishment of the Research Center for Arts and Culture—a collaboration between the School of the Arts, the Graduate School of Business, and the School of Law, to meet managerial, legal, and marketing needs of artists and institutions.

1987
The first Faculty Selects, consisting of four student shorts and a panel moderated by Annette Insdorf, held at Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th Street, representing the beginning of what eventually grows into the Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF).

1988
Opening of Postcrypt Art Gallery in basement of St. Paul’s to showcase student work.

The School of the Arts launches its first Summer Writers’ Festival.

Renovation of McMillin Academic Theatre in Dodge Hall as a musical performance venue and renamed the Kathryn Bache Miller Theatre.

1989
The School of the Arts, previously a separate division, becomes one of the five major schools organized under the aegis of Arts and Sciences, following recommendation of the Working Group on the Future of the Arts at Columbia (WOGFAC), to restructure and strengthen undergraduate arts offerings, consolidate resources and faculty.

Graduate program in Painting and Sculpture due to budgetary concerns.


The MFA program in Arts Administration moves to Teachers College in 1991.

1990–1991
Creation of undergraduate majors in Visual Arts and Film Studies.

1991
Film Division inaugurates the annual screenings of student films in Los Angeles, California.

1993
Acting concentration re-established in the Theatre Arts Division under director Andrei Serban.

1994
The Program for Art on Film, an international clearinghouse for information about films and videos on art, formerly at the Mellon Center, becomes part of the School of the Arts as first component of a new Center for the Documentary formed through collaboration between the School of the Arts and the Graduate School of Journalism.

The Graduate Program in Visual Arts reinstated.

The School of the Arts moves student art studios from Prentis Hall at 125th to new facility in Watson Hall at 612 W. 111th Street; Prentis studio space converted into off-site library storage facility, though it houses student art studios again today.

1995
Dodge Lobby Coffee Bar opens, the School’s first communal space, to encourage interdisciplinary exchanges among students.

1996
Extensive renovation of Dodge Hall creates space for the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, and for digital media, video, and writing labs.

LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies established, to offer innovative instruction and research in art of printmaking.

1997
The Undergraduate Writing Program is transferred from School of General Studies to the School of the Arts Writing Program, under the direction of Professor Alan Ziegler.

2001
Theatre Arts Division changes name of Theatre Management program to Theatre Management and Producing

2002
The School of the Arts forges relationship with the Theatre at Riverside Church to enable students in Theater Arts Division to stage works.

The Writing Division launches Columbia Artists/Teachers (CA/T) program under Department  Chair Alan Ziegler to provide MFA Writing students with teaching opportunities throughout the city.

Student group “Our Word” founded to promote diversity within the Writing Program.

2003
Founding of Student Interdisciplinary Arts Council, originally the Graduate Arts Council, to promote dialogue and collaboration among students in all departments of the School of the Arts.

The School of the Arts collaborates with University of Michigan to sponsor the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children and bring it to the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Theatre Arts Division admits its first students to the MFA Stage Management program.

2004
Founding of the Arts Initiative at Columbia University, an effort to make arts and culture a meaningful part of the experience of every member of the Columbia community.

2005
Lis Harris launches the Writing Division’s series “Nonfiction Dialogues.”

2007
Columbia College undergraduate major in Creative Writing established.


First students enroll in the Film Division’s new MA in Film Studies program.

2008
Dean Carol Becker establishes new administrative leadership positions.

Theatre Division launches its website ColumbiaStages.com (now ColumbiaStages.org) to promote third-year students’ thesis drama productions.

2009
The School of the Arts launches expanded Summer Program in Writing, Visual Arts, Theatre, and Film with master classes, workshops, residencies, and undergraduate- and graduate-level classes for aspiring artists and practicing professionals.

Michael Scammel, former Director of the Center for Literary Translation, founds Literary Translation at Columbia (LTAC), a new curriculum offering a joint course of study to students in all three Writing concentrations.

School of the Arts launches its first formal global initiative, mounting a printmaking exhibition in Beijing, China, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Columbia’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute.

2010
The School of the Arts Film Division introduces an MFA in Creative Producing.


Columbia artists make Oscar history: Film alumna Kathryn Bigelow becomes first woman to receive the Academy Award for Best Director and adjunct faculty member Geoffrey Fletcher is the first African-American to win the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

As part of Columbia’s first annual Global Leadership Fellows in Residence program, the School of the Arts hosts 50 fellows from the World Economic Forum for a week of arts workshops in theatre and filmmaking

2011
The Writing Program launches the international Word for Word Translation Exchange Program, with pilot programs in Leipzig, Germany, and Amman, Jordan—a six-month collaboration between students in the Literary Translation at Columbia program and students attending foreign universities.

University Trustee Gerry Lenfest pledges support—the largest gift ever made for the arts at Columbia—for the construction of the Lenfest Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary academic and performance space on the Manhattanville campus.

2012
The Theatre Program and the Classic Stage Company (CSC) announce an agreement to make all third-year MFA students in Acting and two students in Stage Management each year eligible to join Actors Equity Association (AEA). This agreement makes The Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia the first in New York to offer this invaluable bridge to the field.

Filmmaker and Film alumna Katharina Otto-Bernstein makes a donation supporting a state-of-the-art screening room within the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

2013
The Writing Program—through the initiative of Phillip Lopate, director of the Nonfiction concentration—hosts a day-long “Stalking the Essay Conference” open to students and general public.

The Visual Arts Program collaborates with Columbia’s Music Department and the Computer Music Center to launch a multidisciplinary MFA program in Sound Arts.

The Film Program introduces a concentration in Television Writing for MFA candidates in the Screenwriting/Directing program.

Construction begins on the 60,000-square-foot Lenfest Center for the Arts, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, on Columbia’s new 17-acre Manhattanville campus.

2015
Members of the first graduating class of the new Sound Arts Program exhibit their work in the thesis show Amplitude at Pioneer Works, a center for research and experimentation in contemporary culture in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The Writing Program’s second “Stalking the Essay Conference” expands to a three-day conference in collaboration with the Film and Visual Arts programs.

School of the Arts celebrates the 50th Anniversary of its founding with its first alumni weekend kicking off a year of public programming.