Mellon Arts Project

The Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department (AAADS) at Columbia University is pleased to announce a series of arts programming funded by the Mellon Foundation. The initiative, which launches this academic year 2020-2021, will roll out over the course of three years in collaboration with departments at Columbia, Harlem- based organizations, and cultural institutions nationally and abroad. The partnerships created through this initiative are designed to sustain the centrality of the arts in AAADS and its broader intellectual community.

The first two programs to be established are an Artist-in-Residence and the Black Arts Dialogues. In addition to these programs, AAADS is also instituting an arts centered Masters Degree Track, Post-Doctoral Fellowship, and International Visiting Professorship. This initiative is unique among the schools that comprise Columbia University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences with its distinct focus on the arts inAfrican American and African Diaspora Studies. About the significance of the project, Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin states: “[It] signals a new way of conceptualizing the relationship of the arts to both research and teaching in that it values artists and their work not only as subjects of analysis, but also as central to helping shape our understanding of history, society and culture.”

IRAAS and AAADS puts the health and safety of our community first. We will continue to make our programming accessible online while we develop creative ways to activate our website and social media to expand our network in this unique time.

The initiative is led by Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies and Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies; Chair, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, in collaboration with Kellie Jones, Hans Hofmann Professor of Modern Art in the Departments of Art History and Archaeology and African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Josef Sorett, Associate Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Director of the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice. The Project Director of the Initiative is Kalia Brooks Nelson.

Projects

Each year, an artist is invited by a group of panelists consisting of AAADS faculty, colleagues at Columbia and our partnering institutions. The residency offers established and emerging artists an opportunity to deepen their creative practice while enriching the scholarship and academic experience of students.
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The Black Arts Dialogues (BAD) is curated by prize-winning author, New York Times Best-Seller and Oprah Winfrey Book Club novelist, Ayana Mathis. This program features a series of one-on-one conversations between Mathis and distinguished Black artists of various disciplines.
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Black Curators Matter: An Oral History Project is part of Columbia University’s African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS) Envisioning the Arts as Central to Conceptions of African-American and African Diaspora Studies grant from the Mellon Foundation. In partnership with the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, during 2021-2023 we plan to conduct six oral histories with Black curators who have been active in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and played an important role in getting the museum and curatorial field to where it is today. Each of the six curators will be interviewed by six younger curators, creating an important intergenerational dialogue. While each oral history will be recorded privately, AAADS is planning to partner with Columbia’s neighbor, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for public programs related to this project. The resulting oral histories will be deposited with the Schomburg, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Getty Research Institute. There will also be an accompanying publication that contains edited transcription of interviews and images from the project.
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The Mellon Arts Project hosts a Postdoctoral Fellow who is invited to teach one course per year and be actively involved in the department's intellectual life. Our 2021 - 2022 Post-Doctoral Fellow is Jonah Mixon-Webster, a poet, scholar, and conceptual/sound artist.
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Each year, a visiting professor is appointed by a faculty committee of three who will invite nominations from AAADS faculty, read materials, and propose a roster of three candidates from which the broader faculty will select one candidate. The visiting professor will relocate to the United States to teach two courses per year and be an active member of our community. They will be provided office space and library privileges. The inaugural International Visiting Professor is Salim Washington an acclaimed jazz saxophonist, composer, scholar, and activist.
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