UCIRA’s State of the Arts

27 Jul

From: Daniel Tucker (UCIRA)

In the spring of 2010 I traveled from north to south, visiting campuses across the University of California’s vast system of land, infrastructure, information and people. I interviewed over 50 people (mostly faculty, with some student and staff voices in the mix). My travel coincided with the upsurge in campus organizing which had taken place since the summer and fall of 2009 responding to budget cuts, fee hikes resulting in increased student debt, and general trends in the transformation and privatization of one of the largest public higher education systems in world.

Specifically, I was speaking to people working in the arts, who are employed to teach or facilitate study of visual arts, design, literature, creative writing, architecture, dance, music, theater, and new media. This sector of the university, along with the humanities, has been put in the most precarious of positions. The President of the UC system described the situation best:

“Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We’re doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who’s going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that’s where we’re running into trouble.” Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California
And I can attest that people in those “problem” areas of the arts and humanities are scared. It was hit home to me when I showed up in one art department administrators office unannounced to see about getting a meeting and a few minutes into our chat she nervously asked if I was from UCOP (UC Office of the President) to “consolidate” her job and program. This revealed the double-edged sword of discussing “sharing resources” and “responding to the crisis” to which I was attempting to refer to my interest in creative ways that arts departments are responding organizationally, pedagogically and critically to what had been going on.
So with more caution and tact, I continued to go around and basically speak to people about their jobs, about how the fiscal climate was effecting their teaching and the resources available in their department, and about any interesting responses coming from the people most directly effected ranging from activism to new approaches to cooperation that addressed increasingly scarce resources. I explained that we wanted to create a publication through UCIRA which would help to make the work happening on each campus more visible to people across the system, serving a networking and documenting function, but also that we wanted to begin to build a resource which could assist those wanting to connect with their peers and colleagues in other parts of the the UC system around other issues beyond the crisis in public education.

We decided that for the first six months this site and would be dedicated to the most urgent challenge at hand – the arts and their connection to the fiscal crisis across the system. We will start by highlighting some reflections on creative activism taken by students and faculty this last spring which attempted to instigate more dialogue about the direction the UC administration has taken public education. Over time we will introduce other themes such as pedagogy, the future of graduate programs in the arts, coordinating cross-campus tours and activities, and inter-generational dynamics within arts departments. For now, please consider writing up a report on your actions, teaching and ideas about events of the last year; or write up ideas you have for the future of the arts in the UC System and we will post them here. Send proposals to ucirasota@gmail.com

Daniel Tucker is currently serving as editor of SOTA for the UCIRA (University of California Institute for Research in the Arts). He edited AREA Chicago Art/Research/Education/Activism from 2005-2010 and recently completed the book Farm Together Now. Find out more at miscprojects.com
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