Dean Ozuzu on SFPA’s Reimagining of Creative Practice

Dean of School of Fine and Performing Arts Onye Ozuzu. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08

The creative practices of the departments within the School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA) offer entry and access to existing disciplines and their practices, and they offer flexible and transferable skills to students for complex, collaborative problem-solving as well as the vision to reimagine worlds. This is an exciting proposition, yet in a world of dynamic and ever more complicated change, it means we must continue to evolve, to be relevant and to be ever more interdisciplinary.

Throughout this academic year, I have been working with department chairs and faculty to help optimize SFPA’s creative practices, to begin to recalibrate our school’s structures and curricula, and to ensure that we are providing our students with the most diverse, interdisciplinary and rewarding education possible. Operating within the context of Columbia’s strategic plan, we have been considering the historic strengths of our SFPA programs while also asking how we can best prepare our students to succeed in constantly evolving creative professions. The work ahead of us this semester is significant, but I am excited for the challenge and the reward of making our school even greater.

Our primary objective for curricular change is to offer students a curriculum that is diverse, inclusive, relevant and builds pathways to professional success. To educate the creatives of the next generation, we are taking on the challenge of reimagining ourselves. This includes generating bold new ideas, examining the deployment of facilities and technology to support teaching and learning, and infusing our efforts with an over-arching, conscious and informed engagement in diversity, equity and inclusion in all we do. It also includes being willing to see where we (as an organization and as individuals) need to develop our own capacities, through training—and doing so without hesitation. 

There are many layers to this, working in concert with one another this year, but it can be distilled into three broad categories: curriculum (vision), facilities and technology (space), and resources:

  • Curriculum – SFPA departments are engaging in a rigorous review of their respective curricula and will develop proposals for its next evolution. In addition, we have developed an Arts in Education, Community and Health Organizations (ECHO) task force, comprised of members from the Creative Arts Therapies Department, the Education Department and the Teaching Artist Programs of the Center for Community Arts Partnerships. This task force is charged with crafting a proposal for a network of programs to enhance our degrees with minors and certificates that prepare students to expansively apply their creative expertise in our society and economy, through pursuits such as arts in education or as practitioners of arts in healthcare.
  • Facilities and Technology – While the overall curricular exploration is underway, our SFPA Facilities and Technology Council is working to find ways to support teaching and learning by bringing staff from departments across the school together. Shared lab spaces, for instance, will allow for the school to maintain a higher level of quality equipment for all students while also building spaces where interdisciplinary practice is supported by shared hardware and software use as well as by simple proximity.
  • Resources – We have developed and applied a course-level cost analysis tool for departments and faculty to think of and understand the design of curriculum as faculty choices that not only offer students educational value. It is our charge as faculty to not only design the best education for our students but to use their financial investment responsibly. This analytical tool serves to empower faculty to make decisions regarding the priorities in their degree programs in a sustainable way. In practice, this could mean that some programs and perhaps departments should be combined to reflect both the modern demands of the creative professional practices for which they are preparing students and the best possible use of our resources.

Another exciting development in the course of this year’s ambitious exploration is the launch of a Columbia performance and lecture season. This would consist of programming that provides an experiential journey each academic year through intersections of the best ideas and work of Columbia students, faculty and staff, and esteemed guests. More on this to come as it develops.

I soon will be reaching out to faculty, staff and students to outline the opportunities SFPA community members will have to ask questions and provide thoughts on and recommendations for our future. The changes I have outlined above are a work in progress, and your input will be essential to ensure that together we are charting the best course possible. The principles guiding us are strong and I am excited for the future ahead of us.