UCIRA Artist jesikah maria ross: Restore/Restory: A People’s History of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve

25 Jan
jesikah maria rossPhoto by fischphoto.com

jesikah maria ross
Photo by fischphoto.com

We are pleased to share some wonderful interviews on UCIRA artist jesikah maria ross’s project, Restore/Restory: A People’s History of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve

Restore/Restory explores the history of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve through the voices, views, images and experiences of a wide range of Yolo County residents. The project involved over 200 people in a collaborative effort to chronicle our diverse and changing demographics, traditions, and relationships with the land. University students, community members, and a media artist collected hundreds of audio recordings, photographs, and documents and curated them into the storymap, audio tour, digital murals, and historical timeline featured on this website. In many ways, the Cache Creek Nature Preserve is a microcosm of California and in telling its story we are revealing the larger story of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.

Restore/Restory was produced and directed by media artist jesikah maria ross and created in collaboration with the UC Davis Art of Regional Change and the Cache Creek Conservancy. The project aims to forge a shared “sense of place” that leads to just and sustainable stewardship of our natural and cultural resources.

Please click the below links to go to the interviews and articles on the project:

http://namac.org/idea-exchange/restore-restory-digital-media-education-community-storytelling-open-space-documentary

https://www.calegacy.org/making-nature-preserves-for-people-too/

UC Berkeley Artist Jeremy Fisher and the UC Design/Build Studio: Envisioning an Ecological Field Station for the 21st Century project

8 Jan

Since 2007, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) has developed experimental residency initiatives that offer opportunities for arts research to take place within the 36 sites of the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS). Primarily utilized for scientific investigation, these environments engage California’s diverse terrains, representing an untapped resource and opportunity for exploration by artists. Embedding artists within these field contexts offers new models that move beyond traditional methods of art and science, generating new forms of knowledge and practice through visual and material translation.

In 2010, UC Berkeley artist, Jeremy Fisher embarked on a project that did just that.  He was awarded a UCIRA Art+California Planning Grant for his project UC Design/Build Studio: Envisioning an Ecological Field Station for the 21st Century.  The Integrative Design Build Studio was proposed as an ongoing design/build studio for the UC NRS Blue Oak Ranch Reserve (BORR), organized by and for a team of interdisciplinary students from UC Berkeley.

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Over the summer of 2010, a week-long meeting was organized at BORR, which included 12 students, professors Mark Anderson and Bob Shepherd of the Architecture Department, Brent Bucknum from the Climate Clock team, the BORR reserve director Michael Hamilton, and BORR staff. The aim of this meeting was to gather information that would enable the team to plan the design/build studio.  Collectively, the team decided to simultaneously work on both the Master Plan and a design/build project, and to band together with Architecture Professor Mark Anderson’s Seminar scheduled for Fall 2010. In order to facilitate a collaborative design process among students in Building Science, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and the Information school, they formed the ideaBerkeley student group; IDEA is an acronym for Integrated Design Education in Action.

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Just before fall 2010 ideaBerkeley held a meeting in the College of Environmental Design at which both Mark Anderson and Michael Hamilton spoke to a group of 35 students and discussed the possibilities for the coming Seminar. They recruited a small group of interdisciplinary students who met for the seminar three hours per week as a group and more often in smaller groups. Each student was charged with inviting a visiting speaker who had important skills and experience for our two objectives at BORR, the Meta Plan (aka master plan) and the design/build project. Speakers included Michael Hamilton, Climate Clock Team, Bob Glushko of the Information school, a representative from AutoDesk, and John Crowley of MIT’s Design/Build program. Using online tools such as a blog, website and wiki, we tracked our progress and project permutations as the seminar went on.
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Two subsequent trips to BORR with the students, Professor Anderson, and the Climate Clock team were great additions to the depth and breadth of the overall integrated design process. The original goals of creating a Meta Plan as well as designing and building a project proved to be very challenging with the short timeline, small budget and variety of stakeholders, opinions and skills. After many design iterations and of both structures and infrastructure for BORR, The Meta Plan became a set of floor plans to renovate the existing barn to accommodate large groups, and a site analysis report from the landscape design students. The design/build project was decided to function as both a “Wired Wilderness” observation platform, as well as a usable camping platform for visitors to BORR.

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For more information on this project, please visit: http://ucberkeleydesignbuild.blogspot.com/

For more photos of this project, please visit:  https://plus.google.com/photos/116227821447596280338/albums/5478281307755069489/5551425508751509362?banner=pwa

 

 

(majority of text taken from project final report)

UCIRA Artist Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

19 Dec

UC Santa Barbara Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

Source: University of California, Santa Barbara
Thursday, December 13, 2012
UC Santa Barbara Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

The notes float in fits and starts, bubbles of whimsy breaking the surface. A music lesson is under way.

Selena Ross, a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, is sharing her instrument and her expertise with Jasmine, an Isla Vista Elementary pupil and participant in the afterschool program that brought the pair together. Ross is mentoring Jasmine in music –– and tutoring her in math –– as a volunteer for a campus-based student organization and nonprofit called The MUSIC Club.

More commonly known by its acronym than its full name –– Musicians United in Supplemental Instruction for Children –– the club sends music-inclined college students into elementary schools, providing homework help and instrument instruction for underprivileged youth.

“It’s a wonderful experience to see all these kids so thrilled by music and instruments,” said Ross, a double major in sociology and English who is the club’s co-president and on-site coordinator for Isla Vista Elementary. “They love to learn. The fact that we’re able to work with these kids especially is such an important part of the program, and I feel we can have a true impact on kids who really appreciate it.”

And that’s the whole point. In 2006, on a $10,000 service-project grant from the Donald Strauss Foundation, founder Areo Saffarzadeh (’07, business economics, biology) positioned music as a means of academic motivation for underprivileged children: Bang out the homework, then bang on the piano.

The MUSIC Club functions exactly the same way today, partnering with established afterschool programs to deliver its vision to socioeconomically disadvantaged fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Goleta. Volunteers from UCSB –– the club averages more than 20 active mentors each quarter –– visit Isla Vista and El Camino elementary schools each afternoon. They have also served students from La Patera Elementary through an afterschool program at the Boys & Girls Club in Goleta.

“What makes being involved with this program so refreshing is these kids, because learning music, for them, is a huge privilege,” said David Lee, the group’s executive director and a UCSB alumnus (’11, biopsychology). “For them there is no entitlement. They love learning music and they know that when they work hard, behave well, and do their homework, they get to learn music. They don’t have to, they get to, and that makes teaching and working with them all the better for us. That’s a huge part of why we stay focused on serving an underserved population –– to open the opportunity to learn music to people who otherwise may not be able to.”

That opportunity may one day be available to additional children, and not just in the immediate area. Local growth is imminent, said Lee, but The MUSIC Club’s long-range goals also include expanding its efforts elsewhere by launching new chapters, or satellite operations, on other college campuses with underprivileged youth nearby. They also aspire to a capital project, aiming to eventually offer a music and tutoring site that could be shared by multiple programs.

The organization’s steadfast devotion to engaging kids through music has struck a chord with teachers, who credit the still-small club with big impact.

“As a music teacher, I know in my core that music is essential for the development of children –– for their neural development, for their social development, for their self-esteem, and for the pure joy that it brings them,” said Blair Looker, a music and art teacher at Isla Vista Elementary. “So when I see The MUSIC Club bringing both one-on-one mentoring, tutoring for children, and music, I think it’s the best of both worlds … It’s all part of a large dialogue between these excellent mentors and our young students, and I value it totally.”

Looker has known The MUSIC Club since its 2006 inception, when Saffarzadeh and four friends first showed up at her school. She has since become an active advocate for the nascent nonprofit, recently joining its board of directors, and, through her Looker Family Foundation, awarding the group a $10,000 grant.

“It is a strong organization that has grown into a really coherent program,” Looker said. “I’m really appreciative of their vision and I think it’s a model that can be used throughout the UC system –– at the minimum –– statewide, and possibly nationwide. It’s a beautiful, simple model that enriches the UCSB students that are giving of their talent, and completely feeds and nourishes our students.”

Such strong belief in the group appears to be growing. As a registered student organization and community nonprofit, The MUSIC Club has received a $2,000 grant from the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, and a $2,000 Community Arts Enrichment Grant through the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, in addition to the Looker Foundation award.

“Funding for arts education is oftentimes targeted as one of the lowest priorities when budgets are reduced for K-12 public education,” said Catherine Boyer, acting director of Student Affairs Grants and Development. “The Looker Foundation gift demonstrates a strong commitment to both nurture the arts and make arts opportunities accessible for all our children. It also inspires our UCSB students to live their dreams: our student musicians are teaching their love of music to the next generation.”

 

Americans for the Arts Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV

16 Oct

What is society without art?  On one very basic level, for 4.1 million Americans, no art means no work. For American businesses and government, it means that $22.3 billion in national revenue dissolves.  These figures (from the Americans for the Arts 2012 national study of the Economic Impact of Arts & Cultural Organizations) remind us of how much power the arts have on a region’s economic and cultural legacy.  The arts are not a luxury; THE ARTS MEAN BUSINESS.

On Thursday, October 4th, 2012, I attended the Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV (organized by the Santa Barbara Arts Commission) at the historic Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara to further examine the results of ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV study. This study (sponsored in part by the UC Institute for Research in the Arts) surveys 182 diverse regions from all 50 states and D.C. and is perhaps the most comprehensive investigation of the nonprofit arts and culture ever conducted.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider kicked off the forum with a Proclamation for Arts & Humanities Month in Santa Barbara (October being National Arts & Humanities Month). Randy Cohen (VP for Research + Policy for the Americans for the Arts) followed with an inspirational keynote that emphasized the critical power the arts have in a sustaining a thriving economic community. On a local scale, the arts in Santa Barbara County generate over $124 million in direct expenditures in the community and provide 3,587 full-time jobs (almost as many jobs as the entire county of Santa Barbara provides and twice as many as the SB School District).

Diverse artistic and cultural events bring people in from various areas and encourage them to stay longer which results in more out-of-the-region dollars to be spent locally (32% of average audience members are from out-of-town and they spend more than twice the amount of event-related spending than their local counterparts).  Kathy Janega-Dykes, President and CEO for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, presented supporting facts that re-emphasized how important the arts are to leveraging significant spending behavior both locally and nationwide.

The Americans for the Arts study is perfectly timed with the release of the results of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) 2011 UC survey.  The UC Institute for Research in the Arts oversaw survey participation of all the UC Campuses with degree-granting programs in the arts.  The research that comes from this survey provides the first national data on how those with both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in all arts disciplines develop post-graduation careers.  With the exorbitant out-of-state UC tuition (2012-2013 average out-of-state tuition is $55,578), it may come as no surprise that 97.4% of UC students are in-state.  After graduation, 75% of them stay in California and most work in arts industries.  Our arts grads provide unique skill sets that contribute to the rebuilding of a broken economy and the UC must continually adapt to be able to provide our students with the education and training they need to succeed.  As the only system-wide arts research unit, the UCIRA is devoting considerable effort to communicate the data from the SNAAP survey to a wider public and to integrate the outcomes of this survey into improved arts curriculum and administration.

For more information on these studies, please visit the following links:

Santa Barbara County Final Report:

 

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP):

 

Written by ZouZou Chapman
UCIRA Program Coordinator

What Do We Really Know About People Who Get Arts Degrees?

12 Jul

re-posted from http://blog.artsusa.org/

by Sally Gaskill On July – 2 – 2012

Sally Gaskill

 

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Since 2008, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) has surveyed graduates of arts training programs—people who received undergraduate and/or graduate arts degrees from colleges and universities as well as diplomas from arts high schools…people who majored in architecture, arts education, creative writing, dance, design, film, fine arts, media arts, music, theater, and more.

To date, SNAAP has collected data from over 50,000 arts graduates of all ages and nationalities. These respondents, as we call them in the survey world, graduated from nearly 250 different educational institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

In a few short years, SNAAP has become what is believed to be the largest database ever assembled about the arts and arts education, as well as the most comprehensive alumni survey conducted in any field.

Recently, we published our latest findings: A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About Their Education and Careers. The report provides findings from over 33,000 arts graduates who responded to the online survey last fall.

Our report has attracted media coverage from the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Inside Higher Ed and—we were gawked on gawker.com! My favorite may be Forbes, which compares getting an arts degree with getting a law degree—and recommends that prospective law students consider an arts career instead.

Here are some of the big questions that SNAAP data begin to answer.

1.      Where do arts graduates go?

  • First, they are largely employed. Only 4% of SNAAP respondents are unemployed and looking for work, as opposed to the national average of 8.9%.
  • 72% have worked as professional artist at some point in their career, and just over half (51%) do so currently.
  • Dance, music performance, and theater majors are the most likely to work as professional artists at some point in their careers (all at 82%). Design comes in at 81%. The lowest, not surprisingly, are arts administration (42%) and art history (30%) majors.
  • Between 10–20% of students in most arts disciplines never intended to become professional artists.

2.     What does a successful career look like? Is it all about income?

The more we learn about arts graduates, the more we confirm that there is little correlation between income satisfaction and overall job satisfaction. Sure, most of us in the arts would like to earn more, but the same can be said of doctors, lawyers, and shoe salesmen.

SNAAP data provide strong evidence that income is not the primary driver for job satisfaction for arts graduates.

  • Nine of ten (87%) arts graduates responding to the survey who are currently employed are satisfied with the job in which they spend the majority of their work time.
  • 82% are satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current job, whether working in the arts or in other fields.
  • 84% of employed respondents agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.

3.     How do outcomes differ for graduates from different arts disciplines?

One could write many blogs on this subject, so here are a few tidbits that have to do with earnings.

  • Dancers and choreographers earn the least but are most satisfied with their arts-related jobs: 97% of dancers and choreographers are satisfied with their incomes but only 9% earned more than $50,000.
  • Those graduating with a degree in architecture have the highest median income (at $55,000) while those majoring in art history, creative and other writing, dance, fine and studio art, theater, and “other” arts fields have the lowest ($35,000).
  • Sound and lighting engineers or technicians (79%) and K–12 arts educators (72%) are the most satisfied with their income while fine artists report the lowest rate of satisfaction (38%).

A view of part of the SNAAPShot interactive website.

These findings represent the tip of the iceberg. We ask arts alumni lots of questions about the skills they developed in school, how they use those skills in the workplace, and about their educational experiences. The vast majority would ‘do it again.’

Having said all that, we know that it’s essential to put our findings in context and dangerous to paint too rosy a picture. Of course, some arts graduates are employed in jobs that don’t adequately use their arts education, some suffer from heavy student debt, and some regret getting an arts degree. Many wish they had had a better education on the business of being an artist. But it’s still true that the majority are generally satisfied and happy with their life choices.

SNAAP’s primary purpose is to collect alumni data and report it back to each participating institution so they can assess and improve their curriculum, programs, and services. The deadline for institutions to participate in the 2012 survey is TODAY, July 2 (we can be somewhat flexible).

SNAAP is a big, collaborative project based at Indiana University and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt. We are advised by a terrific National Advisory Board. Everything we have accomplished to date is thanks to generous funding from Surdna Foundation, Houston Endowment, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and others. Our first-rate team, including Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann, is currently busy writing a report on the cultural workforce funded by our most recent NEA grant. (Thank you, taxpayers.)

“Like” us on Facebook and you can be among the first to learn about our latest work.

Did you get an arts degree? How does your experience fit in with our findings? If you are interested in digging in to the data, read our 2012 annual report. Play with our interactive SnaapShot. Encourage your institution to participate, so that your story can be added to those of your fellow arts graduates.

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist Tim Schwartz: America’s Time Capsule

20 Jun

What’s in a book? In 2011 UCSD visual arts student Tim Schwartz exhibited two copies of a 1904 text, Modern Methods of Book Composition. One was an elegantly bound copy of the book that had been scanned by archive.org. The other was a Kindle which contained the digital version that had been created from the scan. Under their covers there was a crucial difference. For the traditionally bound copy, Schwartz had written software that covered up all of the book’s text, leaving only pages of black rectangles along with some unexplained diagrams. Everything in other words that hadn’t made it to the Kindle.

Like the blacked-out book, Schwartz’s America’s Time Capsule—now renamed STAT-US—is a project that started out being about what’s there and ended up being about what isn’t.

When he left UCSD in the summer of 2010 Schwartz’s plan was to travel the country in a mobile research lab, a.k.a. an Airstream trailer–shiny and rounded like the 1950s image of a time capsule. To fill it, he was hoping to strike a historian’s version of the Motherlode. His route as a digital data miner stretched from San Diego to Boston with stops at fifty or so libraries, museums and archives in between, and, as Schwartz recalls it, his particular version of gold fever went like this:

”I thought I would be able to find, say, water table data going back a hundred or two hundred years in some small town.  Could I collect these long pieces of data? And visualize them in different ways to juxtapose them with larger data trends that I could see?“ His ultimate goal was to compile an image of the United States through local data sources.

The idea was an ambitious expansion of his earlier work. From a college major in physics, through a stint building and curating the digital technology at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, to the decision to enter art school, Schwartz had been increasingly occupied with giving statistics a tangible, even sensual, form. His first project as a graduate student was a piece called Paris.

It’s an old analog gauge, he explains. “In the middle it says Paris and on one side it says Hilton and on the other it says France. It’s hooked up to the internet and in real time it compares those two Google search values.” The project is still running.  Paris, Schwartz says, was his aha moment: “I could make a physical object that captured the essence of the internet and do it a different way than I’d seen before. That’s what moved me on this trajectory.”

The trajectory, though, hit a significant bump almost as soon as his tour began. One of Schwartz’s first stops was at the California State Archive in Sacramento. Among its holdings, he explains, are the computers of every legislator, handed over as they leave office. But like most other state institutions today, the archive has a limited budget. As a result, he says, “they’re sitting in a room. All those hard drives. Nothing has been touched.“

It’s an intriguing image, the room stacked with  hard drives, their data sealed away in so much schist, but not the one Schwartz was aiming for. “I had done work before, analyzing usage of The New York Times,” he says. (And embodying that usage in a soaring panel of antique gauges). “But I had to have the full history of The New York Times, all of the data extracted in packages to do that.”

As the tour continued, so did the pattern.  Yes, he was finding gold—“there are definitely forgotten archives out there,” he says. Among his finds documented on the STAT-US website are typed note cards describing ski-boots (in Colorado) and a 1930s book of recipes designed for trailer kitchens.  But the problem remained, extraction.  Little was digitized, he says “and it was everywhere. It would take me weeks to put together one data set.”

Quickly, however, Schwartz realized that he had come across another rich and perhaps more interesting seam. Instead of perusing records he was having conversations. Specifically he began asking how these archives were taking their holdings and making them digital. “What were the challenges? What did they know how to do and what did they not know how to do?” What he soon figured out, he says  is that “no one really knew. The digital technology hadn’t been around long enough.”

Unlike Nicholson Baker whose book Double Fold painted archivists as villains heedlessly destroying hard copies of books and newspapers in a spate of digital glee, Schwartz found that the institutions he visited were quite concerned to keep their original items.  What digitization offered was wider access to a library’s rarities without the concomitant risk of damage from increased handling. And yet, Schwartz found, gain invariably comes with some kind of loss.

A visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden Research Library brought the problem into sharp relief. In retrospect, he says, it was his favorite stop.  “Just getting to see what they physically had, walking around the space or seeing the herbarium with a couple of million plant samples.

The discrepancy between the Library’s antique  botanical illustrations and their digitized versions  on-line, inspired the piece Botanical Loss, another in Schwartz’s s trio of works from what he term the Digital Dark Age. At first glance, many of the photographs on the gallery walls look black. On closer inspection pale images of flowers emerge. Some have more color than others, but still very subdued. The flowers seem to come from a world without sun.

The originals of the photographs can be found in Robert John Thornton’s illustrated 1799 work, The Temple Of Flora, one of the rarer books in the Missouri Botanical Garden Research Library. A few years ago high quality scans of the Thornton’s lavishly colored plates were made for a Taschen edition of the book. Subsequently, the library made the images of baroquely flared lilies and historic varieties of roses available on line, by uploading jpeg versions to the Biodiversity Heritage Library website.

Loss is often visualized as a black hole, but the connotation is ours, from the analog world. In Schwartz’s version of the Flora, which uses software he wrote to compare the original scans with the online jpegs, black represent a true rendering of the color. It is, in other words, a coded value chosen to denote a pixel that retains the same color in both versions. The lighter the image, the more loss there has been.

Translation, in any language, is imperfect. Translation of color between print and screen especially so. The pixel values, Schwartz say were stated the same in each version of the image, but registered differently in the different mediums. Botanical Loss addresses our assumptions about the digital process as well as its nuts and bolts.

And sometimes, Schwartz found, loss can be opportunity. When Harpers digitized its entire archive, a glitch occurred. (Not surprising for a magazine which has been in business for a century and a half.) In a verbally colorful article on Wild Bill Hickok, published in 1867, a page got skipped in the scanning. For his piece Reimagining Wild Bill, Schwartz asked 15 writers to fill in that blank. Some chose to make a seamless transition, continuing the same American Victorian sentence structure while offering surprising twists to the story of gunslinging prowess. Others imagined streams of consciousness or transmissions from the future.  One lovingly created period ads.

The copies, each with a new page, that Schwartz bound and exhibited remind us not only of digital’s pitfalls, but of the whole fragile enterprise of a culture documenting itself. One story out of many gets reported. Accurately or not. A legend may take root, get twisted, be reborn in a dozen new media. A facility may have the disc but not the hardware to open it. The data may become corrupted. The repository go up in smoke. Or the story might never get told at all.

This spring Schwartz had the pleasure of seeing his works infiltrate the libraries that inspired them. He is delivering a set of his botanical prints to Missouri. Meanwhile, one of the six copies of his two volume Kindle composition was purchased by Stanford for its  rare book collection. “I love the idea that I’ve been able to push the killer of libraries back into the library,” he says.

For Schwartz technology is a more of a bridge than a tower. “I still think there is inherent value in the physical,” he says. I use digital technology happily, and I am totally ingrained within the digital world in everything I do. But I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to use digital technology to make physical objects. Because we are all engaged with the digital constantly thru screens. And I think by changing the packaging, it’s easier to reflect about it or understand it.”

“Sitting in my studio in San Diego,” he notes, “I would not have picked up on these ideas. I figured them out along the journey. And through talking to people.”

 

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist John Jota Leaños: Frontera

20 Jun

The idea behind Frontera, a 45 minute animated feature-in-progress, is simple. John Jota Leaños aims to retell the history of the United States and Mexico in the contemporary languages of cartoons and popular music. But Leaños, who teaches in the Social Documentation program of UCSC’s Department of Film and Digital Media, was a visual and installation artist before he turned filmmaker and an activist in both incarnations. He knows that the lines between nations or genres are rarely as clear on the ground as they are on a map.

“We began more than a year ago,” Leaños says “to think about ways to tell untold stories—or undertold stories—in American history.” The “we” is a team of Xicano-identified collaborators Leaños has been working with for the past several years:  San Francisco based writer Sean Levon Nash, New Mexican composer Cristóbal Martinez, animators including Texas artist Natalia Anciso and Reno artist Crystal Gonzalez, plus the Tucson mariachi ensemble Los Cuatro Vientos

Their common area of concern is the US/ Mexico borderlands as constituted both in the past and in the present. Their interest lies not only in a geopolitical boundary, but in the territories of identification scattered across a common landscape. “Especially now, Leaños says, “with the emergence of new digital technology and new political and policing strategies, the border has become fluid. The elasticity of the border makes the issue a lot more complex.”

Frontera, draws on three less-than-household-word events spanning 170 years from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The first is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when seven separate and sometimes warring peoples in New Mexico joined forces to push the Spanish conquerors out of Santa Fe and back to Texas; The second is the Taos revolt of 1847 when, during the Mexican/American war, Mexican and Pueblo residents joined to assassinate the newly appointed American governor of New Mexico, Charles Bent. The final episode is at least a year from production, Leaños says, and will look at the California Gold rush. “How it became the epicenter for mass migration and mass racial and political and economic conflict.” That conflict included John Sutter’s using local Indians as slave labor.

The trick, Leaños says ”is trying to make the history relevant today. To draw connections, draw lines not necessarily a to b to c,  but to show that this complicated kind of formula is a legacy.  “The medium, of course, is part of the message. We’re working on multiple ways of having people view these episodes,” he says. ”Not only on public television, and but also film festivals, and on the web and downloadable webisodes that can be viewed on any mobile device.” Fluidity is a plus in a delivery system.

Leaños came San Francisco State from Pomona in LA’s Inland empire. Both places are border cites, bilingual and bicultural. His early work as a an MFA candidate took traditional forms. He was a photographer and also did a series of sculptures, The Burden of Objective Representation, that paired antique devices—globes, hourglasses–with tongue-in-cheek titles like “Post-historical object against equidistant positioning.”

As a volunteer in schools and community art programs he found himself exploring digital media both an aesthetic and a mass communication tool.  Projects like Mapping Myself which had middle school students combine their photographs and writings in large mosaic-like self-and-family portraits, suggested parallels between the multiple platforms emerging with new technology and the fragmented experiences of his urban, often disenfranchised students.

Adopting Critical Art Ensemble’s maxim. “by any media necessary,” Leaños began experimenting with hybrid forms in his own work. One result: the multimedia opera Imperial Silences which combines projected animations of his political Mother Goose, and ABCs of war with a live performance of an underworld journey and onstage dancers and mariachi band. The opera, which has been performed in New York and Los Angeles, will open at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in September.

Leaños’s definitive turn to animation came when he was teaching at Arizona State University. One of his students there was a member of the newly formed Los Cuatro Vientos, Southwest-born veterans of a larger mariachi band, they wanted to take the  music in a different direction. Their take, which Leaños describes as being “a kind of Chicano north of the border mariachi” and “interestingly fluid” included influences drawn from hip hop and pop and rap.

In the same period, Leaños was looking for a new direction for politically based art. He had recently created a  project on Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinals football player whose death while serving in Afghanistan was only slowly and reluctantly revealed to be the result of friendly fire. Leaños’s poster, in which a green-bereted Tillman announces that “the war on terror resulted in the disastrous end to my life,” drew huge volumes of hate mail, though Tillman’s family had themselves refuted the military’s attempt to cover the facts and use their son as a poster hero for the war effort.

In the aftermath, Leaños says he thought: “There are so many political posters in the world, why was this one so shocking to people? I know—the theme, and the person—but I also keep looking at the aesthetics. My question to myself was: How do I do critical work about taboo issues in America that is informative and possibly transformative without getting a knee jerk reaction? Where is there a buffer?” At that point, he says, a light bulb went on and he turned to ancient teaching tools—nursery rhymes and ABCs –that could be presented in the brightly animated and cheerfully scored form familiar from children’s television.

Blending serious history and popular art forms has a parallel history in the corridos that mariachis compose, and in the biting political cartoons of Mexico’s José Guadalupe Posada (with whom Leaños conducts a lengthy imagined dialogue in his essay, “Dead Conversations on Art and Politics.”)

As in those genres, part of the buffering that occurs in Leaños’s Los ABCs: a Wartime Primer from the Other Side, or in his Deadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and Friends, comes from a disarming, almost innocent lack of polish. Leaños identifies it as rasquachismo.

 

“A lot of Xicanos play around with that term, rasquache“ he says. He defines it as “an aesthetic of the poor, a DIY notion of how to create a certain kind of feel, a barrio notion. Its laughable too. It doesn’t look ‘right.’ It’s not all fine tuned.”

“We’re using the medium in the way that we can, he says, and we’re getting better at it. But animation can be so technically challenging that three seconds sometime take three weeks to do. And we re trying to figure out how to do it with the limited amount of funds that we have.”

Work has recently shifted into high gear thanks to a  sabbatical and the news in April that Leaños has been awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship. In Frontera Leaños and his illustrators and animators are drawing on more sophisticated techniques that combine layers of historical and mythological images, and an interplay of black-and-white, old-map-sepia and vivid, dreamlike color.

A major influence he says is the Cherokee artist, Joseph Erb, who uses animation (and the Cherokee language) to tell tribal myths and elder stories. In Frontera  the sky serpent of the Pueblo myths is a central –and visually dramatic—motif. The myth itself,  Leaños says becomes both witness and narrator. “I see it as a documentary form, even though a lot of these stories are what we’d consider mythological. They are documenting a paradigm, a way in which the community sees the world.”

At this point they are still on the third draft of the script for the first episode—the one  about the Pueblo Revolt. Documentary animation is research based, Leaños explains. “There are old stories and old histories that have been told and at the same time there’s so much missing from the archives. The Spanish records from the 17th century are kind of tainted—they have a very particular perspective. As for the indigenous perspectives, they’re there, but they’re really kind of quieted and very internal. Some people say the pueblos have Spanish documents that they haven’t released—still.”

Working in the Rio Grande region means another border to cross. “Not being from there, Leaños says, I’m an outsider.  And an outsider perspective is damning, but it also can be a benefit in a lot of ways, too. So I’m trying to quilt this history together within a script—we’re talking about hundreds of years through ten minutes. Its really hard. But it’s also a way of telling the story: What has to be edited out and what points have to be made. What to look for and how to look—that something we’re trying to get at.”

As for the Pueblo Revolt itself, he says, “you have all these different peoples  who speak several different languages. Some of the pueblos didn’t like each other, some of them were at war with each other, but during the Spanish colonization they came together. It’s one of those moments when the 99 percent expelled the one percent.“

He continues: “It’s an amazing look, I think, at how we can put our differences aside and do what is necessary to create a real revolution. It was done through the acknowledgement that we are being occupied, and how do we get out? How do we look beyond the situation, and come to terms with its reality–and change it?”

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

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