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.


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.

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.