A jubilant procession of students, teachers, donors and alumni congregated at the Capitale on Monday night for the Tisch School of the Arts 2018 Gala. Framed by graffiti-laiden walls and ultraviolet hues, students transformed the Bowery ballroom into a theater in the round to sing, dance and honor alums at the forefront of change this year.
Honorees included father-daughter duo Chris Columbus (’80) and Eleanor Columbus (’11), in addition to Emmy Award-winning producer Eddie Moretti (’98). But the high-profile guest list did not end here. Alec Baldwin (’94), music producer Randy Jackson, revered director Martin Scorsese (’66) and the school’s dean Allyson Green were also in attendance.
“NYU Tisch is our chosen family, and tonight we celebrate the achievements of Tisch students,” Green said to the crowd. “Our students tell and support stories that will inspire and not divide. There is no stopping the potential of that future.”
This sentiment of unity and the cultivation of inclusivity in and out of the classroom echoed throughout the gala and preceding red carpet on Monday, where many in attendance emphasized the country’s dismal social landscape and art’s role in reflecting the needed change.
The man of the hour, Chris Columbus, was quick to point this out when accepting the Big Apple Award for Artistic Achievement. Known for his directorial work on the “Harry Potter” and “Home Alone” franchises, Columbus asserted that art can and will change the world.
“This world needs your vision and integrity more than ever,” Columbus said to Tisch students in the room.
Moretti echoed this call for artists in his own acceptance speech for the Big Apple Award, calling the school “a beacon of light” in today’s 24-hour news cycle of political disparity.
“Thank you Tisch for being a beacon of light during a time in which we are in desperate need of discourse and exchange of ideas,” he said.
While Tisch is at the helm of progress in certain aspects, it isn’t the brightest beacon that our country has to offer. Just last week, the school came under fire when WSN reported nine instances of racial discrimination and insensitivity within the school’s eight drama studios.
According to the article, “students described an atmosphere of racial insensitivity, where some professors stereotype, exclude and silence students and treat race as merely an academic topic.”
WSN spoke with Dean Green on the matter, where she highlighted the school’s fast-moving efforts –– like “safe and brave” spaces and sensitivity training for students and faculty –– to ensure that no student feels silenced again.
“It’s important to listen to our students’ concerns,” Green told WSN. “There’s work that we always have to be doing, and I’m committed to doing that … I hear their concerns. I’m concerned, and we will keep working hard.”
Green also spoke on what makes her proudest as a dean –– the students. She particularly highlighted the work of former students Rachel Morrison (’00) and Dee Rees (’07), who made history this year as the first woman and woman of color to be nominated in their respective categories at the 90th Academy Awards.
Also nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for his short film “My Nephew Emmett,” Tisch graduate student Kevin Wilson Jr. spoke on the change that needs to be made in both Tisch and the industry as a whole.
“We can keep making films all day long, but if more people of color aren’t in positions to finance projects or advocate on our behalf, then film is going to remain the same,” Wilson told WSN. “It starts at the top … In my [master’s of fine arts] program, there’s only one woman of color as a professor and that is certainly not reflective of the student body or the stories we want to tell and need to be telling.”
In a nod to her father’s work on “Harry Potter,” Eleanor Columbus told the crowd that Tisch was her Hogwarts and the greatest, most magical school in the world. But to ensure that every student feels this magic, change must be made, and considering the conversation on this year’s red carpet, it seems Dean Green and Tisch are committed to doing just that.
A version of this article was published at nyunews.com on April 18, 2018.