Columbia University School of the Arts

Coordinates: 40°48′32″N 73°57′47″W / 40.80896°N 73.96309°W / 40.80896; -73.96309
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Columbia University School of the Arts
Established1965; 59 years ago (1965)
DeanCarol Becker
Students~835 students
Location, ,

The Columbia University School of the Arts (also known as School of the Arts or SoA) is the fine arts graduate school of Columbia University in Morningside Heights, New York. It offers Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees in Film, Visual Arts, Theatre and Writing, as well as the Master of Arts (MA) degree in Film Studies. It also works closely with the Arts Initiative at Columbia University (CUArts) and organizes the Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF), a week-long program of screenings, screenplay, and teleplay readings.[1]

Founded in 1965, the school is one of the leading institutions for the study of visual and performing arts in the United States.[2] Among the school's distinguished graduates are sculptors David Altmejd and Banks Violette, visual artist Lisi Raskin, painters Marc Handelman and Dana Schutz, screenwriter Jennifer Lee and James Mangold, screenwriter and actress Gülse Birsel and directors Kathryn Bigelow and James Gunn.


The history of the School of Arts can be traced back to the first courses in drawing offered at Columbia in 1881. In 1900, drama critic Brander Matthews was appointed professor of Dramatic Literature, first chair of drama at any university in the country.[3] Courses in creative writing, film, and painting followed. In 1921, the Department of Fine Arts was established for the study of architecture, painting, sculpture and scholarly works in those fields. The university's first sculpture classes were offered in 1936, followed two years later by graphic art classes. In 1947, the School of Painting and Sculpture, and the School of Dramatic Arts were established.[4]

In December 1965, the Trustees of Columbia established the School of the Arts to train both graduate and undergraduate students. In 1970, the school began offering only graduate courses. A year later, it moved into Dodge Hall at Broadway and 116th Street and Prentis Hall on 125th Street, where the school’s classrooms, rehearsal spaces and administrative offices are located. In 1988, the Miller Theatre, constructed in 1924, was established as Columbia's performing arts producer following renovations to the previous space known as the McMillin Academic Theatre.[5] In 2017, construction was completed on Renzo Piano's 60,000-square-foot Lenfest Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary academic and performance space on Columbia's Manhattanville campus. The Lenfest also houses the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery.[6][7]

In 2021, the School of Arts was the subject of a Wall Street Journal investigative report into prestigious universities that run programs that have lopsided costs for students relative to their expected earnings in the field. According to the Journal, "Columbia has more high-debt master's degree programs in low-paying fields than any other Ivy League university." The article further stated alumni carry a median debt of $181,000 USD, "the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master’s program in the U.S."[8][9]



The School of the Arts' Film Program is well-regarded in the field and offers Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees with concentrations in Screenwriting/Directing and Creative Producing. The program also offers a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Film Studies.

In 2016, the MFA film program accepted 72 students out of approximately 600 applicants.[10] The Hollywood Reporter ranked it number four in the top 25 American film schools of 2020.[11]

Entrance to the Miller Theatre on the Columbia University Morningside Heights campus.


The School of Arts's Theatre Program offers Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degrees in theater with concentrations in acting, directing, playwriting, dramaturgy, stage management, and theater management and producing. The playwriting concentration has been heralded by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage and Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang.

In 2018, applications to the acting concentration doubled with the appointment of former Yale School of Drama acting professor Ron Van Lieu. The acting concentration has emerged as one of the highest ranking graduate acting programs in the world [12] and is helmed by casting director James Calleri.

The Theatre Program also offers a Ph.D. and joint J.D./M.F.A. degree in association with Columbia Law School.

Visual Arts[edit]

In the Visual Arts Program at the School of Arts, students work in the fields of painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, digital media, drawing, performance, and video art.


The School of Arts's writing program offers degrees in creative writing, with concentrations in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. One of its more notable features are "master classes", four-week courses for writers (as opposed to critical scholars) "designed to stimulate provocative discussions about literary craft and artistic choices." Master class faculty have included Helen Vendler, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, James Wood, Richard Ford, Han Ong, Susan Choi and Jonathan Ames. The writing division also employs prestigious writers as seminar and workshop instructors; in recent years these have included Zadie Smith, Gary Shteyngart, Nathan Englander, Myla Goldberg, Adam Haslett, Jessica Hagedorn, Phillip Lopate, Marie Howe, Eamon Grennan, Paul LaFarge, David Gates, Francisco Goldman, Darcy Frey and David Ebershoff.

Deans of Columbia School of the Arts[edit]

Carol Becker, current dean
  • Davidson Taylor (1966–1971)
  • Frank MacShane (interim dean, 1971–1972)
  • Bernard Beckerman (1972–1976)
  • Schuyler G. Chapin (1976–1987)
  • Peter Smith (1987–1995)
  • Robert Fitzpatrick (1995–1998)
  • Dan Kleinman (acting, 1998–1999)
  • Bruce W. Ferguson (1999–2005)
  • Dan Kleinman (acting, 2005–2007)
  • Carol Becker (2007-2023)
  • Sarah Cole (interim dean, 2023-present)

Notable alumni and attendees[edit]




Visual Arts[edit]


Notable faculty[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Programs of Study - Columbia School of the Arts".
  2. ^ "Best Graduate Fine Arts Programs - US News Rankings". U.S. News & World Report.
  3. ^ "Brander Matthews | American writer | Britannica".
  4. ^ "History - Columbia School of the Arts".
  5. ^ "About | Miller Theatre at Columbia University".
  6. ^ Farago, Jason (June 2017). "Columbia's New Harlem Museum Opens, with Art from its Neighbors". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Renzo Piano's Columbia University arts center is nearly complete". 23 March 2017.
  8. ^ Fuller, Melissa Korn and Andrea (2021-07-08). "'Financially Hobbled for Life': The Elite Master's Degrees That Don't Pay Off". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  9. ^ "Defund Columbia". National Review. 13 July 2021.
  10. ^ "FAQ". Columbia - School of the Arts. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  11. ^ "2020's Top 25 American Film Schools, Ranked". The Hollywood Reporter. 2020-08-24. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  12. ^ Abramovitch, Seth (10 June 2019). "Top 25 Graduate Schools for an Acting Degree, Ranked". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  13. ^ Naficy, Hamid (2012). A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Vol. 3: The Islamicate Period, 1978–1984. Duke University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0822348771.
  14. ^ "Exploring Female Identity with Jane Zweibel". Create! Magazine. Retrieved 2021-01-29.

External links[edit]

40°48′32″N 73°57′47″W / 40.80896°N 73.96309°W / 40.80896; -73.96309