Archive by Author

Art of Regional Change

8 Sep
Q & A with jesikah maria ross on The Art of Regional Change (UC Davis)

Over the last few years jesikah maria ross has been the founding director of the UC Davis Art of Regional Change program (ARC), a joint initiative of the Davis Humanities Institute and the Center for Regional Change.  Ross is a community cultural development practitioner whose teaching and production work centers on collaborations with schools, community-based organizations and social action groups to create projects that generate media art, civic participation, and social change.
Multi-ethnic urban youth document places they want to change in West Sacramento as part of ARC's participatory action research project Youth Voices for Change.

Multi-ethnic urban youth document places they want to change in West Sacramento as part of ARC's participatory action research project Youth Voices for Change.

Q: Your work at ARC has directly tried to resolve the “town and gown” divide by putting university resources into developing art and media projects in the region around the Davis campus that address social and environmental issues. Can you explain what led to UCD and your other funders to support this kind of off-campus community engagement with farmers, activists, indigenous groups, youth, and others you have worked with?

A: I think that UCD leaders and our other funders saw the need for a new way of doing “community outreach” and also wanted to find avenues for generating public scholarship and innovative teaching.   Since ARC brings all of these components together, the program was pretty easy for a lot of people get behind from the start.   I also think it helped that I framed ARC as a strategic collaboration.   Nowadays, universities want to be seen as more active and responsive to local communities, scholars want their research to be more relevant to the public, students want opportunities for field-based learning, and taxpayers want to see that their money is making in a difference outside the ivory tower.   Community-based programs like ARC are uniquely able to meet these diverse university goals. Communities, on the other hand, want resources to document their cultures, histories, struggles, and strategies for change. They need social animators equipped with facilitation skills and gear to help them identify the stories they want to share and craft them in aesthetically compelling ways. And they need technical support to get their stories out to broad audiences.   Faculty and student artists have the unique skill set to meet these needs.

So in discussions with UC Davis administrators and affiliated funders, I pitched ARC as a strategic collaboration.   I spelled out how it could give the university a platform for doing innovative campus-community engagement projects while generating media products that support university research, classroom teaching and community development.  I spoke about how ARC could provide communities access to university resources (scholars, students, artists) which would entice local groups to participate and how it would pioneer a new venue for media makers to do public projects. I also pointed out how the university could make good on its commitment to serving the broader community though ARC projects.  I think the notion of a meeting multiple goals, coupled with the increasing need to demonstrate the universities value to the general public beyond the classroom, really motivated administrators and funders to give ARC some initial seed funding.

Rural residents set up a community recording workspace in the rural High Sierra Mountains for ARC's Passion for the Land project.

Rural residents set up a community recording workspace in the rural High Sierra Mountains for ARC's Passion for the Land project.

Q: Over the last few months SOTA has featured interviews on the theme of what “counts” as research within the arts in the UC system. How you have framed it as research so that it is valued within the academic context?

A: To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been able to successfully frame our work as research within academia.   That’s probably, in part, because it hasn’t been my top priority while we have been in our start up phase–we are just beginning our third year!    And since I am an academic coordinator and not faculty, focusing on research isn’t actually my job; I’m tasked with creating and implementing a university-community engagement program.  But, it’s become crystal clear to me that research is the currency of the university and that for ARC to survive and thrive we need to be actively demonstrating how what we do IS research.    So I am moving in that direction.   And to that end, I’ve really started spelling out, whenever I can, how ARC’s community arts process is grounded in participatory action research methods and utilizes cultural studies research approaches.   I find that just talking about collaborative art-making as research in this way helps non-arts faculty and administrators be more open to viewing what we do as bonefide research.   It’s like setting a tone.   It maybe ephemeral, but I do feel it contributes to making others rethink art as research.

I also make it a point to work with faculty and graduate students early on in our projects to identify how our community arts process synchs up with their research agenda and publications or exhibition needs.   Again, I think this communicates a certain level of gravitas that helps academics themselves view collaborative art-making as research.   On the flipside, these conversations also help me think through how their involvement raises the bar on the different ways research will happen through our projects, which in turn helps me articulate how ARC projects are research.   Perhaps here I should mention, in case folks don’t know, that ARC is an interdisciplinary program, involving humanists, social scientists and artists.    All of us collaborate as a cohort in partnership with a community organization on a media arts project.  So while art making is at the core of our work, it isn’t the only type of research that happens.  Typically an ARC project results in media productions, articles, exhibitions or broadcasts, and new curriculum. Speaking of products, I also talk about the work that we generate as research and to speak about the different products equally, so that a video screened at a city council meeting and an article in a peer reviewed journal are treated similarly in the way I present them.   I don’t necessarily think that flies in an academic context, but I do think it helps build the echo chamber that a lot of us are contributing to that, collectively, will help push forward the idea that art is research worthy of academic value.

Joey Creekmore (Miwok) records Pat McGreevy about his efforts to establish more parks and trails to generate jobs and recreation opportunities in Sierra foothills as part of ARC's Up from the UnderStory project.

Joey Creekmore (Miwok) records Pat McGreevy about his efforts to establish more parks and trails to generate jobs and recreation opportunities in Sierra foothills as part of ARC's Up from the UnderStory project.

Q: In the context of budget cuts to public education (and arts in particular), public universities need to maintain arts programs that benefit their surrounding communities both because the private sector is not doing it and because it helps to illustrate/demonstrate the power of art and public education to voting tax-paying engaged citizens that will advocate for continued funding into the future. As someone with a unique perspective who has a foot inside and outside the academy, can you think of examples you’ve seen that point to ways that the public universities should illustrate/demonstrate their significance to the surrounding society?

A:  Well, with my foot inside the academy, I think Syracuse University is an AMAZING example of what can happen when a higher education really dedicates itself to doing scholarship (and i include the arts within scholarship!) by, with, and for the communities around it.   Their entire university operates on the vision of “scholarship in action” which is about “forging bold, imaginative, reciprocal, and sustained engagements” with constituent communities locally and around the globe. I highly recommend heading to their website and reading everything their Chancellor Nancy Cantor has posted–she has written quite a bit and always involves arts project the university has done in collaboration with regional stakeholders.   I’ve met Nancy and she is incredibly supportive and willing to share knowledge, resources, and best practices…or point you to people around her that can.  They are a model to emulate!

Outside the academy, i think one of the more interesting places to look are at various public media outlets–regional PBS and NPR stations.   Like public universities, public media has had to increasingly demonstrate it’s value to the tax-paying and membership paying public.   And like universities, the public media system has been under a lot of attack in the past few years.    One constant criticism is that lack of public in public media; the dearth of connection with or benefit to the those outside the limited public media demographic.  And some stations have generated some really interested collaborative, public programs as a result.  KCET comes to mind, with their Departures project, which is an on-line community mapping and history project focused on the diverse neighborhoods in LA.   A lot of other hyper-local and community co-generated public media work has been done through the J-Lab, and for inspiration I recommend traipsing through their list of Knight Batten award winners.

While this might be a bit farther afield, I also think that the California Council of Humanities offers an excellent example outside of the academy when it comes to an institution articulating it’s significance to the larger society.  CCH eloquently speaks to the vital role of arts and humanities in community life.   And it’s not just on their website, it’s folded into how they operate as an organization–what they do, who they fund, how they provide support.   Every now and again i visit their grant program section to see how they frame the role of the humanities and to who they’ve funded to get inspiration on the diverse ways artists and humanists engage communities through story-based projects.


18 Aug
by Holly Unruh, PhD, Associate Director of UCIRARecently, UCIRA secured funding from the UC Office of the President to initiate system-wide participation in the 2012 SNAAP Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey.  We are excited to report that every campus in our system with degree-granting arts programs has elected to participate in the project.

SNAAP is an ongoing national survey of arts graduates. Their research provides the first national data on how those who have graduated with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in all arts disciplines develop post-graduation careers in this country, helps identify the factors needed to better connect arts training to artistic careers and allows education institutions, researchers and arts leaders to look at the systemic factors that helped or hindered the career paths of alumni, whether they have chosen to work as artists or pursue other paths. To date, UC Santa Barbara has participated in the pilot survey and the results are impressive.

With Research Opportunity Funds from the Research Office at UCOP, UCIRA has secured the opportunity to include several questions unique to the University of California experience in the 2012 survey. This additional data, paired with a system-wide evaluation of arts graduates, will begin to allow us to ask some system-specific questions about arts education at UC.Why is this research important? What kinds of research have been done on the arts/arts education to date?

At present, while there is abundant research and data on science and engineering graduates gathered by the NSF through a variety of regularly collected surveys – there is simply no research on the impact of arts education at the University level. SNAAP will help even the playing field in terms of data collection, doing for the arts what the NSF has done for the sciences.

There is a well-developed literature on the economic impact of arts organizations carried out by the national advocacy group Americans for the Arts. (UCIRA has participated in their regional studies since 2005.) There is also a strong body of literature on the impact of arts education on K-12 learning and success, as well as the benefits of arts education to a future workforce; numerous studies have also been done on the “social impact of the arts”/”arts and the creative economy” – most recently the Otis College of Art and Design partnered with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation to prepare a report on the creative economy of the greater Los Angeles region. Finally, the National Endowment for the Arts research office has, until now, focused mainly on K-12 arts education trends and issues affecting future arts participation in this country (see a summary of their reports here). [NEA will begin offering grants for the study of secondary data for the first time this fiscal year; we expect that we will be able to secure funding from NEA to analyze the SNAAP UC data.]

The most important gap that the work of SNAAP fills is obviously examining the link between education and careers for artists. No other existing research study does this; most studies are portraits of artists at one moment in time – a few ask some basic questions about education, but nothing as detailed as SNAAP provides.

Where will this research take us?

UCIRA staff recently came back from attending the Americans for the Arts national convention in San Diego. Over 1,000 arts professionals were in attendance from around the nation, ranging from teaching artists and leaders of small nonprofit organizations to program officers from major state and national arts programs and funders. At that conference we made a number of connections that we would like to bring together in order to set in motion a large foundational research project on the arts at UC. Participation in the SNAAP survey is the first step.

Evaluation and the Arts at UC: setting the context for evaluation.

In recognition of the fact that the kinds of data gathered to determine the value of other work (e.g. measuring the resources it brings to campus, its economic impact, social impact, etc.) may not adequately represent the effects of the arts or the intentions of its producers, we propose to work from a model developed by Theatre Bay Area and arts consulting firm WolfBrown to begin to form an appropriate evaluative tool for the arts at UC. This kind of study asks the question: “what if there were a new way to understand and talk about the value and success of art, situated between anecdotal accounts of artistic impact and dry statistics of sales and attendance? Can we come up with a quantitative way to understand the effectiveness of arts programs by building a body of standardized data on intellectual, emotional and social impact?”

To date the Theatre Bay Areas project has garnered more than $500,000 in support (1) and has allowed them to work with Wolf Brown to complete a major study and ongoing service tool “Intrinsic Impact: Assessing the Artistic Experience to Set Goals and Demonstrate Value.”

We have been in conversation with Clayton Lord from Theatre Bay Area about this work. He has also indicated an interest on their part in working with us to see how their theatre-specific study can be more useful in the academic context. We have also had some conversations with program officers from major California foundations who have expressed an interest in seeing this kind of work done within the context of California higher education.

We will post our thoughts and plans related to researching the arts within the UC system here on SOTA periodically. Please check back and keep in touch.


1) Theatre Bay Areas project has received funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grants, the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs, the California Theatre Network via the California Arts Commission, Theatre Development Fund, A.R.T./New York, Arts Midwest, the LA Stage Alliance, the Helen Hayes Awards and the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia

Q & A with the organizers of BOOM

15 Aug

William Kaminski, "Well" 2011

SOTA did an email interview with Elizabeth Kunath and Daniela Campins, two recent MFA graduates from southern California art schools who were part of the group that organized BOOM: 2011 Southern California MFA Group Exhibition. Institutions represented by BOOM artists include: Art Center College of Design – Pasadena, Claremont Graduate University, California State University Northridge, Otis College of Art and Design, University of California – Los Angeles, and University of California – Santa Barbara. BOOM was supported by the UCIRA and we look forward to seeing where this experiment in sharing resources across institutions goes. For more information on BOOM, see

Q: Is BOOM responding to a perceived lack of critical attention or attendance at southern California area MFA exhibitions? 

Cima Rahmankhan, "Ask", 2011

Elizabeth Kunath: Not exactly. Our original idea for BOOM was a result of finding out that the former “Super Sonic” (a very widely attended and massive production) was no longer happening. We wanted to create a smaller version of this to see if it would pick up – if other schools would be interested in participating, etc. I think the theme was “power in numbers”, maximizing visibility, but not in a way that forcefully compensates for a perceived lack of visibility or lack of attendance at MFA exhibitions. I am an MFA student at UC Santa Barbara, so our MFA exhibition audiences are slightly different than the those of the Los Angeles programs.

Q: How did the BOOM project get started? Who contacted whom and was there support from your home institutions?

Jacob Fowler, "Marina", 2011

Elizabeth Kunath: As previously discussed, the impetus for BOOM was in part, a response to the desire for another “Super Sonic” (at least on a smaller scale). So initially, Daniela Campins (a recent UCSB alumn) contacted a former curator/organizer for the Super Sonic exhibitions. Also, BOOM came about when the UCSB MFA students decided that a large-scale MFA exhibition for SoCal schools would be a good goal to shoot for for the upcoming year – to promote all of the participating programs, to provide a blended conversation of contemporary art practices, and to reinforce the SoCal emerging art community. Approximately 10 Southern California graduate art programs were contacted. Of those, representatives from 5 schools responded to the desire for a fairly comprehensive art exhibition. There were concerns with space, money and administration. Thankfully, we partnered up with LAUNCH LA, an LA-based non-profit that promotes contemporary art, who secured a space in the LA Mart building and helped with administrative, marketing and organizational tasks for the exhibition.

Michelle Carla Handel, "Love Me Anyway", 2011

Daniela Campins: BOOM started independent from our home institution (UCSB art department), it was student organized, student funded at first.  The same goes for the rest of the programs.  Supersonic was a huge operation of over 300 graduates, many Socal schools were involved, the Southern California Consortium of Art Schools (SOCCAS) was involved, each art department and the UCIRA funded the exhibition and outreached for additional sponsorship.

BOOM started from scratch, it was a new name and it was difficult when we were first getting organized to receive support.  For all of us it was the first time organizing a show of this magnitude (40+ artists, more than 100 art pieces), to be placed in a raw space that needed paint, clean-up, lights, etc…    Thankfully, after things were up and running we received the 7000 sq ft basement space donated by the people from the LA Mart, who trusted our vision and helped us to achieve an amazing exhibition.

Q: What has the response been like? Are you getting motivated to continue doing this work for future years of graduate student artists? Where will BOOM go?

Elizabeth Kunath: The response has been good. It has generated conversations between artists from different programs, aligned people’s practices and provided a sense of the current state of the MFA for outsiders, fellow artists, faculty, etc. We hope that BOOM will go on through the efforts of next years graduate students with the support of LAUNCH LA and the UCIRA. We hope that the exhibition will grow to include more Southern California programs, which will mean finding a larger venue and of course, more money. We also hope that the exhibition will lead to more opportunities for the individual artists featured in the exhibition and more connections between the participants- be it personal or professional.

Daniela Campins: The response has been amazing! The work is fabulous and the space looks great.  Many people have come in, enjoyed the work and have attended our events.  The opening reception last month had maximum attendance, we were visited by other artists from the community, family and friends, writers and critics, faculty, gallery owners, collectors, etc…We have been invited to be part of Art PLatform–Los Angeles, a Contemporary art fair in LA this fall.   Last week we organized a panel discussion and event sponsored by the UCIRA.  The title was  “SoCal MFA: Navigating the Complex Arena of the Emerging Artist”. In Addition other art schools have already started to approach us and shown their interest for next year.  It is up to the new crop of MFAs to organize again and make it happen.  I am certain that there will have another iteration of BOOM in 2012!

Time for Change

11 Aug

This post is republished from HASTAC and was written by Dante Noto:

I have recently attended some exciting meetings related to arts education in California.  In preparation for these meetings, I’ve taken the opportunity to read through the University of California’s “a-g” requirements in Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).  For those of you unfamiliar with the a-g requirements, they are a series of courses required to be eligible for admission to UC and the California State University system.  “F” (ironically) is Visual and Performing Arts:  one year-long course in dance, drama/theatre, music or visual art. (A-E are history, English, math, lab science, and language; G is an elective.)

Being UC, of course, we have policies.

  • Visual Art:  Examples of acceptable courses (italics crucial–one must wear pince-nez) include painting, drawing, sculpture, art photography, printmaking, video/film production as an art form, contemporary media, ceramics, and art history.  Examples of unacceptable courses include craft courses, mechanical drafting, web page development, yearbook, and photography offered as photojournalism (i.e., as a component of yearbook or school newspaper publication).
  • Drama:  Acceptable courses include acting, directing, dramaturgy, theory…  Unacceptable courses include speech, debate, or courses that require students to perform occasional skits.

Also excluded are ballroom dancing and musical groups that perform for competitive field events.  (I don’t know which word is more ridiculous–competitive or field–but together they’re gorgeous.)  And heaven forbid that these policies are not clear enough, there are policy clarifications.

“Technology courses, visual and performing arts courses that utilize technology must focus primarily on arts content.  If the technology (i.e. software, equipment) is used as a tool of artistic expression, as a paintbrush would be used in a painting course, and all other component strands are adequately met, then such courses are acceptable.  If the technology/software is so complex that the primary concern becomes learning the technology, then the course will not be approved to meet the requirement.”

In the FAQs section, the question is asked, Why is it so difficult to get UC approval for arts courses that focus on design?  Answer:  “Often, design type courses (architectural, graphic, floral, interior, fashion, et cetera) focus more on the technical aspects of these disciplines, rather than the art.”

So today I stand up for the H-Z curriculum, those courses where you actually get to do something, possibly useful and even more possibly fun.  Remind me during my next recruitment for an open position whether I should hire the ace web page developer who was a champion debater in high school and possesses keen architectural design skills or the student who took dramaturgy and ceramics.  It’s time for a change.

Dante Noto serves as Director of Resource Development for Education Partnerships, a department of the University of California Office of the President responsible for programs that produce high quality teachers for California and that enhance the K-12 and community college transfer pipelines to bachelor’s degree and the workforce.

Report Back: Proximity at a Distance

31 Jul

by UCIRA Co-Director Kim Yasuda

(Photo: UCIRA Co-Director Kim Yasuda presenting “Proximity Research” at OnStream 2011 for Foundations in Art – Theory + Education (FATE) and Mid America College Art Association (MCAA) St. Louis, Missouri, 2011.)

Spending this year off-site brought the expected shift in perspective that sabbaticals tend to do. At a distance, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my proximity work at UCSB and the previous five years of arts research across our system within a national field of emerging forms and big ideas .  Reviewing the field notes, I see value in documenting those projects that have evolved through place-based strategies on a number of our UC campuses. Taken in as a series of linked local demonstrations, a strong case could be made for valuing the work we do in and around the intimate spaces and vast holdings of our system. UCIRA planning and implementation funding for projects and gatherings under the category, Social Ecologies: Art + California has initiated support for work about the system itself.

As I write this, Berkeley professor, Catherine Cole has begun her investigation into a fifty-year old archive of the University of California, consisting of some 6000 photographs by Ansel Adams as a commission by then UC president, Clark Kerr. The collection documents the campuses of the early 1960’s as part of what would be the premiere university system whose intellectual capital would make good on the public investment in California’s future. As Cole describes it, this ‘ethnographic’ study of the archive is shaping the topic for her next book (see Catherine Cole’s SOTA interview). Based on her recent paper, “Trading Futures: Prospects for California‘s University“, Cole is planning the re-institution of the all-UC faculty conferences as a series of system-wide planning workshops or ‘charrettes’ to harness the intellectual and creative leadership of our scholars and artists in a revisioning of UC’s future.

At the same time, UCI History and Media Studies Professor Catherine Liu with graduate student, Cole Ackers began an urban history study, panel and exhibition, “Learning from Irvine” about the city of Irvine and UC’s pivotal role in the planned community. In 1959, the University of California asked The Irvine Company for 1,000 acres for a new campus. The University’s consulting architect, William Pereira, and Irvine Company planners drew up master plans for a city of 50,000 people surrounding the university. The area would include industrial zones, residential and recreational areas, commercial centers and greenbelts.  Both Cole and Liu’s research calls attention to the embedded presence of UC in the unfolding of California’s post-war development history as it continues to play out in the state’s transitional present.

(Photo: Raymond L. Watson (pictured on the right), former president of The Irvine Company, 1964. Watson began his career as CEO and President of The Irvine Company in September 1960. The archive is housed at UCI as part of its Special Collections. The Raymond L. Watson Papers (MS-R120) pertain to the planning history for UCI and the City of Irvine.)

In my travels to other institutions across the country, I also recognize this turn toward the intimate and proximate. These overlooked spaces, oftentimes within or just outside of the borders of the university, provide the sustained residency time for research to take hold and embed itself fully. Further, proximity opens up the prospect for a different set of relationships to be forged between scholarship and community. Each setting presents a different set of research questions, whether within the space of one neighborhood or across an entire state.

The challenge now appears to be how and to what end should these distinct localities become linked or mobilize toward some collective end? Attending the circuit of national conferences this year, I heard many of the same concerns: the need to organize translocal communities and communications platforms between individuals and institutions to address larger challenges faced by all communities; to collectively develop a national advocacy campaign for the arts to draw the value of its research back into the center of national campaigns on education, institutional reform, cultural development and economic revitalization. Finally, from all sectors, I listened to a call for the role of assessment as the means to track, quantify and disseminate the value of the work we do — from classroom grading and teaching evaluations to audience participation and professional placement of our arts graduates.  “What counts” takes hold as technology enables us and the public demands more tangible forms of evidence beyond the qualitative and anecdotal data that we in the arts are accustomed to relying upon in justification of the work that we do.

(Photo: Imagining America’s 11th Annual Conference, Convergence Zones: Public Cultures and Translocal Practices, included site visits to  University of Washington’s urban farm and other non-profits in the greater Seattle area, 2010)

One Conference After Another? Rethinking + Linking Gatherings

Since UCIRA co-hosted its 4th annual State of the Arts conference with UCSD last Fall, we have begun to rethink the future of academic conferencing and new ways to link artists across our own system through more effective forms and alternative models for knowledge transfer and exchange (see UCIRA Associate Director Holly Unruh’s reflections on SOTA).  Circulating national convenings this year, I noticed the large number of discussions on arts research taking place outside of more traditional disciplinary forums such as College Art Association (CAA).  Broadly defined contexts for shared thinking lend a different tone and pulse, situating the arts within more expansive frames of study, such as public scholarship, social practice, pedagogy as well as focus on more general topics such as undergraduate and graduate research and the future of higher education. The setting draws a cross-sector of scholars, practitioners, educators, administrators and community participants around a table, generating a distinctly different context for discussions to take place outside the focus of any one discipline.


(Photo: Imagining America Convergence Zones: Public Cultures and Translocal Practices: Site visits to non-profits in the greater Seattle area. UCIRA board member and UC Davis Director of Art for Regional Change, Jesikah Ross, leads a group of conference participants off-site to the community media lab, 911 Media Arts.)

Imagining America’s 11th annual conference, hosted by the University of Washington, brought together more 350 attendees for 3 days in Seattle. Imagining America (IA), now in its 12th year, is a consortium of more than eighty-five colleges and universities “committed to building democratic culture by fostering public scholarship and practice in the arts, humanities, and design.”(1)

Developing the conference around a thematic frame, Convergence Zones: Public Cultures and Translocal Practices, organizers Bruce Burgett and Miriam Bartha, directors of the Simpson Center for Public Humanities shifted the academic discourse off-site to take place within the greater Seattle area through their co-planning and hosting with community organizations.  While two days were dedicated to a more typical schedule of keynotes, panels and presentations, a day was offered for off-site visits to significant cultural organizations that actively engaged in community knowledge production, challenging the usual borders between the academy and community.

(Photo: Imagining America Seattle Conference site visit at the Seattle Fandango Project, a non-profit community arts organization bringing ecological systems models through dance to underserved communities.)

Further, experiments in conference structures were expanded through a series of pre-conference research groups, made up of individuals across the IA network. Topic-based discussions were developed several months ahead, culminating in tightly focused seminars that worked throughout the three-day conference. Included were “community scholars”, or non-university affiliates who brought their outside academic expertise to knowledge making practices (See SOTA interview with Gilda Haas about a similar program at UCLA).  As another means to link the activity of a conference to a year-round think-tank, IA launched its series of research “collaboratories” that also worked at the Seattle conference, creating research opportunities for IA membership to be co-principal investigators on topics critical to IA’s mission, such as “community knowledge”, “assessment”, “tenure”, “undergraduate and graduate liberal arts education”. The findings of these research groups will be presented at IA’s annual conference, in Minneapolis The Spaces between Us, hosted by Macalester College and the University of Minnesota .

In a report from the mid-west, academic-affiliates from across the US, primarily arts practitioners who teach college level fundamental/foundation courses, participated in OnStream 2011 in St. Louis this past winter. The conference was co-organized by the national consortium, FATE: Foundations in Art – Theory + Education and MCAA, the mid-America College Art Association. Since the 1982, FATE, whose membership represents independent colleges of art and design, university art departments and community colleges throughout the U.S. has promoted excellence and innovation in arts foundations. MCAA, formed in 1930, has provided “a forum for the artist/teachers of America to discuss and debate the issues of their profession, to share ideas and information of mutual benefit.” With particular focus on arts education at the undergraduate level, attendees came to address and exchange ideas over the current state of core training in the arts in a climate of diminished resources. How are visual art skills imparted to more students with less or no exposure to the formal arts? What constitutes training of the artist in the 21st century? How should the academy respond to a new generation of students? As expected, current budget reductions have placed additional pressure on the adjunct sector (usually part-timers and graduates). Nonetheless, precarity, not tenure, appeared to fuel a high degree of risk and innovation in the classrooms amongst this group.

(Photo: Opening reception of Game Show, NY, Columbia Teacher’s College, NY, 2011)

The recent Columbia University Teachers College conference,  (Creativity, Play and the Imagination) brought several hundred educators, administrators, artists and teachers to New York to discuss the role of creativity from early childhood to higher education.  The conference, organized by PhD candidates and visual artists, Nick Sousanis and Suzanne Choo, showed evidence that a significant numbers of our MFA-trained artists are now finding their way into educational systems both to teach and to innovate through their creative practice within the alternative spaces of the classroom. Further, within the conference structure, Sousanis and Choo co-curated an exhibition, Game Show, New York at the Macy Art Gallery. Funded by a research innovation grant from Microsoft, 27 artist-designed games for learning were showcased during the month of the conference.

Younger artists are recognizing opportunities for engagement within broader institutional and social realms and are willing to embed themselves within situations that call upon their creativity to problem-solve, rather than to simply showcase and promote their work. In my view, this is a positive indicator of systems in transition that are changing both the academic and professional pathways for artists. This particular conference included K-12 education, which has become increasingly relevant to higher ed arts training as a national teaching-to-the-test climate drives primary and secondary school educators away from innovation in order to meet state standards. As I point out above, this has had direct impact in our recuperation work at the university level, guiding students to shed  unimaginative learning models from their past experience. It seems to me that foundation arts curricula must also include a retraining of our students to identify themselves as independent thinkers and further, that their responsibility as artists is not only to make and reflect, but to innovate, take risks, fail and take charge of their future.

Through UCIRA, we are working with UC arts faculty to pilot a series of freshman seminars that begin to bridge this gap in a student’s initiation to the university, making sure that arts are not extra-curricular, but integrated at the front line of the college experience.

(Photo: Luis Rico-Gutierrez, Dean of Design Administration and Professor of Architecture at Iowa state University, engages in the work-play group on “research” at the University of Michigan ArtsEngine on “Arts Making, The Arts, and The Research University”, May 4-6, 2011.)

This past May, University of Michigan’s ArtsEngine gathering on “Art-Making, The Arts, and The Research University” drew national campus leadership and arts agencies, including NEA, NSF, Mellon and Dana Foundations for the 3-day meeting. Arts and Science deans, provosts and high-level academics attended from many top-tier research institutions across the country to engage in collective work sessions that began to address the necessary infrastructures to renew institutional vision and build campus innovation. Mixed working groups were assembled across institutional and disciplinary lines to analyze and propose new strategies for integration of the arts under the rubrics of “research”, “curricular”, “co-curricular”, “case-making”, “funding” and “national networks.” Vision and strategic planning statements were culled and circulated from each group to become the foundation for a white paper to guide movements toward institutional change.

In her keynote for the Michigan conference, Syracuse University President Nancy Cantor, describes her own “bottom up + top down” leadership strategies for shifting campus behavior by providing innovative reward structures for students and faculty across curricular and research sectors at the ground level of a few engaged individuals. Her office has encouraged project-based courses to form organically around local conditions and salient topics that bring cross-sectoral approaches to problem-solving outside of any one discipline and included the arts, urban planning, business administration, science and public health. These publicly engaged projects foster unprecedented partnerships to emerge between students, faculty, community and government agencies, encouraging a re-patterning in the form and spaces of academic research. In Cantor’s view, the incentives for new ideas to develop at the ground level can transform the intellectual culture of the research university in ways that could not be administered in the usual, bureaucratic ways. (for Cantor’s keynote see video and her slides).

The Michigan conference placed particular emphasis on the crossover potential for Art/Science paradigms and partnerships, capturing the attention of high-level administrators in science and engineering to consider the role of arts research. Pamela Jennings, artist and program director at NSF, has instigated a tri-institutional partnership between Rhode Island School of Design, Rensselaer Institute and Arizona State University to develop “STEM to STEAM” case studies that embed and harness the agency of artists within art/science research clusters. In her presentation, Jenning’s assessment of the current state of program development finds that while there are numerous efforts operating independent of one another across many institutions, critical bridging and mobilization needs to take place now at the policy level to develop an effective platform that positions the role of arts and artists squarely within research clusters as an integral component to new knowledge production.  Further, she saw the need for new assessment strategies that offer self-study opportunities for institutions, while generating the kinds of data that speak to foundations and policy makers.

Also at Michigan, a current model of assessment research on the arts was presented by George Kuh, director of Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. Kuh heads the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), a five-year study that documents alumni student engagement in the arts. 2008-2010 field tests drew from 250 institutions from 42 states with more than 13,581 alumni respondents.  The pre-study reveals key findings specific to the arts within a national professional landscape and has drawn national media attention to the significant role of arts research within a public platform.Following this pilot period, SNAAP will fully launch this year to be the most comprehensive national study on the education of artists to date.

Rethinking What Counts: Self-determined Self-assessment

The language of ‘assessment’ is often received with a degree of suspicion by those in our field who already recognize and acknowledge the inherent value of the arts and fear that the demand for hard data usurps art’s autonomy to operate independent of a public agenda. However, to study ourselves and ask critical questions of our artists could provide a significant dimension of understanding to the work we do as scholars and artists whose professional field training comes by way of the academy. Further, we have a stake in what questions are asked, how they are framed and in so doing, we claim a degree of authorship and agency over the data that is drawn, sometimes erroneously collected on our behalf by national surveys, such as those conducted by US News and World Reports.

Recognizing the opportunity for a data profile drawn specifically from and for UC arts, UCIRA has worked this past month to partner with all eight UC arts deans at Davis, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Riverside for our full system participation in the forthcoming 2011 SNAAP survey. UCIRA also secured a $50,000 Opportunity Funding from the research division of UCOP to subsidize the inclusion of all arts campuses in the study. The data collected specific to UC arts alumni will serve as a valuable resource tool in assessing our work across the state. To further benefit from this self-study, UCIRA intends to pursue NEA funding to conduct analysis on the data collected from the 2011 SNAAP findings.

While UC arts links its work to these national networking efforts, fewer California research institutions appear to be participating in these forums as the state’s economic turn takes hold on matters closer to home. To what degree do our UC artists join forces in national policy initiatives such as those mentioned above, given the challenges before us? How might one local/regional/national condition link to/inform/serve the other?

UC has had little choice but to hunker down and address its regional place within the service of the state. Yet, we need to find ways to influence national policy to bring art/artists to the center of our nation’s cultural agenda and its reimagining of the future. Especially in forums that address the role of arts in academic research and public education, practitioners in the arts are less often brought in, nor actively engaged at a policy level.  However, in my survey of programs and conferences across the country, I am encouraged to see a growing number of both younger and well-recognized artists willing to expand their professional careers and alternative practices toward their teaching,  administrative and organizing leadership within and outside the ranks of the academy.

While this re-visioning work may not be squarely centered within the conventions of a creative practice as we know it, the organizing and mobilization toward this change-agenda has become an integral part of a movement that many colleagues across the country consider to be the emergent field of scholarship. In a recent design conference keynote at Hunter College, Erasing Boundaries, David Scobey, Vice Provost of the Parsons-New School states, “Publicly-engaged research is the intellectual project of the 21st century”.

1) Imagining America—Engaged Scholarship for the Arts, Humanities, and Design, Robin Goettel and Jamie Haft, Imagining America, Syracuse University, 2010.
First launched at a 1999 at a White House Conference, Imagining America was initiated by the White House Millennium Council, the University of Michigan, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The conference brought together government officials, scholars, artists, university presidents, foundation executives, and nonprofit leaders to describe, debate, and look for new opportunities for civic engagement in higher education. Participants reached a consensus about what was needed for public scholarship and practice to flourish: a national network, legitimization, and financial support.
After the conference, twenty-one participating college and university presidents agreed to build a national network with the formation of the Presidents Council. This Council became the basis for what would become Imagining America’s consortium of colleges and universities. (To this day, a college or university president or chancellor must sign the Imagining America membership agreement.)

Political Equator 3: Report Back from Liz Losh

21 Jun

Elizabeth Losh of UCSD has generously shared a report back with SOTA about her recent experience with the Political Equator conference and gathering. See her website here.

Not every art event requires a valid passport, but participation in Political Equator 3 involved a carefully orchestrated border crossing through the Los Laureles Canyon from the United States into Mexico. Under the watchful eye of U.S. Homeland Security agents on hilltops, Political Equator attendees made the arduous crossing that tens of thousands of people make each year in reverse, but as privileged guests they did it with conveniences like air-conditioned buses, lavish tents, and buckets of icy bottled water.   Many found themselves turned back if they lacked clearance from the two governments that had temporarily allowed for an improvised border crossing station in a corridor through the Tijuana River Watershed that also bridges the two nations in a journey from bleak no-man’s land to dense, improvised housing.  Those who had been documented were lined up – oddly by first name – to wait to cross under a massive border fence through a storm drain before scuttling past an improvised shrine of trash and up a trail to an old military checkpoint. Parsons Dean William Morrish of the School for Constructed Environments drew the landscape between the “no people past” and the “informal future” shown above.

The event was the brainchild of Teddy Cruz, an architect known for incorporating elements of informal architecture into his own building practices and for validating the ingeniousness of the inhabitants of shantytowns who appropriate and recycle elements of discarded suburban architecture. As Cruz made the crossing, he wore a camera on his head to document the process, and a balloon high above with another camera captured the progress of the transborder traverse.

As this video explains, Cruz is concerned with creating dialogue across what he calls “the political equator” that spans the globe where border hotspots between the “functioning core” and the “non-integrating gap” cause conflicts around migration, citizenship, and property in a line that runs from the Tijuana/San Diego checkpoint to the walls that separate Spanish and Moroccan territory to the contested zone between Israel and Palestine to the highlands of Kashmir to the places where China has tried to assert its presence as a superpower.

This political equator is not merely a thought experiment for Cruz; it is a site of fieldwork and situated debate.  Unfortunately, not all of the stakeholders Cruz had hoped to have participate were willing to engage.  Cruz had planned to have representatives of the Department of Homeland Security engage in a conversation with environmentalist-activist-educators like Oscar Romo and innovative urban planners like Damon Rich around a large three-dimensional model that showed the territory around the militarized zone that currently thwarts both human and animal inhabitants, but this component of Political Equator fell through.  Nonetheless, as this video shows Cruz was still able to use the model for dramatic effect.

International experts on border regions and the flow of citizens and natural agents arrived from all over the world to attend the event in the estuary. Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha of SOAK in India came as authorities on landscapes that were “shifting, living material phenomena that demand an attitude of negotiation rather than unilateral control” and explained their philosophy about designing with temporality rather than spatiality in mind.  Video artist Cynthia Hooper showed CESPT, a film about the journey of water from the Colorado River to Tijuana and back to the United States.  Alessandro Petti of Decolonizing Architecture showed how the gated privatized housing of Israeli settlements could be transformed into Palestinian community buildings rather than merely be vandalized as the objects of political scorn.

The occasion of the border crossing inspired others who took the megaphone from Cruz as the Tijuana traffic whizzed by on a highway nearby.  Ricardo Dominguez of UC San Diego’s Bang Lab, which was made notorious by their invention of the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a reappropriation of mobile phone technology to help immigrants from Latin America find water caches in the desert, took the megaphone, as did artist Omar Pimienta, who welcomed visitors to his own independent country and offered to stamp their passports with his private nation’s seal.

The day ended with a community meal of tamales on a soccer field that had been reclaimed from a dump in the Parque Frontera as former mayor of Medellin Sergio Fajardo showed the amazing range of innovative public buildings that were built during his tenure, all by architects from Latin America, which he described as an underutilized reservoir of talent.  UCSD MFA student Benjamin Lotan documented the scene in the image below.

Political Equator – Press

7 Jun
The U.S./Mexico border photographed by Quilian Riano

Teddy Cruz of UCSD collaborated with Oscar Romo and Andrea Skorepa to organize Political Equator #3 last week. Here is a round-up of press received by the 2-day cross-border conference:

  • BLDG BLOG “Peripheral Porosity”
  • Washington Post “Art festival organizes unusual border crossing through a drain from San Diego to Tijuana”
  • Sign-On San Diego “Unusual border crossing is called performance art”

Check SOTA for a report-back from Liz Losh (UCSD) soon.

What Counts? Q & A with Elizabeth Stephens (UCSC)

31 May
Elizabeth Stephens is a performance artist, activist and educator whose art-work, performance art and writing have explored themes of queerness, feminism and environmentalism for over 25 years. Her latest project is a collaboration with Annie Sprinkle called SexEcology. Stephens is a professor of art at University of California, Santa Cruz and is currently pursuing a PhD in Performance Studies at UC Davis. Stephens agreed to let SOTA interview her via email on May 26, 2011.

Q: The UC system charges faculty with producing research, teaching and public service. How do professors in the arts have to approach this directive in a unique way and do you see the balance tipping towards one area more strongly?

A: One of the things that I like about the UC System is that there are a myriad of ways one can approach their art (research), teaching and service. These diverse approaches offer a great deal more freedom regarding how one works than the more uniform approaches that employees in corporate jobs, nine to five service jobs, temp agencies or military posts usually have in order to hold down their jobs. As the budget cuts erode the quality of research we can engage in, the education that we can provide, and the services that we can render, some areas within the university that do not produce what may be considered profitable research by administrators will receive less support. In my opinion, this is a short-sighted and anti-intellectual approach for building the future of the university because it forecloses the experimental potential of research, which could lead to radically new kinds of knowledge. The process of discovery might not produce a quantifiable profit in the short-run but it may create or lead to ideas whose benefits we cannot even imagine during this time and from our respective positions.

Artists navigate the university’s threefold charge differently from professors in other fields because professors in the arts (and I am mostly talking about the visual arts) have a slightly different relationship to the university than researchers in other academic fields. Scientists and engineers whose research is more materially oriented share some research methodologies with artists although they are more funded because their work has corporate and military applications. The humanities and social sciences tend to do research that is university bound. By this I mean that these fields are more dependent upon university evaluation for gaining standing in their particular field. Academic research mostly circulates in academic circles whereas the work produced in the arts circulates in the world at large as well as in the university.  This gives arts researchers more flexibility around the creation of their work, which in turn influences their teaching as well as their service. I tend to think that being an artist in this society is a service in and of itself.  It is rumored that Winston Churchill, when his finance minister suggested cutting funding for the arts in order to increase funding for the war effort responded by saying, “Then what are we fighting for?” That Churchill said this may be a myth, but I echo the sentiment. I also consider teaching to be a huge service.  Both the arts and teaching are under-recognized and under-rewarded in our society –  – but we all know that.

Another difference between the arts and other academic fields is that most of these fields have much longer histories within the university system. This has provided them with greater validation as evidenced by the historical availability of the PhD. PhD’s in the visual arts have only recently become available or even desirable in some instances. Gaining the PhD will empower artists within the university. This is especially so for artists whose practice encompassed both material production as well as theory. Currently negotiating the university charges in a “unique” manner is what artists have had to do in order to educate the rest of the university community that the work they produce operates within the research mandate. The university as a whole is charged with producing “new” knowledge and this charge insists that the utility of the work be provable.  In many ways this is anathema to the artistic process. In some ways this attempt to look and act like another field in order to gain status within the institution has dulled what is unique about the knowledge production of art itself.

Artists are a diverse group and are well suited to carrying out the ideals represented by the responsibility to uphold the research/teaching/service mandate. One could critique the UC System for asking too much of its professors, and especially of assistant professors. It is true that the responsibility to carry out these charges is intense. We also know that some professors are better at carrying out some aspects of this charge than others and that research is more heavily weighted than service and teaching. I personally like the challenge of trying to accomplish all three at once. I have watched colleagues such as Donna Haraway or Chip Lord do this and I have always admired the combination of rigor and generosity that they bring to any situation. I think these three parts of the overall job description represent a good (although not perfect) set of guidelines that could potentially bring out the best of the university as a whole.

As an artistic thought experiment one could apply Joseph Beuys’ concept that “everyone is an artist,” to the research/teaching/service triad. My friend Natalie Loveless, PhD  reminded me that he also said, “teaching is the highest form of art.” Using Beuys’ concept as a springboard we could posit that “everyone is a creative researcher,” “everyone is a teacher,” and “everyone is capable of providing some service (to their community or beyond).” If society at large were charged with upholding these standards and our educational systems were charged with teaching students to model this form of citizenry then we might not be left to deal with some of the ongoing neoliberal policies that determine the allocation of resources. This particular allocation process is literally bankrupting the country as well as the world at large. In the highest sense, the research+teaching+service model is one that spurs us to at least try to be exemplary professors in order to form an  institution that  models these ideals for our students who then go out into society when they graduate. The uniqueness of the artist’s engagement in attaining these standards is that artists have to interpret and engage these charges more creatively than their colleagues in other fields because artists have to doubly legitimate their work in the face of deep-seated suspicion about art’s ability to contribute to the pursuit of new knowledge rather than simply being considered a form of cultural excess. The creative engagement with the university mandate by the arts has the potential to keep the idealistic intentions of these three charges flexible and alive rather than allowing them to reify into inflexible rules and standards.

Do I think that the balance is tipping towards one area more strongly? Research has always been considered the most important thrust of this three-pronged charge. UC is a research university and I hope that it remains so. At UC Santa Cruz teaching is considered important. The faculty are very good teachers. Now more than ever service is important within the university if the faculty are going to maintain faculty governance and hope to maintain some agency around how the budget cuts are implemented throughout the system. Allotting additional weight to teaching and service would not devalue the university’s identity as a research university (with all the social currency that such a designation entails), rather it would speak to the real ecology of practices that UC professors engage in and how, on the ground, they are, at their best, interwoven and mutually supportive practices.

Q: As someone with a diverse range of interests, how do you deal with the tension between doing work that “counts” and is recognized as valid and work that you just want to do or your students pull you towards?

A: Regarding this question, my strengths are my weaknesses and my weaknesses are my strengths. I’ve been told that I did all of the “wrong” kinds of work before tenure. This comment referred to the fact that I was doing art about sex and sexuality. This was work that I just wanted to do but it was also work that was exhibited and critically reviewed. I was warned that it could potentially offend (and in fact it did) some of the very people who would determine whether or not I would be granted tenure. Some of my work was labeled “pornographic” — — a charge intended to taint my entire body of research. My teaching was chastised for being charismatic. “Charismatic” was code for implying that I somehow seduced my students with my personality but did not really teach them anything of substance. And finally my service was thrown into question when I organized a lecture by performance artist Annie Sprinkle.  Many students felt very inspired and liberated by her work and ideas. Of course there were also some people who found her work difficult and offensive. I found myself having to defend her work to the Chancellor’s Publicity Affairs Officer. I did receive tenure and it was controversial.  That controversy was okay by me as I knew that my tenure created more space for others to make work about sexuality, gender issues and the body as well as for artists who work collaboratively to get hired into the university system and to possibly get tenure. I don’t think about the validity of my work. I simply assume that it is valid whether or not it gets shown, because even the work that does not get shown or written about feeds work that does. I would have worried about this if I never exhibited the work or the work wasn’t written about, but it is, and widely. I only do artwork that I want to do as this is my most honest course of action. I’ve always believed that making what one wants is the payoff for being an experimental artist and I feel that this is especially true for artists situated in a research university. Furthermore it is what scholars in the humanities do! It is our duty to follow our creative process in our research.
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Still Building

26 May

This video documents the Still Building project at UCIRA’s Future Tense conference in November 2011 on the campus of UCSD. The project was organized by the collaborative group Building (featuring UCSC graduate students Kyle Mckinley, Nick Lally and Madeline McDonald Lane).

What Counts? With Nicole Paiement of UCSC

24 May
Nicole Paiement is Director of Large Ensembles at the University of California where she conducts the Orchestra, the full productions of Opera and the Chamber Singers. Under her baton, the Orchestra has developed into a quality ensemble that performs music from all period. In addition to her ongoing work at UCSC, she is also the artistic director of the New Music Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the BluePrint Project  and of Ensemble Parallèle, a professional ensemble dedicated to the performance of contemporary chamber opera. See more at  
Q: What counts as research in your field?
A: • Commissioning and performing the premiere of new works.
       • Completing CD recordings of works
       • Completing critical editions of new works
       • Guest conducting
       • Mounting professional performances of obscure works to enlarge the canon of repertoire
Q: How do you deal with the tension between doing work that “counts” and is recognized as valid and work that you just want to do or your students pull you towards?
A: Since I am very active in my field, I never think  of “what counts” for research. I simply work a great deal and do so in a large variety of areas – commissioning and performing new works; guest conducting; recording; mounting contemporary chamber opera with my professional ensemble; complete new editions with publishers. I also  try to  involve my students in as many varied projects I can.

What Counts with Hibbert-Jones (UCSC) and Hebdige (UCSB)

18 May
Interview with Dee Hibbert-Jones (UCSC) and Dick Hebdige (UCSB)

Dee Hibbert-Jones is Co-Director of the Social Practice Research Center and Associate Professor of Art at UCSC. A cultural critic and theorist, Dick Hebdige has published widely on youth subculture, contemporary music, art and design, and consumer and media culture and is Professor of Film & Media Studies and Art Studio at UCSB as well as Ex-officio Director at the UCIRA. Both Hibbert-Jones and Hebdige are British expatriates and board members of the UCIRA and agreed to be interviewed together via email.

Q: The UC system charges faculty with producing research, teaching and public service. How do professors in the arts have to approach this directive in a unique way and do you see the balance tipping towards one area more strongly?

Dee: To be an artist in a research institution is already to be the odd duck in the room, no one is quite sure what we do or how studio art fits definitions of research. We are often seen as either decorative or irrelevant, coupled with this we don’t even bring in the big grants! I do spend time framing my work as research for the university, explaining and defining it for promotion and among some non-arts colleagues. At least you produce publications, Dick, a form that the University recognizes as “research”. A small example: the bio bibliography forms used to evaluate professors aren’t tailored to exhibitions or screenings, I manage to squeeze in my exhibition record on about page ten of the form after navigating through a host of other sections which are either irrelevant or secondary to my practice.

In UC Santa Cruz tenure and promotion files research is considered primary, followed closely by teaching and then service. Although we all know service and teaching take up physical time and our own research is squeezed in around the rest, but this isn’t specific to the arts. However studio art professors do actually teach more hours than most other professors. This is because studio hours (at least at UCSC) are counted as ‘lab’ not lecture hours. Harking back to the idea, I presume, that art is a skill and that studio classes are technical not conceptual. The presumption is that there is no class prep involved, which is absolutely untrue. In terms of a balance then, teaching takes up more physical time, and with the budget cuts service is greater than ever before as we try desperately to develop entirely new curriculum to manage enlarged class sizes and reduced numbers of classes. The one benefit is that we form amazing relationships with the students – we spend a lot of small class time with them (this may somewhat change with budget cuts) Right now I often times collaborate with students on projects that build my own research, serve their learning needs and kick start their exhibition records. Is the balance tipping? The University still says research first when we being, but there are more and more demands made on us for service and teaching, which simply means less time for research.

Dick: Dee lays out the main issues clearly and succinctly: for the purposes of parity and comparison with colleagues in other fields and in order to secure tenure and salary increases, artists working in the system have to translate their work and achievements into University-speak and that means placing ‘research’ front and center in the self-monitoring UC bio-bibliography. But the reality is that while many of the current Arts and Humanities Deans get it, many University administrators and non-arts faculty still have a hard time identifying the research component in art unless the work is either A) located on some visible techno-scientific ‘frontier’ (where it gets to merge with science) or  B) has explicit documentary/representational value  (where it can serve an illustrative function vis-a-vis agendas already established in the Humanities, Social Sciences, cultural studies etc). This awkwardness with the definition of art-as-research isn’t really surprising as individual arts faculty don’t themselves agree on what constitutes meaningful research for an artist. Plus of course determinations of what constitutes essential skill/knowledge in the making of a work can differ widely from one discipline, medium, tendency or school to the next. In some of the most thoroughly researched artworks, I find that the work that, as it were, went into the [art]work gets subsumed i.e. folded into the work and made to disappear. Artists tend to erase their tracks, preferring to let the piece-whatever it is and irrespective of the medium – speak for itself. Unlike good scholars, good artists don’t provide footnotes. So while I strongly believe art has its own particular research modalities and methodologies it’s hard (possibly even counter-productive) to specify exactly what they might be. Art is all about the unexpected move so the work that goes into making it is hard to codify.

At the same time, the ideas many university administrators and non arts faculty have about arts education tend to be based in the old conservatory model. At the undergraduate level what that means is the transmission of technical skills to large groups of students through repetition, practice, osmosis and mimesis in a process that for all practical purposes is assumed to bypass cognition. Hence the long class-times and the perception on the part of many of our non arts-department colleagues  (and a large part of the student population) that A) art is representational and essentially non-cerebral – mechanical ,intuitive and/or self-expressive, B) that all determinations of quality are subjective (”in the eye of the beholder”) and C) that teaching art to undergrads is tantamount to baby-sitting. The rationale for our continued place on the university curriculum is rooted, on the one hand, in a rapidly eroding communal faith in a humanist pedagogical ethos (‘educate the whole person’) and, on the other, in the corporate investment in creativity as an exploitable innovation-and-revenue-generating asset.

There’s a temptation for the contradiction between these two rationales to be resolved within Universities programatically. Art Studio departments, charged with servicing a large general student population in classes stocked by a steady supply of grad student TA’s threaten to degenerate into undergrad teaching treadmills while programs in ‘new media’ and art/science fusions like Media Art Technology at UCSB or Design/Media Arts at UCLA have limited contact with undergraduates and tend to be identified with the applied sciences, research-driven innovation, the development of marketable applications and the Future. Of course this is an over simplification and I’m not suggesting that faculty affiliated with the technologically ‘advanced’ programs have it any easier than their colleagues elsewhere in the University arts (we’re all under pressure to produce and serve/teach more). And I’m sure that Arts faculty in the new interdisciplinary programs have to fight even harder than the rest of us to be taken seriously by the scientists and engineers with whom they’re meant to be collaborating as the latter may feel discomfited by the cross over (c.f. matter out of place) and vice-versa. However the segregation of the ‘new’ from the not-new, the nearly new and the comparatively recent can have real implications not only conceptually but also in terms of access to resources. Sabbaticals aside (and they’re awarded on the basis of accumulated teaching credits), research time for most Arts faculty is, in general, stolen time (weekends, summer break etc).
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Ken Ehrlich’s Masks, or The Illusion of Power

13 May

Last year LA based artist and lecturer from UC Riverside, Ken Ehrlich, presented on his intervention at the UCIRA “Future Tense” conference at UC San Diego. This video is an excerpt from the first 15 minutes of that talk and the full text is reprinted on the website Occupy Everything. In the presentation Ehrlich asked members of the audience to read aloud with him certain key concepts he wanted to highlight for discussion, as you’ll hear towards the end of the video.

Curating People: A Round Up

10 May

Last week in Berkeley the Arts Research Center sponsored a symposium entitled Curating People. ARC director and UCIRA advisory board member Shannon Jackson diligently led up to and followed up the gathering with posts and guest-posts on her blog ARC Muses.

Posts appeared in this order:

  • Shannon Jackson on the ideas behind the symposium:
  • Erika Balsom (a Townsend post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Film & Media Studies at UC Berkeley)
  • Betti-Sue Hertz (Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco)
  • David Henry (Director of Programs, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston): 

“What type of institution is best suited to present the hybrid art forms of today? How does the economic structure of museums and the visual arts affect attitudes towards performed art which has a significantly different economic structure? How does the traditional mission of museums to preserve and collect impact its receptivity to non-object art? How do the differing histories and practices of performing arts and visual arts influence criticism of hybridized art forms in art museums?”

  • Susan Miller (currently Associate Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and formerly Executive Director of New Langton Arts)
  • Constance Lewallen (Adjunct Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum)
  • Leigh Markopoulos (Chair, Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts)
  • Michele Rabkin (Associate Director of the Arts Research Center)
  • Kristan Kennedy (Visual Arts Curator at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art): 
“I often have difficult conversations with the community of artists and others that surround me about art and money, and art and meaning, and art and value, and art and community. I use words like “hybrid” and “discursive” and “dialogue” and “ practice” and “ intention”. I often talk about “de-historization” the “current moment” and “ collapsing forms”. I love to put the word “post” in front of everything. I like to think we are post- everything. Sometimes those words sounds right, and sometimes it sounds like the shifty language of the art world and therefore, flawed and contradictory and awful. The not so secret, secret is we are all still looking for the words to describe the now.”
  • Erin Boberg Doughton (Performing Arts Program Director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art)
  • Lisa Wymore (Assistant Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley and Co-Director of Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts)
  • Post-Show Reflection by Shannon Jackson where she addresses big issues discussed at Curating People, such as “How to un-silo communities of arts and culture?”; “Economies that support hybrid art work”; “More Writers and Writing Venues”; “Future Research”; and “Future Spaces for Reflection”

Arts Research at University of Michigan

3 May

“The Role of Art-Making and the Arts in a Research University” will be held May 4-6 in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan. Below are excerpts of an interview with Theresa Reid, the conference organizer, from “Montage” an online magazine at the University of Michigan. See the full interview here.


Montage: Why is that process important to the research university?

Reid: It’s important that universities serve the whole student.  We talk a great deal about diversity, because we know that diversity of all kinds enriches learning and life in many ways.  Integrating art-making into the university introduces a certain kind of rigorous cognitive diversity – it helps students learn to use their whole brains.  This is deeply rewarding and exciting on a personal level, of course.  But also, the world’s incredibly complicated problems need graduates who can use their full creative and cognitive endowment.

Montage: So, why the need for this symposium?

Reid: Art-making has not thrived in research universities, generally.  U-M is highly unusual in having mature, very highly regarded professional programs in Art & Design, Music, Theatre & Dance, and Architecture, as well as in creative writing and filmmaking. In addition to these professional programs, we have UMMA, UMS, and hundreds of voluntary student art groups.   In most research universities art-making is a very faint echo.

Montage: Why is art-making not thriving at most research universities?

Reid: One reason is revenue.  Art-making can be expensive, and doesn’t bring in revenue like, for instance, scientific or engineering research does.   It’s a sad fact, but somebody has to pay the bills.  Also, the value of the products of art-making might not be immediately evident, as it often is in science, math, and engineering: the value of the product of “art-making” is harder to quantify, especially in the short-term.

Montage: So why do art-making and the arts belong in the research university?

Reid: Because art-making is integral to the project of being human.  Human beings evolved making art, and every human culture produces art.  This essential part of who we are as a species cannot be left behind in the greatest engines of culture in the world:  U.S. research universities.  All research universities do support the humanities – that is, the study of the arts.  But the humanities, important as they are, are not enough.  The making and the doing of original creative work is categorically different:  it’s the hands-on creative work that provides the really deep cognitive diversity and opportunities for groundbreaking collaborations.

Free Media as Free Speech

26 Apr

by Desiree D’Alessandro, MFA student at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB)

(The following article has been recontextualized from a lecture presented by D’Alessandro at the 2010 Open Video Conference auditorium, held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC,.Oct 1 – 2, 2010)

I offer perspective as an academic, artist, and emergent Fair-Use activist and will give you further insight into what happened to me when I was charged with a first-time Digital Millennium Copyright Act violation at UCSB. Keeping in mind that the University offered me no institutional support or aid in defense, I am going to discuss the situation from a personal and activist perspective in regards to how many universities are stifling creativity and obstructing potential through network policing.

I come from a background of digital media practices and for the last two years, I have taken a particular interest in Remix and YouTube. My online Remix portfolio ( demonstrates the critical and humorous nature of my practice and my history of exercising Fair-Use prior to the DMCA allegation. I am here to discuss how acquiring and utilizing copyrighted source materials for creating Remix Videos is deemed an “offense” by UCSB and partner campuses, that violates their Internet Terms of Services.

Remix Videos utilize a wide array of appropriated source material to reconstruct and recontextualize new messages. Obviously, in order to gather the sources to make this product, I did what any digitally savvy artist in the 21st century would do. I turned to the Internet and torrent applications. However, I awoke one morning to discover that my Internet had been disconnected and my new default homepage read in giant-block letters: “THIS DEVICE HAS BEEN BLOCKED DUE TO A DMCA VIOLATION.”

I immediately contacted my campus DMCA agent to articulate my creative practice in order to appeal the accusation, clear the air, and lift the ban that I felt was wrongfully placed on my computer. However, to my surprise, the conversations that developed turned into a hostile bureaucratic nightmare.

I explained my history of generating Remix Videos and my reasons for downloading content as source materials in exercising Fair Use. I was informed this did not matter. When I told them I had numerous faculty members ready to write letters of support and attest for the legitimacy of my work, I was still informed it did not matter. In the eyes of the UC System, I was stock-guilty and there was no opportunity for justification.

Q & A: Catherine Cole on Future Planning for the UC

22 Apr

Q & A on Future Planning for the UC System: Interview with Catherine Cole

SOTA interviews long-time UCIRA friend and former Advisory Board member Catherine Cole  (Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, UC Berkeley) about her latest research and call to action. Cole has been active with SAVE, a Berkeley faculty group, and has written occasionally on the Remaking the University blog and circulated a widely read Open Letter to Students trying to explain the budget-cuts early on in the summer of 2009. Cole teaches African Performance, Field Methods, Postcolonial Studies, and Disability Studies. She is the author of Performing South Africas Truth Commission: Stages of Transition (2010) as well as Ghanas Concert Party Theatre (2001), which received a 2002 Honorable Mention for The Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and was a finalist for the Herskovits Prize in African Studies.

 Q: In your recent paper Trading Futures: Prospects for Californias University you describe a situation in which the UC administration is “in reaction mode. It is reacting to a very, very bad situation—namely the dramatic state de-funding of public education. And then the opposition such as protesters and activists have been preoccupied with reacting to the administration’s reactions.”[i] And you go on to say that, “We are all so myopically preoccupied with the current crises that we can’t seem to see or imagine a larger picture, much less a better one. We are not planning in the UC. We’re not planning across the three segments of higher education. Sure, we’re pushing around numbers about expected enrolments, access, and revenue streams. But we are not imagining or dreaming about a wide range of prospective futures. We are only coping.”[ii] Can you describe what coping looks like as opposed to vision? What happens when we just cope?

A:  Coping means that a great deal of the institution’s energy is preoccupied with addressing immediate budgetary shortfalls. We know that our current budget problems are profound, but we don’t yet know their magnitude. As with so many sectors of California, the UC must wait until the state legislature makes budget decisions. In the meantime, “coping” is characterized by tremendous uncertainty, a great deal of anxiety, and an intense focus on the short-term. This way of navigating the future is, by definition, short sighted.

Q: Later in your “Trading Futures” essay you pose a question: “The UC has some of the best, brightest and most innovative faculty in the world. What would it mean for its faculty…to be at the center of devising a new future for higher education?” You have a proposal for what this might look like, can you describe that gathering and the traditions of faculty gatherings and community-centered design it will draw from.

A: In 1963 Clark Kerr described the University of California as a “multiversity,” an institution that is “so many things to so many different people that it must, of necessity, be partially at war with itself.”[iii] Kerr noted that while all communities should have a soul or a single animating principle, “the multiversity has several—some of them quite good, although there is much debate on which souls really deserve salvation.”[iv] At this moment when the entire UC system is plagued by long-term public defunding and short-term deficits, there is much soul searching about the sustainability and viability of the multiversity. While scenarios for disaggregation of the UC have episodically surfaced in the past, never before has this happened in the context of such extreme fiscal volatility and constraint.

In June 2009 UCSD professors created a firestorm of controversy by suggesting that some UC campuses be “downgraded” from research to teaching institutions. In September 2010, the UCLA Anderson School of Management proposed ending entirely their reliance on state funding. Recently UCB has touted a federal funding model, embracing an adaptive rather than deliberate scenario that would ultimately raise the question of how Berkeley would be a university “of” California in the future. In February 2011, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a peer flagship public university, began openly discussing its possible secession from the state system.[v]

Many radical scenarios for the future of California’s world-renowned university are being discussed, but often privately. These scenarios would have profound implications for California given the UC’s critical role in the state. There is a surfeit of big, conceptual questions facing the UC, yet there is also a deficit of formats in which such questions can be discussed openly, critically, and with intellectual rigor. The UC’s future, whatever it is, will be brighter if envisioned with widespread and energetic faculty participation in strategic planning. The UC once had a format for visionary faculty deliberation: all-UC Faculty conferences held annually for thirty years beginning in 1944.[vi] These annual events, sponsored by the Academic Senate, brought together faculty from throughout the system along with senior administrators to discuss topics of long-range institutional significance. The sole purpose of the conference, according to President Sproul, was “to stimulate thinking on all campuses of the University about major problems of the University as a whole, and to afford an opportunity for free, frank, and thorough discussion of those problems by a large number of interested members of the faculty.”[vii]

The project I am proposing aims to catalyze and revive such system-wide faculty conversations, and to do so by using a new format. Unlike earlier all-UC faculty conferences, our pilot project will be convened outside of any formal decision-making authority. We are operating on the premise that all senate faculty have a vested interest in and responsibility for making our university’s future, and that there is an urgent need for open, deliberative, collaborative, rational, imaginative, and time-efficient formats for engaging faculty in long-range thinking.

Neither a “conference” nor a “meeting” or “retreat” (the familiar formats in which faculty generally gather), our endeavor represents an experiment in process, one that uses planning techniques that are iterative, dynamic, participatory, and collaborative. While such models for planning are common in urban design,[viii] in business,[ix] as well as in public policy and non-profit organizations,[x] planning processes within higher education tend to be anachronistic and slow, dominated by linear and mechanistic thinking and lacking the agility that is needed in today’s dynamic climate.[xi] Participatory planning represents a “bottom up” approach which contrasts with the traditional “top down” model of the centrally designed master plan. “Charrettes” in particular are of interest to us, for they represent a time-compressed model of focused collaboration.

Figure 1: UCLA environmental and urban design studies group working at table. University of California, Los Angeles. November 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

I am working on this project in collaboration with Ann Bermingham, the Acting Director of UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. Called “The Uses of the University in 2050,” it consists of two events aimed at setting horizons of planning to the year 2050. The first will be held in February 2012 at UCSB and will focus on the multiversity. The second, held in fall 2012 at UCB, will look at the State and how its needs for higher education are likely to change in the next forty years.

At UCSB, we will ask: What are the virtues, strengths, and problems of the multiversity? Can the multi-campus system be sustained in the face of receding state and federal support? Would UC still be a “public good” if the multi-campus system were abandoned? Should UC campuses specialize? How are the disciplinary structures changing? What are the benefits and problems of housing Colleges of Letters and Science together with professional schools? In short, if we were able to design from scratch a UC-system for the year 2050, what would it look like?

A second charrette in Fall 2012 will be held at UC Berkeley and will be more external in focus and more broadly participatory. It will be aimed at: 1) setting horizons of planning to the year 2050 and thinking of California’s needs for the future, especially as these relate to the university’s past mandate and present aspirations, 2) getting faculty as well as administrators, staff, and students to think in a visionary and collaborative way about an issue of long range significance, 3) extending the impact of our project through greater public input and exposure, in particular using interactive digital technologies and an art exhibit from the highly significant yet largely unknown Ansel Adams Fiat Lux collection of over 1700 images of the UC taken the 1960s, and 4) providing us an opportunity to refine and scale up our participatory process, making modifications based upon what we learned earlier at Santa Barbara.

Figure 2: Graduate geology class with UCR professors Gordon P. Eaton and Frank W. Dickson at Joshua Tree National Monument. The towering rock forms are actually the granite roots of an ancient mountain range. University of California, Riverside. December 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

The overall goals for the “Uses of the University in 2050” project are: 1) to create a new faculty collaborative format in which scenarios for the UC’s future are openly articulated, debated and critically engaged using the University’s multi-disciplinary research strengths; 2) to cultivate and inspire among faculty fresh strategic thinking about our institution; 3) to foster a conversation about the future among all UC stakeholders that is driven by long-term vision rather than short-term crises and guided by participatory processes; and 4) to harness the power of the university’s best asset–faculty research expertise—to address the real world problem of our University’s future. We will use the university itself to help frame and address the university’s present and future challenges, and use the insights and experiences of our non-UC community and policymaking partners to help envision how the UC should adapt, change and grow in the face of dynamic and volatile circumstances.

Figure 3: Berkeley Nobel Laureate and Professor of Chemistry Melvin Calvin and his group working in their laboratory. Calvin, the scientist who “unlocked the secrets of photosynthesis,” held a deep belief in interdisciplinary collaborations. He and his team worked in a “laboratory without walls.” Opening in 1963, the building now known as the Melvin Calvin Laboratory was designed with a doughnut-shaped exterior and an open interior with radial lab benches so as to foster cooperative teamwork. University of California, Berkeley. September, 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

“The major test of the modern American university,” advised Clark Kerr, “is how wisely and how quickly it adjusts to the important new possibilities. The great universities of the future will be those which have adjusted rapidly and effectively.”[xii] As much as the university is a source of knowledge production, it can also benefit from outside expertise, particularly from sectors of California’s economy that have long had to be agile in order to survive. Universities are old institutions that are stereotypically recalcitrant to change. Yet we are at a historical juncture when the University needs to devise organizational processes for shared governance that are agile, lean and horizontal in addition to the slow, linear, and hierarchical organizational processes that have long been characteristic of the University and have served us well in establishing the UC’s unparalleled reputation.

Figure 4: In this image taken by Adams at UC Berkeley in 1966, we see the artist peering at us, the people of UC’s future. The Fiat Lux project was commissioned by UC President Clark Kerr to emphasize the prospective view for the University and to “present a sense of the opportunities which lie ahead.” Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

Q: What is a vision for the future of the UC system?

 A: The system doesn’t have a vision for the future right now.  The Commission on the Future was supposed to produce that, but I think there is unanimous disappointment in its findings. The Commission’s final report doesn’t add up to a vision. A vision should be something that will inspire the State to invest in us.

The Commission on the Future’s final report ventures the courageous assertion, “The future cannot be avoided.”[xiii] Standing on a mountain of a year’s worth of planning and fraught subcommittee work, the Commission advises that in the coming years, “The challenge will be to strike an unerring balance between what to recalibrate or even discard, and what to protect. The goal must be for the University to emerge on the other side of the crises fit and ready to serve California as well and as far into the future as it has in the past.”[xiv] “Fit and ready to serve”? “Recalibrate,” “discard” and “protect”? This is a language of contraction and retrenchment. This is not the language of innovation. Yet historically California and especially the University of California have been defined by a capacity to innovate. What happened to innovation, that defining feature of the University of California’s “brand” identity?

If our vision for the future has become so impoverished that we only aspire to be “fit and ready to serve,” why should the electorate invest in us? If this is our highest goal, then of course higher education will be, in the words of UC President Yudof, “crowded out by other priorities,” especially when priorities like care of the sick, disabled, elderly, foster children, etc. are so much more compelling as necessities.[xv] Furthermore we must consider that getting an undergraduate education may no longer be a sustainable aspiration for many in America, given the escalating debt students must take on to get their degrees. With a rapidly shrinking middle class and skyrocketing tuition, many college graduates find that unlike in the 1960s when a college education was a passport to the middle class, today’s degree gains them admission to an endless cycle of debt and poverty.[xvi]

Our California leadership in higher education is not really grappling with this larger picture. “The reality is that California has essentially stopped innovating in the development of its higher education system,” according to scholar of higher education John Aubrey Douglass.[xvii]

Figure 5: A beginning sculpture class at UCSB works at evolving forms inspired by natural objects such as shells and thistles. University of California, Santa Barbara. April 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

Q: How do the arts figure into future planning processes? Are there ways of seeing/being or artistic strategies that can become relevant in the kind of visioning you are describing?

A: The arts have a crucial role because artists are accustomed to thinking outside the box. And that’s the kind of thinking we need right now. Artists are also visionaries, able to see and imagine scenarios for the future that can operate on multiple levels, addressing both pragmatic constraints and larger, idealistic and intellectual aspirations. In many fields, the arts are collaborative–this is certainly true in my field of theatre and performance studies. A new future for the university may well require the collaborative creativity of the university’s best asset: faculty and their collective (and individual) ingenuity and intelligence. This may mean bringing together our brilliant faculty from multiple disciplines–economics and political science, physics and medicine, environmental design and business, photography and music–to actually collaborate in making the UC of the future. Faculty ingenuity is an underutilized resource: the UC often hires outside consultants to advise on organizational challenges when our own faculty could provide far superior advice Afterall, we have many faculty who advise that other President, the one in Washington!.

The UC’s organizational processes for faculty consultation tend to be linear and slow. There are well-known methods of visioning the future in ways that are time compressed and tend to produce creative innovation, as well as broad-based community participation (charrettes, scenario planning, “world cafe”, etc.). These methods often have roots in or connections to the arts. Charrettes are a perfect example of this, for the term actually arose from competitions within French art schools. Only later did charrettes become something that was client-driven within the fields of architecture and urban design consulting.

Finally the arts are important because in our field we don’t let lack of resources limit our vision. Rather artists often create a vision, and then seek resources. It’s a different way of working than is typical for the university. But I feel that the UC has let our budgetary crisis diminish our vision and expectations for the future. That can be quite a self-defeating, a way to ensure that the present crisis becomes the “new normal,” and that the new normal is neither excellent nor inspiring.

Another discovery I’ve made in the process of working on this project is the value of the history of artists who have come through the UC system. Ansel Adams is a case in point. Very, very few people–even long time UC career staff and faculty–know that the UC Regents own a vast repository of photographs taken by Ansel Adams in the 1960s of the University of California. This project, called “Fiat Lux,” was commissioned by Clark Kerr. He hired Adams and writer Nancy Newhall to document for three years all our UC activities on the (then) nine campuses as well as agricultural extensions, observatories, and all kinds of UC endeavors throughout the state. After Yosemite, the University of California may be the most documented subject in Adams’ oeuvre. The UC owns these images: over 6000 images in total, 1700 of which are scanned (available at the California Museum of Photography at UCR) and 605 signed prints (held at Berkeley’s Bancroft library). This archive is a rich repository of images providing a coherent and compelling picture of the University of California and its relationship to the State of California. Because Fiat Lux, which was commissioned by Clark Kerr in 1963, came to fruition in 1967 just as Kerr’s own administrative star was falling (fired by Ronald Reagan, etc.), the images have never really gotten the attention they deserve. A wonderful exhibition was mounted by Melinda Wortz at UCI in 1991, and that exhibit toured to five other UC campuses (Berkeley was not one of these). There have been some smaller exhibitions of the images on individual campuses (Riverside and San Diego). And the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) did an exhibit on Ansel Adams in 2001–though this included images of Yosemite etc, so the BAM exhibit was more about the artist than the university.

Figure 6: UCSF Professor Marilyn G. Farguhar with path and electron microscope. University of California, San Francisco. April 1965. Photograph by Ansel Adams, Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

Figure 7: Self portrait of Ansel Adams with path and electron microscope. University of California, San Francisco. April 1965. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.

In sum, these images just have not been properly seen–and now at this moment of crises and soul searching for the University of California, these images could provide a dynamic and compelling opportunity to reflect on who we were 50 years ago and to generate prospective visions about who and what UC wishes to be in the future. Adams can help us envision a longer horizon. These photos are “memories of the future,” which is a term often used in scenario planning. These images can also be an opportunity not just for internal discussions about our future, but also more importantly for external communications, visioning, and “branding” of the UC with the people of the State of California.

One hears these days various scenarios for the dissolution of the UC system. Such ideas have episodically surfaced in the past, but never in the context of such an extreme fiscal crises. And of course, UW-Madison is now leading the way in a break-apart scenario for public higher education. If the UC is considering a divorce, Fiat Lux is our family photo album. Let’s open it up. Let’s remind ourselves who the family is, and what we’ve done together.

Morale is so very, very low right now, I feel we have all succumbed to a pernicious “Gloom and Doom.: If we get stuck at that place, we’ll never be able to have a brighter future, because we won’t be able to imagine one. It’s interesting to think about commissioning new work from UC faculty and student artists that uses Fiat Lux as a frame. How do they “see” UC today in relationship to how Ansel Adams saw us then?  I think we in the arts can play a special role here in helping people to imagine a viable, attractive, and–most important of all–an inspiring future for the University of California. The dedication to the Fiat Lux UC centennial book by Adams and Newhall published in 1967 says the project is “dedicated to those who will make the future.”[xviii] That’s us!

[SOTA thanks the UCR California Museum of Photography for permission to use these images)

[i] Catherine M. Cole, “Trading Futures: Prospects for California’s University,” talk presented at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB, 17 February 2011, (accessed 11 April 2011), p. 2.

[ii] Ibid, pp. 2-3.

[iii] Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, Fifth Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001; originally published 1963), p. 17.

[iv] Ibid, p. 15.

[v] See Andrew Scull, et al., Open letter by 21 UCSD department heads, 15 June 2009, posted (accessed 11 April 2011); Louis Freedberg, “Chancellor: UC Berkeley Morphing into a Federal University,” California Watch, 23 February 2011, (accessed 11 April 2011); Jack Stripling, “U of Wisconsin at Madison’s Chancellor Defends Proposed Separation From System,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 February 2011, available online at (accessed 11 April 2011).

[vi] Cole, “Trading Futures,” pp. 12-13.

[vii] Robert Gordon Sproul, “Opening Remarks,” Proceedings of the First All-University Faculty Conference, University of California, 1944, p. 5.

[viii]  National Charrette Institute (NCI) together with Bill Lennertz and Aarin Lutzenhiser, The Charrette Handbook: The Essential Guide for Accelerated, Collaborative Community Planning (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2006); Urban Design Associates (UDA)–Ray Gindroz, Donald Carter, Paul Ostergaard, Rob Robinson, and Barry J. Long, Jr., The Urban Design Handbook: Techniques and Working Methods (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).

[ix] James A. Ogilvy, Creating Better Futures: Scenario Planning as a Tool for a Better Tomorrow (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World (New York: Doubleday, 1991); Kees Van der Heijen, Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996).

[x] Judith E Innes and David E. Booher, Planning with Complexity: An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy (New York: Routledge, 2010); John M. Bryson, Strategic Planning For Public and Nonprofit Organizations, 3rd Edition: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2004).

[xi] Shannon Chance, “Strategic by Design: Iterative Approaches to Educational Planning,” Planning for Higher Education 38.2 (2010): 40–54.

[xii] Kerr, Uses, p. 81.

[xiii] University of California Commission on the Future, Final Report, November 2010, p. 2. Report is online at, accessed 24 February 2011.

[xiv] Ibid, p. 2.

[xv] Quoted in Deborah Solomon, “Big Man on Campus: Questions for Mark Yudof,” New York Times, 24 September 2009, published online at

[xvi] See Anya Kamenetz, Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young” (New York: New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2006).

[xvii] John Aubrey Douglass, “Re-Imagining California Higher Education,” Center for the Studies of Higher Education, Research & Occasional Paper Series, 14.10 (October 2010), p. 2.

[xviii] Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, Fiat Lux: The University of California (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 5.

Shannon Jackson On Her New Book

22 Apr

Shannon Jackson (UCIRA Board Member, ARC Director, and UC Berkeley Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies and Rhetoric), is interviewed in Art Practical by Christina Linden about her forthcoming book Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics  (Routledge, 2011) and the symposium “Curating People,” which she is coordinating for April 28 and April 29 at the Performance Art Institute and UC Berkeley. See her blog here.


CL: Do you think that the nature of the relationships to the state or other institutions is specific to the kind of experimental performance and social works we’re talking about here, or would you say this applies in a more blanket way to all artwork?

SJ: As to whether it applies to all artwork, I guess I would say that it does. Painting depends upon frames and canvases but also upon the gallery system. Theatre depends on stage managers and agents. But I do think that certain art forms are less able to deny that they need a supporting apparatus and that some have a vested interest in looking the other way. The works that I ended up selecting were all works that I think are posing questions about our relationship to interdependent systems, state based or otherwise. In some instances I’m really talking about places where a state-based mechanism did not come through. When Paul Chan began to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you could say that that is a situation where FEMA did not come through. It may be that the state did not come through because it had been defunded up until then, but Chan was pretty clear that there was a DIY quality to his work; the supporting systems were part of a very mixed economy that included private funding, community grants, philanthropic donations, and the gallery circuit, along with inadequate state funding.

CL: What about the way the institution of the museum is taking up these practices? Recently, the education departments are often the ones commissioning really interesting new work in this mode, and in some cases it operates as a kind of substitute for programming they used to produce more directly. Given the topic of the symposium you are organizing for April 29, I guess this must be on your mind?

SJ: You are alighting upon something that I hope we will talk about at the “Curating People” symposium in April. My hope is that we’ll have a continuous, wider Bay Area conversation about this. You spoke of the conference you attended at MoMA. Pablo Helguera, in the education department, organized that gathering. Why are education departments doing, as you call it, “substitute programming”? Education departments are interested in the experience of receivers. There can certainly be a didactic quality to that role. At the same time, artists who work in social practice and performance are also very concerned about engagement with receivers. If that it is your goal, it can be incredibly interesting to work with someone in education who thinks continuously about what it means to engage people, to address them, to challenge them. Supporting these new art forms begins to challenge the traditional divisions between the curatorial department and the education department.

I ended up deciding to focus on “curating,” specifically “curating people,” because the curators and the staff of the museums and theatre are in the trenches of all of this. We really get a complex picture of what it means to support interdisciplinary art when we think about the kind of work that curators, installers, and stage managers are doing daily. They’re living it every day and also re-skilling every day. A visual art curator might have been trained in a particular way, but then a certain kind of hybrid artist comes to town and needs you to secure a street permit or to do a casting call.

See the rest of the interview here

What counts as artistic research in the University of California?

31 Mar

What counts as artistic research in the University of California?

In 250 words or less, email us the story of a successful or unsuccessful case you’ve made for your work to count as research within the academy?



Send them to in by April 12th at the latest.

UCIRA is interested in compiling best practices as well as examples of conflicts which we can all learn from across the system. The responses will be posted on UCIRA’s State of the Arts (SOTA) blog at as they come in.

Personal Reflection on UCIRA’s Conference

15 Mar

Personal Reflection on UCIRA’s 2010 State of the Arts Conference

by Van Tran, MFA candidate University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB)


Just over a year ago my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and had consequently lost her job and faced home foreclosure. This personal chain of events is a symptom of larger social issues in the U.S. economy: unemployment, current health care, house foreclosures, etc. At the same time this experience falls onto me. My looming student loan debt from my undergraduate career hovers over me as a current first year graduate student in the Department of Art at UCSB – and I will inevitably face paying more college loan debt without family support.


Where does this leave me along my pursuit for higher education and my future as an aspiring artist as fee hikes have inflated the cost of this degree? And what about the other hundreds of UC students that had to drop out and take on second and third jobs to support them and drifted from their academic endeavors?


The State of The Arts (SOTA) Conference that I attended in November 2010 focused on a theme of “Future Tense: Alternative Arts and Economies.” Various issues of the current UC fee hike crisis such as the aforementioned questions were raised, and there was much discourse of the relationship between public education and the public good through a variety of discussions and presentations. I attended the conference with a small group of students led by August Black, a PhD candidate from the Media Arts and Technology department at UCSB. Our group project goal was to document the conference and record interviews from various participants. To show our collective stance, we wore silkscreened t-shirts that read, “The Future is Tense.”


Aside from our producing documentation, a bulk of my experience from the conference involved absorbing information. At times I found myself in a whirlwind of mixed feelings towards my current experience as a graduate student. The Talk Sandwich luncheon moderated by Dee Hibbert-Jones was an open discussion where participants built their own sandwich as a metaphor for building their own ideal education model. The group’s discussion of money issues traced back to my lingering memory of my mother’s circumstances and my current burden of growing loan debt. I thought more deeply about my place in the Department of Art and the strict emphasis on completing an MFA degree in only two years as funding seems to be an ongoing issue for all of the grads, and the graduate committee has to continually find funds to support us for our two-year program. My impending leap into the working world from my graduate education brought a heavy feeling of unpreparedness to become an institutionalized mediocre artist. This is not what I want to be nor do I want to put myself in debt for this! What solutions or alternatives can be programmed and implemented to create a more thorough study, where graduate students can take up to three years (or more if there is enough funding secured) to develop and fine tune work that is intellectually engaging in its aesthetic form and practice?


I grew more hope during the presentation of UCIRA funded projects and was inspired to see what some artists were already doing. The call for action in creating alternative methods as a response to the current model of art education was displayed in creative and equally engaging ways: from Tim Schwartz’ STAT-US mobile unit to Ben Lotan’s literal occupation of squatting in his on-campus work space to the Urban Research Toolkit’s creation of an online collaborative research of collective mapping, to name a few. In addition to viewing these fun and exciting projects were the conference evening receptions. These were opportunities for me to connect closely with the conference participants, UC art administrators, and faculty artists from different UC campuses. The discussions and stories that were shared among this group were ones that I would not have had in the public setting of a panel discussion or presentation. These gave me some solace in knowing that I am not alone in this current state of the arts. In spite of my own experience as a graduate student I was grateful to hear critical perspectives from many voices at the SOTA conference that gave me a sense of collectivity.


Van Tran is a first-year MFA student in the art department at UCSB. She is interested in public & social practice and is researching the different communities surrounding her new geography of place. More information can be found on her website:


UCIRA Board Member on Egypt

8 Mar

Bruce Ferguson, current UCIRA Advisory Board member, is currently working in Egypt and did this interview about his experiences:


Bruce W. Ferguson has been a curator and critic for more than thirty years. Bruce previously served as the Dean, School of Arts at Columbia University; President and Executive Director of the New York Academy of Art, and is the founding Director and first biennial curator of SITE Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.Bruce has curated more than 35 exhibitions for institutions such as the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, the Barbican Art Gallery in London, the Winnipeg and Vancouver Art Galleries in Canada and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. He also organized exhibitions in the international Biennale of Sao Paulo, Sydney, Venice and Istanbul.A prolific writer, Bruce has written for art publications like Canadian Art, Art Forum, Art in America, Art + Text, Flash Art, Bomb Magazine, Art Press, Borders Crossing and Parachute. Along with Reesa Greenberg and Sandy Nairne, he received a Getty Senior Research Fellowship grant, which resulted in the publication of a seminal anthology of essays on the theories of exhibitions titled, Thinking About Exhibitions (Routledge: 1996). Bruce received his B.A. in Art History from the University of Saskatchewan and his M.A. in Communication from McGill University in Montreal.

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