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Harlem photographer heads to Columbia Law as first 'artist-in-residence'

3 minute read

A man walks on the stairs of the Columbia University Library in New York City. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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  • No other top law school has an artist program

(Reuters) - Moot courtroom? Check. Law library? Of course.

Artist studio?

Columbia Law School is adding a new amenity to its Manhattan campus with the arrival of its first artist-in-residence, Harlem-based photographer Bayeté Ross Smith. He will spend the next year displaying his work around the law school, interacting with students and faculty, and maintaining a studio space there.

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Columbia unveiled the artist-in-residence program in May with a goal of adding to the diversity and vibrancy of the law school. Each year, a chosen artist—drawn from the local area—will spend the academic year working on campus and will receive a $15,000 grant and $5,000 for art supplies.

“Art can bring beauty to our campus, but it also, importantly, can reflect and represent a range of human experience, perspectives, and cultural knowledge,” said Columbia Law Dean Gillian Lester when the program was announced in May.

Columbia says it’s the first artist-in-residence program at law school ranked in the top 14 by U.S. News & World Report. Gonzaga University School of Law and the University of New Mexico School of Law are among the law schools that have forged relationships with artists. Ross Smith was selected from among more than 400 applicants for Columbia Law’s inaugural artist-in-residence by faculty on the school’s Naming and Symbols Working Group.

Ross Smith said he will use his year at Columbia Law to focus on his “Art of Justice” project, which combines art, media installations and related programs about social, political and human rights issues. The project aims to engage directly with the legal community.

“This opportunity will allow me to advance my work utilizing the storytelling power of the arts to engage law students, legal scholars, and future policymakers in the contemporary and historic social justice issues and human rights issues that must be addressed in order for society to make the necessary progress we need over the course of the next century and beyond,” Ross Smith said in an announcement of his appointment.

Columbia Law Professor Kendall Thomas, who is co-chair of the selection committee, said Ross Smith’s Art of Justice project will prompt inquiry and reflection about that ways in which unconscious bias and “distorted historical narratives” adversely impact the legal system.

“Ross Smith has a keen sense of how the arts can be used to help lawyers, law students, legal educators, and legal policymakers understand and address the cultural perspectives that shape our professional practice,” Thomas said.

In addition to photography, Ross Smith works in film and video, new media and 3D objects. His work has appeared in the Smithsonian Institution, the Oakland Museum of California and the Brooklyn Museum, among other venues.

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