Former Columbia Community Scholar Adarsh Alphons Expands Arts Education in Cities across the Country

Maggie Barrows
November 15, 2017

Former Columbia Community Scholar Adarsh Alphons is the founder and executive director of ProjectArt, an arts education nonprofit that connects students with artists and libraries. The artists teach classes to children in spaces provided free of charge by the libraries, which receive programming and patrons; in exchange the artists get free studio space in the libraries. Alphons began the program in 2011 at Hamilton Grange Public Library, with a first class that served only 10 students.

Alphons used his time as a Community Scholar to learn how to expand ProjectArt. He focused on economics, especially economies of scale, macroeconomics, and developing efficiencies, which helped him successfully scale ProjectArt up from its beginnings as a small program in two New York City libraries to one that reaches children across the country. With input from Professor of Economics André Burgstaller, Alphons developed and refined a business plan that applied the economic theories and models he studied. He also used the resources available to him as a Community Scholar—including the intellectual capital available at Columbia outside of the classroom—to better understand the legal history and structure of the United States.

Over the last six years, guided by Alphons, ProjectArt has expanded into all of New York City’s boroughs, as well as libraries in Detroit and Miami, providing arts education to children who might not otherwise have access to it. Additionally, ProjectArt participants, who are often first-time library users, frequently begin using other services and programs that the libraries offer. When ProjectArt’s new programs in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles open this fall, it will become the largest arts education organization in the United States.

Moving forward, beyond continuing to expand, Alphons hopes to see ProjectArt broaden its use of technology and develop closer ties to the tech industry. By using social media to live stream classes and display student art in online galleries, he plans to expand the organization’s access even further. ProjectArt is also developing an internal app that will enable its staff to monitor and carry out their programs more effectively. With this app, they can continue shifting toward data-driven tracking of their programs and—by working more closely with the tech industry—they will be able to innovate and access previously untapped resources and communities.

Reinforcing his ties to the University community, Alphons is the featured speaker in Columbia’s School of Professional Studies Community Scholar Lecture Series this October, with a focus on sharing how the economics he learned as a Community Scholar helped ProjectArt succeed.