Professor Zoë Strother helped affirm Columbia’s strength in non-Western art when she rejoined the faculty as the first Riggio Professor of African Art in Fall 2007. A nationally renowned specialist in 20th-century art of central and west Africa, Strother had taught at the University from 1995 to 2000 before leaving New York for UCLA. As Professor Robert E. Harrist Jr., chair of the Department of Art History and Archaeology, noted at the time, “The Riggio professorship in African Art takes its place among a constellation of other professorships in non-Western art that ensure Columbia’s continuing preeminence in these fields.”
Strother is known especially for her work on the role of the visual arts — especially masquerade — in articulating power and knowledge, and has conducted research in Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali, and Senegal. She is also a contributing editor for Res: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics and associate editor of the e-journal Art in Translation. Her published work has been praised as “scholarly but accessible” and is widely used in teaching.
In 2007, Leonard and Louise Riggio donated $5 million in support of two professorships, graduate fellowships, and undergraduate programs in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. The gift was one of the largest ever in support of art history at Columbia, and its effect was heightened further through a matching program established by University Trustee Gerry Lenfest, which provided additional support for the portion of the gift funding faculty positions — including the then new Riggio Professorship of African Art.
“Our gift recognizes the depth and quality of Columbia’s excellent program in art history, as well as our family’s desire to become part of this important legacy,” said Mr. Riggio, who is the chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc. The Riggios’ donation to the department was inspired in part by their daughter, Stephanie ’06CC, who majored in art history at Columbia College. The family also has a lengthy record of support for various artistic, educational, and charitable institutions.
University Trustee Gerry Lenfest ’58LAW, ’09HON is one of Columbia’s most generous benefactors. In 2006 he pledged $37.5 million to create a matching fund to endow faculty chairs in the Arts and Sciences (and $10.5 million more for the School of Law). Over the years he has donated more than $100 million to Columbia — for a Law School residence hall, for innovative awards in support of teaching in the Arts and Sciences, to promote sustainable development and advanced solutions to global climate change and acute global poverty, and more.
“What makes Columbia unique is its great tradition of outstanding teaching in all its schools,” Lenfest has said. “My gift to increase the number of teachers through a matching grant recognizes the importance of tradition at the University.”
Published: June 2011