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.

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SNAAP and UCIRA Team Up

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.


Footnotes:

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 http://www.BOOMlosangeles.com

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.

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