Columbia Launches University Arts Initiative with Gregory Mosher At Helm
Acting on what Peter Brook called an "unformed hunch," the impulse to put on a particular production, famed director and producer Gregory Mosher intuited that the timing was right for him to move on to a new challenge in his award-winning career, and accept the newly created position at Columbia of Director for University Arts Initiatives. The program, the heart-felt brain child of Columbia University president Lee Bollinger, grows out of Bollinger's "passion," Mosher says, to enhance the role of a university located in the cultural capitol of the world. Though his own credentials are primarily in theatre—Mosher's resume includes hundreds of celebrated stage productions on and off Broadway and abroad, and films and TV credits—his first love, he says, was music, which he pursued as an undergraduate at Oberlin (home of the famous Conservatory), Ithaca, and Juilliard, where he was the school's first directing student. "I'm a failed conductor," he chuckles, but the fact is that Gregory Mosher brings to this new position appreciation of all the arts, not to mention extraordinary experience in arts administration.
He was, at 27, named director of the then newly formed Goodman Stage 2 in Chicago, where he put on, among many stellar and imaginative productions, Richard Wright's Native Son. Certainly, Columbia's location in Harlem is prompting discussion among university administrators, including Bruce W. Ferguson, Dean of the School of the Arts, and between them and various political and cultural organizations in the Harlem community, as the university moves to implement the Initiative as both an aesthetic and civic idea. Everything at the moment, however, is still in the planning stage. As ideas take shape, however, Mosher will post them on a website he is developing that he hopes will serve as both a source of information and as encouragement for students to take advantage of the city's cultural richness. Drawing on his experience reclaiming the moribund Lincoln Center some decades ago—an effort former mayor John Lindsay urged Mosher to undertake as Director of Theatre, Mosher concentrated on—and succeeded in—making Lincoln Center theatre attractive and affordable to a younger, middle class diverse audience. "Would you believe—$10 a ticket!"
His challenge now is this: how can Columbia students (undergraduates and graduate students) use the city's offerings of theatre, poetry, ballet, opera, museums as an "extended classroom"? The answer will involve imaginative scheduling as well as specifics as to how Columbia students will be able to use their ID cards to take advantage of pre-negotiated prices. And although original PR about the Initiative called attention to its integration into the Liberal Arts at the university, Mosher indicates that opportunities will be open to all students, in all majors. He sees the program as continuing and expanding the tradition of one of his mentors, the incomparable Joseph Papp, whose Public Theatre was the first to showcase the arts as both an aesthetic and social idea. Another great influence, Leonard Bernstein, with whom Mosher worked late in the Maestro's career, prompts other "unformed hunches" about linking arts education and public schools (remember Bernstein's Young People's concert series?) possibly in association with Bernstein's son, Alexander, who heads up The Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning. These thoughts, and much more, will keep Mosher busy, for sure, but not to the exclusion this summer of attending to a Kennedy Center production of The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field. The play's the thing for Gregory Mosher, but so is education.#