Category Archives: Your Event Stories

Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer Arthur Mitchell at Columbia

There was a buzz on Broadway and 116th on Monday, October 2, as hundreds of ticket holders waited to get into Miller Theatre for an event called simply, “An informal performance on the art of dance.” An understated title, but those familiar with dancer, director, arts ambassador, and visionary Arthur Mitchell ’16HON knew the evening was bound to be extraordinary. And it was.

In 1955, Mitchell joined the New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. He was the first African-American principal dancer at NYCB or any major American ballet company. Later, he founded and directed the acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem.  

Mitchell, a self-described “political activist through dance,” recently donated his archive to Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. An exhibition, “Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer,” will be on view at the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts from January 13-March 11, 2018.

As the program began, award-winning actress Cicely Tyson ’14HON described meeting her friend Mitchell in the 1950’s. At the time, he predicted they would work together someday—and here they were, both Columbia honorary degree recipients, together at the University more than 60 years later.

Mitchell remained onstage throughout the evening— in a Columbia blue leather chair— watching dancers recreate highlights from his career. He engaged the audience with anecdotes about growing up in Harlem, his choreography, his travels, and his friendships with figures like Nelson Mandela. Dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the New York City Ballet had accepted Mitchell’s invitation to perform and each paid tribute, including the renowned Alicia Graf Mack ’03GS.

The evening included choreography by George Balanchine (Four Temperaments and Agon), Alvin Ailey (“Vortex” from The River), and Mitchell himself (Balm and Gilead).  

Agon, a 1957 Balanchine pas de deux, drew attention when it premiered in the pre-Civil Rights era, featuring African-American dancer Mitchell and white ballerina Diana Adams. According to Mitchell, “My skin color against hers became part of the choreography.”

The roles were danced here by ABT’s Calvin Royal III and NYCB’s Unity Phelan. According to a dance critic from Pointe, “The two dancers…gave an electric and intense performance. Afterwards, Mitchell turned to the audience and smiled, ‘I would say it’s in good hands.'”

He was talking about Agon, but the same may be said about Arthur Mitchell’s legacy, archived at Columbia for the ages.   

Tracy Quinn ’14SPS, senior director for strategic communications, first saw Arthur Mitchell dance in her hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY—the summer home of the New York City Ballet.

Adeline Ortiz Reports on the Latino Vote Event

On September 29, I attended the Battle for the Latino Vote conference co-hosted by Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and NBC’s Telemundo Network.  The event included a variety of panelists, ending with a discussion with Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press, as he fielded questions from Ed O’Keefe, reporter at The Washington Post, and the audience about this historic election.

The discussion confirmed what I, as a Latina, have always known: despite our growing population and economic power, Latinos continue to be largely ignored by political candidates, including our current Presidential candidates, who see immigration as the only issue that concerns us.

Statistics, including those provided at the event by Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center, continue to show a low voter turnout among Latinos. This is a major issue leading to our invisibility in politics and our lack of influence in pushing for more inclusive agendas. Despite the statistics, Latinos tend to have very strong opinions about political candidates and socioeconomic issues that affect their lives.

It can be said that Latinos are to blame for the lack of political influence.  However, there are greater powers at play in erasing their presence. As highlighted by Chuck Todd, redistricting is an important issue that must be addressed, since there are many U.S. communities where Republicans have “drawn out” Latinos from the districts; literally, the boundaries of districts were drawn to isolate Latinos.

A further discussion of Latinos in the U.S. juggled with describing them as either conservative Republicans or Democrats – proving how miserable of a job both parties have done in reaching Latinos and understanding their values. Latinos tend to uphold strong religious values that may align better with the positions taken by Republican candidates (i.e.  on abortion); however, they are less fiscally conservative. Further, Democrats may portray a sense of financial security for Latinos that may be appealing given communities’ historical levels of poverty.  As more Latinos are born in the U.S., they will eventually drive the growth of markets (with their money) and rise in political influence. But first, they have to vote!

Fresh Prints: Santonocito Tours Neiman

This ambitious showcase of inverted photographs, painstakingly crafted lithographs set inside laser-engraved wood structures, spiraling electron orbits, silly putty, and color studies, delights despite its incoherence. The German-born artist, Kiki Smith, gives us a series of six etchings whose protagonist is the goat moth, an image that was inspired during her sojourn in Catskill, NY. In this set of etchings, Smith demonstrates the simple beauty of creating multiple iterations, with slight variations, of the same image. She once said, “I think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.”

In Good Day kiki 1and Esperanza, Smith employs a favorite printmaking technique, etching using two acid-resistant materials, aquatint and soap ground, to create irregular, subdued tones of gold, orange, pink, and blue-purple. A clever use of holographic paper transforms the print into a collage of shimmering raindrops that does, as its title suggests, make for a good day.

Before visiting the gallery, take a moment and stop by the sixth floor of the Columbia Alumni Center to view one of Kiki Smith’s first projects at the LeRoy Neiman Center, Moon Three, a photogravure triptych of floating moons above a richly inked black background. Ankiki 2d when you’re there, please straighten out the pictures; they’re always crooked.

New Prints at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery features six artists, including Smith. The gallery is part of the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, established in 1998 with an endowment gift from LeRoy and Janet Neiman to promote printmaking through education, production and exhibition of prints. The exhibition is on view now through March 24 in Dodge Hall. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Contributor: Paolo Santonocito, assistant director for the Engineering Fund, SEAS


Startup from the bottom, now the whole team here!

On a rainy February 2, I along with other members of CloEve Demmer’s  team made a trip to SoHo to attend the Founders Series workshop featuring Jamie Hodari ’04CC at the Columbia Startup Lab. After hearing about Columbia Entrepreneurship at the last Prospect Roundtable and seeing the event opportunity featured in Jerry’s Picks, my curiosity piqued and I was inspired to learn more.

Some context: our team has realized the benefit of experiencing Columbia and knowing what new and amazing things are happening here. We have kicked off our “team field trips” at the Startup Lab. Using Jerry’s Picks as a resource for events we hope that this becomes a regular opportunity.

Prior to the workshop we were treated to a tour by Hayley Katz, coordinator for the Startup Lab. Hayley enlightened us on the Startup Labs selection process and highlighted various entrepreneurial projects that our talented Columbians are leading.

startup lab 1The energy at the lab is palpable! At 5,100 square feet with more than 40 startups from all around campus, the lab serves as a true testament to Columbia’s commitment to collaboration and to supporting the flourishing entrepreneurial community. This is the result of a unique partnership between the deans of Columbia College, the Business School, Engineering, Law, and the School of International and Public Affairs.

Jamie Hodari ’04CC, co-founder and co-CEO of Industrious, was the speaker of the nstartup lab 2ight. He shared firsthand knowledge of what it takes to make it in the startup world. Prior to Industrious, Hodari was the co-founder and CEO of Kepler, a rapidly growing experimental university that Scientific American called a “daring global experiment” to bring “top-tier instruction to the neediest parts of the planet.”

Jackie Morton attended joined us that night and shared that she “really enjoyed seeing such a cool place and hearing the presentation by such a successful young man, who tied in raising money for his ventures with fundraising for nonprofits.”

Hayley mentioned several exciting events on the horizon for Columbia Entrepreneurship, including the #StartupColumbia Festival, April 28-29, a two-day conference that highlights Columbia’s global entrepreneurship community. Read more here.

Thanks to Hayley and to Chris McGarry who helped organize the tour for our team and to all the amazing people who joined us!

The Lab welcomes the alumni and development community to learn more about the space.  If you are interested in organizing a tour or for more information, please contact Hayley Katz at [email protected].

Contributor: Fritzie Dizon, assistant director at the Office of Gift Planning


From Vertical Farms to Edible Insects, Lily Shen on the Future of Food

On December 3, I attended Columbia Entrepreneurship Night: The Future of Food Sustainability. Dean Mary Boyce of SEAS moderated a panel of experts who are leading the way in providing solutions to the challenges of food sustainability.  Here are some highlights from their presentations.


Presenters (L-R): Dickson Despommier, Sonny Wu, David Rosenberg, Adrian Durrani, and SEAS Dean Mary Boyce

Dickson Despommier, emeritus professor in microbiology and public health. With increasing urbanization around the world, cities must produce more of their own food by growing it indoors and on rooftops, in skyscrapers—essentially vertical farming. With vertical farming, we can reduce and control food contamination and GMOs, pesticides, and agricultural runoff—a major source of pollution.

Adrian Durrani ’81SEAS, CEO of American Halal/Saffron Foods and president of Condor Ventures, a firm devoted to strategic investing in natural food companies. There is a crisis in the agricultural industry, which mistreats animals and exploits farmworkers. Overuse of hormones in animals, and toxic, polluted farmland all pose health risks. Sustainable organic farming is part of the solution and it can also provide decent wages to farmworkers.

David Rosenberg  ’02BUS, founder of AeroFarms, a clean technology company that builds and operates advanced vertical farms in urban environments. Vertical farming uses 95 percent less water and is 70 times more productive than land farms. Scientists are figuring out ways to optimize taste and nutrition density in food grown in vertical farms. Eating insects can be an alternative protein source requiring fewer resources to produce.

Sonny Wu, managing director of GSR Ventures, which focuses on investments in the new materials and new energy sectors.  In China, Wu’s home country, he has invested in a home modular system to grow food on balconies. GSR Ventures has also invested in Rosenberg’s company, AeroFarms.


Eat Offbeat team

After the panel discussion, I enjoyed touring demo team tables staffed by food startups founded by Columbia alumni, students, and faculty, including Sharebite, a food ordering platform that allows you to make a social impact; Eat Offbeat, offers home-style ethnic meals conceived, prepared, and delivered by refugees resettled in NYC; and Untamed Sandwiches, an eatery offering food produced locally and sustainably.

I left thinking that maybe one day balcony farms and a dinner of munchable bugs won’t seem that farfetched. Clearly Columbians are at the forefront of food sustainability thinking!

Investing in the American Dream

On November 17, I attended Income Inequality: Is This the End of American Dream?, a lecture in Uris Hall organized by the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School. The speaker was Peter Georgescu, former chairman and CEO of the advertising agency Young & Rubicam.

pg 3

Peter Georgescu and his older brother (

After an introduction by Raymond Horton, the Frank R. Lautenberg Professor of Ethics and Corporate Governance, Georgescu shared his unique success story. Born in Romania at the start of WWII, he was separated from his parents at age 7 after the country was taken over by the Soviet Union. From the ages of 10 to 15 he served in a hard-labor camp with his brother. With the help of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Georgescu and his brother were then reunited with his parents, who had settled in the United States. He went on to graduate from Princeton University and Stanford Business School before pursuing a successful business career.
PGeorgescuGeorgescu reflected on his topic in light of the post-WWII era, when a strong middle class was established and millions were lifted out of poverty. Now the middle class and the poor are suffering; real wages have been flat for about four decades even though productivity has increased. It appears that companies are more concerned with short-term gains and maximizing  shareholder value, while employees are dehumanized and seen as costs.


Part of Georgescu’s presentation

According to Georgescu, inequality of income in the United States is creating a caste system where it is becoming more difficult to climb the economic ladder without exceptional talent, athletic skill, or luck. He suggested that companies must lead the way to address income inequality and should invest in their employees, who are the real “value creators.” He showed us a list of “enlightened businesses” – companies that are addressing income inequality and  investing in their workforce, including Google, Home Depot, and Whole Foods.

In response to a question about how to create more jobs, Georgescu replied that private sector companies should invest more in research and development. In the public sector, jobs can be created to improve the nation’s outdated infrastructure. When asked whether the definition of growth should be redefined in business, Georgescu said that was a long-term question, and that companies need to move now on income equality.

I left inspired to support more “enlightened businesses.”  As customers and shareholders, perhaps we should all take a closer look at the companies we support. Luckily, I am already a frequent shopper at Whole Foods.

For more information on Georgescu’s ideas, you can read his recent op-ed piece in The New York Times: Capitalists, Arise: We Need to Deal with Income Inequality.

—Lily Shen

JoAnn Huether’s Morningside Treasure Quest


Alma Mater (1903), designed by Daniel Chester French, on the steps of Low Library

When the Museum Meetup: Art on Campus tour appeared on the Jerry’s Picks list for October 20, I immediately signed up. My curiosity about the outdoor sculptures on Columbia’s campus was first piqued when my grandson, Cole, and I chose Columbia’s campus as the subject for his second-grade class assignment, a report on a New York City historical site.  Cole wanted to visit the Empire State Building; I did not. So, I enticed him with a challenge – that he would not be able to find the owl hidden among the folds of Alma Mater’s robes. We spent the afternoon of August 19 on the Morningside Campus.

Of course, our first stop was Alma Mater, and three hours later we had photos of every sculpture of interest to Cole. Although I was able to guide him in his search for the owl, I could not answer most of his questions about the sculptures. And, now, the opportunity for me to learn had presented itself.


“Life Force” (1988-92) by David Bakalar, on Revson Plaza

Roberto C.Ferrari, curator of Art Properties at Columbia University, led our group of 30 to several sculptures, each with a unique story. More generally, Roberto explained that outdoor sculpture is intended to be in our way. It is there for our interaction. He also pointed out the challenges posed by the conservation of outdoor sculpture, which are both physical and financial: only three of Columbia’s outside sculptures—Alma Mater, Thomas Jefferson, and Life Force—have endowments for their permanent care.

pan columbia

“The Great God Pan” (1863-1938) by George Grey Barnard, on the Lewisohn Hall lawn. Photograph by Roberto C. Ferrari

We met at Alma Mater, the most popular public sculpture on Columbia’s campus. Roberto encouraged us to interact with the sculpture, to walk around her, and to find something we had not noticed previously. This exercise produced many different comments and questions, all of which Roberto addressed, often adding something we didn’t notice. In addition to Alma Mater, our tour included The Great God Pan, John Howard Van Amringe, The Thinker, and the many artworks in front of the Law School.

And, as we walked through the Morningside Campus on a beautiful fall day, Roberto enlightened us with, not only the history of these works and their artists, but stories of superstitions, intercollegiate pranks, student songs, and so much more.

the thinker

“The Thinker” (1880-82) by Auguste Rodin, outside Philosophy Hall

To learn more about Columbia’s public art and the artists, visit Roberto’s blog at Also, check out Columbia Magazine’s feature story Treasure Quest.

Let’s Get Physic-al: Two Brians, the Expanding Universe, and Junior High Romance

I have a thing for physics.  A very complicated thing.

Physics can be thrilling, beautiful, and wondrous.  It makes me feel hopeful.  Physics can also be baffling, contradictory, and impossible.  It makes me feel stupid.

It is a perfect analogy for my first junior high school romance.

So it was with a 13-year-old’s sense of awe and dread that I went uptown to see Brian Greene speak about “Searching for the Deep Laws of Nature” at the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.  Brian is professor of physics and mathematics and sometime NOVA host on PBS who has sold gazillions of books, including The Elegant Universe, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.


Brian Greene by Lois Greenfield in the Spring 2006 Columbia Magazine

None of that mattered.  He had me at “Deep Laws of Nature.”

Brian Greene is a star (not in the cosmological sense) and draws a crowd, so the auditorium was packed with a few hundred people jamming both the main floor and the balcony.  The crowd was mostly medical students and faculty, and it looked like a scrubs-and-backpacks convention.

When Brian explained that his work is all about trying to understand beautiful concepts  that are beyond our ability to measure, a very serious young doctor behind me muttered “That is so weird, but so cool.”

When he explained Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity as
simply as if it was the way to open a combination lock (turn to the left, turn to the right, turn to the left: Gravity), the person next to me audibly gasped.

And when he explained that the past, present and future actually exist in the universe at the same time (Einstein called the distinction between them “a stubbornly persistent illusion”), I think I actually heard the sound of minds blowing.  But that may just have been mine.

It was another great example of the amazing (literally) things that are available to us within Columbia on any given day.

The Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series is a set of annual talks by faculty in the Humanities, Basic Sciences and Clinical Sciences for CUMC audiences.  Past speakers include Sylvia Nasar, Simon Schama, Fred Friendly, and Eric Kandel.

There is a lot more about Brian Greene at

Castro on Kosovo

Assisting Jerry with the weekly selection of picks has exposed me to an array of thought-provoking and at times soulful events around campus. I had read about the prestigious World Leaders Forum and on Thursday, October 1, I ventured to Low Library to hear Kosovo’s first female president speak.

After passing a few security check points on the steps of Low, I joined the audience, mainly undergraduates and graduate students. Surprisingly, the rotunda was not packed and gave the impression of an intimate town hall.

The lecture was titled “Kosovo: A Country in Transition”. After an introduction by David Madigan, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, President Atifete Jahjaga dove right in to her presentation recounting Kosovo’s horrific war in the 1990s. She was interested in the ways that post-conflict societies move forward.

From beginning to end, President Jahjaga’s words were compelling. She discussed the ethnic cleansing campaign that took place during the war and the organized rape of women and children. In 2012, Kosovo hosted the first international women’s conference to discuss issues ranging from gender inequality in the workplace to wartime rape. The president emphasized that this was the first time women openly shared their stories. Since the conference, the government has made the commitment to extend wartime reparations to these women. However, the status of these reparations are unclear.

The Q&A session was moderated by Alexander A. Cooley, political science professor at Barnard and the new director of the Harriman Institute. Most questions from the audience centered on what Kosovo will do to step up its efforts to join the international community; it is not yet a member of the United Nations, the European Union, or NATO. I left the lecture contemplating the president’s introductory theme: how do post-conflict societies heal – psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually – and rebuild?

This lecture served as an important reminder that as Columbia continues to globalize and engage with the world, the conversations can become more challenging and emotional. Through platforms like the World Leaders Forum, we gain a footing as global citizens.

You can watch President Jahjaga’s remarks here (her speech starts at 10 minutes in)

Ury Greenberg’s Adventures in Wonderland

On October 7, I attended a Jerry’s Picks event at Butler Library, the “Alice’s Adventures at Columbia” lecture by Dayna Huhn, the founder of the Lewis Carroll Society in Canada. Ms. Kuhn, in a lively 45-minute lecture, took the audience through her research on Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves’ long-ago visit to Columbia University on the occasion of the Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) centenary.

Alice and Butler

Alice with Dr. Murray Butler

In 1932, Ms. Hargreaves was almost 80 years old (she died two years later) and, through extensive correspondence and accommodations, she was enticed to leave England and come to New York. The highlight of her visit was when she received an honorary degree at a ceremony on campus and was feted as the important dignitary she was. The original manuscript of the book Alice’s Adventure Underground was loaned to Columbia and exhibited during her visit. Ms. Huhn wove in details of the correspondence between the President Nicholas Murray Butler, professors who were organizing the event, and Ms. Hargreaves’s son, who accompanied her to NY. She did a great job of placing this event into the context of the New York society and economy of the 1930s.

After the lecture, we went up to the sixth floor of Butler for a reception in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and had time to see the exhibition of photos, letters, and books pertaining to the Alice at Columbia visit. The exhibition is housed in the Chang Octagon Gallery, which is worth seeing as a fun architectural space. It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half on the way home, learning something new and interesting in a great Columbia setting.

alice at columbia

“Alice in Columbialand” by Mark Steele in the Fall 2009 Columbia Magazine

For more on Alice at Columbia, see this 2009 Columbia Magazine article.