So I’m new to the Arts Initiative family, and over the course of the summer I’ve been exploring what exactly the Arts Initiative is. The AI’s mission sounds simple enough: to re-invent the role of Arts in the University and vice-versa. But to what end? How? There’s a subtle yet similarly expansive idea behind this mission – to fully integrate the arts into the lives (academic and otherwise) of all members of Columbia’s community – its students, alumni, staff, faculty, neighborhood dwellers, merchants, its online and global communities among others.
To someone like me, very much steeped into the arts (or at least likes to think they are), this idea is no surprise. The Arts are educational. This is axiomatic. The university’s mandate is to teach. This is its definition. Arts and education are inextricably intertwined. Because of this self-evidence, I sometimes fail to see how innovative and how ambitious the AI really is. I sometimes catch a glimpse of this vision as when I pondered over Oliver Sack’s appointment as Columbia Artist. Here is the university artist elevated to the status of University Scholar!
Lunch with the AI, one of the many ideas constantly churned out by these brainiacs, is an attempt to further connect the AI staff to the rest of the university, to further expose all we have to offer to the Columbia community. Talk to these idea churners at the AI and an interesting story emerges. These are not their ideas! These are my ideas, your ideas – our ideas.
The AI started with one man walking around Columbia’s campuses with a laptop, talking to its members, and addressing their voices. The AI is the form given to these voices. The Lunch with the AI, while more than just one man with one laptop, is a return of sorts to our origin – a conversation – and one of many ways we give the members of our community proprietorship.
At each lunch, Columbians learn more about the arts (marketing, funding, long-term planning) and have the opportunity to network with other Columbians from across the University. We want filmmakers and engineers to meet and create videogames that elaborate on their roommate’s anthropological field study in the mountain ranges of Peru. We want dancers and mathematicians to conceive of performance sculptures that question the evolving natures of our identities in this internet/new space age. We want to offer a forum for this free exchange of ideas – all over lunch.
I realize that in writing this piece I have slipped back and forth between two voices. Sometimes I speak collectively for the AI staff; sometimes I speak collectively for non-AI staff. I tried to reconcile this problem but I couldn’t pick one voice over the other. And suddenly it was clear why: there is no distinction here! I spoke of being new to the AI family. Turns out, I’ve been part of this family all along and so have you.