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Art+Science at UC: A Natural Trend

22 Jul

For the past three and half years, UCIRA has nurtured the ‘Integrative Methodologies’ Art+Science initiative, utilizing our grants program to establish working relationships between UC researchers and practitioners who integrate art and science methodologies in a broad array of projects and programs.  


During spring 2013, UCIRA hosted the first in a series of art+science think tanks in partnership with UC Riverside’s Culver Center for the Arts to forge connections between arts and science practitioners within the context of the research university. The gathering was organized in conjunction with the exhibition “Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration”, curated by UCIRA CoDirector Marko Peljhan and Tyler Stallings, Director of UC Riverside’s Culver Center.


Over three days, 23 participants each presented their overview of science-art-engineering and design (SAED) activities, shared best practices, identified potential themes and topics— “Big Questions” that needed to be tackled, and initiated potential network opportunities. In addition, they brainstormed future funding sources for a UC-centered SAED initiative, from the National Science INSPIRE (Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education) grants as well as foundation and industry/research partnerships. The list of attendees, both across and beyond the UC system, included:


Babette Allina, Rhode Island School of Design

Nancy E. Abrams, The New Universe + the Human Future, UCSC

Sheldon Brown, Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, UCSD

Yvonne Clearwater, New Media Innovation, NASA Ames Research Center

Pablo Colapinto, Media Arts + Technology Systemics and Allosphere, UCSB

Amanda McDonald Crowley, Curator/Director, Studio 1A, New York

David Familian, Director of Exhibitions, Beall Center for Art + Technology, UCI

Liz Losh, Art + Techno-lit Program, Sixth College, UCSD

Guna Nadarajan, Dean, School of Art and Design, U of Michigan

Michael Neff, Technocultural Studies, UCD

Jennifer Parker, Digital Arts Open Lab, UCSC

Marko Peljhan, CoDirector, UC Institute for Research in the Arts, Media Arts + Technology

Eric Paulos, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, UCB

Yadegari Shahrokh, Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, UCSD

Tyler Stallings, Director, Culver Center for the Arts, UCR

Matthew Turk, Media Arts and Technology / Computer Science + Engineering, UCSB

Victoria Vesna, Design Media Arts/Art/Sci Center, UCLA

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Expressive Intelligence Studio, UCSC

John Weber, Director, Institute for Arts and Sciences, UCSC

Kathleen Wong, Principal Publications Coordinator, UC Natural Reserve System, UC Office of the President

Kim Yasuda, CoDirector, UC Institute for Research in the Arts, UCSB


Kathleen Wong, Principal Publications Coordinator for the UC Natural Reserve System, offers some thoughts on the think tank.


Art+Science at UC: A Natural Trend

by Kathleen M. Wong


From the enthusiasm about STEAM lately, you might think the Industrial Revolution was starting all over again. But in this case, STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—a movement to blend these disciplines to spark creative advances across all of these fields. The “STEAM revolution” promoting the inclusion of the arts in science research is gaining momentum across the country, and UC is leading the way.


Participants representing the nine general UC campuses gave presentations about interdisciplinary arts and science efforts across the UC system. Each campus is evolving its own flavors of STEAM initiatives. Examples include UCSC’s OpenLab, which allows people from any discipline to share equipment and do hands-on work together; UCLA’s Art | Sci Center + Lab, which encourages the creation of a “third culture” bridging the arts and sciences, and UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination will tap scientists, artists, and scholars to solve major human problems.


One major hurdle for STEAM initiatives is to draw more people—especially scientists—to participate. Think tank participants agreed that the fruits of art+sci collaborations must provide professional recognition. Further, artists and scientists aren’t measured by the same yardstick. Artists receive recognition for exhibiting their work in shows or performances. Scientists are judged by the peer-reviewed papers they publish. Neither can afford to spend much effort on work not valued by their peers. These cultural differences may account for the wall of silence at least one artist ran into trying to find scientists to work with.


Part of that indifference might be ascribed to not knowing what art+science can offer. Scientists are familiar with the idea of an artist helping to visualize new species or concepts. They may not appreciate how working with an artist can help them tackle problems from new perspectives, and expand the boundaries of human knowledge. Those, of course, are the same reasons many people pursue science as a career.


One unit of UC is ideally positioned to bring scientists and artists together. The UC Natural Reserve System is a network of protected wildland areas across California that serve as outdoor laboratories, studios and classrooms. Using a reserve involves staying at a remote and beautiful place over weeks or months, with other reserve users their primary society. Inevitably, people get to know one another. They spark friendships while relaxing over a campfire, taking a morning hike, or cooking dinner in a communal reserve kitchen. Reserve visitors learn what everyone else is working on, whether modeling climate change, writing poetry, studying chipmunk ranges, or tracing ancient earthquake faults. All of these topics and more could profit from creative thinking and innovation from new directions.


Since its inception in 1965, the NRS has welcomed biologists and writers, painters and geologists, dancers and astronomers. But past outreach efforts have been aimed more to scientists than artists.


The NRS is now joining with UCIRA to expand arts opportunities at reserves, offering to provide guidance in designing and developing artist-in-residency programs at reserves, to provide access to artists as well as awareness of the NRS by engaging arts research communities across UC. These efforts should encourage more citizens of the art world and residents of planet science to work together as equal partners in the future.


Kathleen M. Wong is Principal Publications Coordinator for the UC Natural Reserve System.



NRS rock art 1

Rock art panels at NRS reserves are the precursors of tomorrow’s art and science collaborations. Image credit: Kathleen M. Wong

NRS rock art 2

Image credit: Michael Kisgen



Why art at NRS reserves?

22 Jul

July 22, 2014

By Faerthen Felix, Assistant Manager, Sagehen Creek Field Station

Image credit: Faerthen Felix

Located on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, in a bowl lined with conifer forests and fens, Sagehen Creek Field Station is a research area owned by the U.S. Forest Service and administered by UC Berkeley. It’s one of 39 reserves in the UC Natural Reserve System, a network of wildland areas across California encompassing more than 756,000 acres. In addition to hosting science research ranging from native fish populations to forest health, and offering education at all ages, Sagehen explicitly encourages the arts.

The purpose of the art program at Sagehen is to inspire reflection, connection, and new insight into the ecosystem of which we are a part. This insight can and should inform scientific inquiry into, and management of, this ecosystem.

The process of forming a scientific (or any other kind of) question is essentially an artistic one. People seldom, if ever, come up with their research question via the scientific method; science is a criterion of truth and a test of knowledge, not necessarily its originator. Science has been so successful at this that the term “knowledge” is often assumed to mean only scientific fact, leading to conflicts with other cultural knowledge like religion, ethics, politics, and even economics.

Art—whether literary, visual, musical, performance, or other form—is, at its core, the discovery process whereby we connect apparently unrelated elements to create new knowledge of any flavor. This knowledge can then be explored and tested via the scientific method, or brought to cultural attention through the application of pattern, beauty, or controversy.

As environmental artist Helen Harrison once told me, “It becomes art when it starts to reverberate in your mind.”

Image credit: Faerthen Felix

The history of Sagehen is peppered with this kind of occasional alchemy. For example, graduate students frequently, even typically, come to Sagehen with a thesis question that changes dramatically as they see things on the ground. One can only work with the raw material already in one’s head, and just being in the field allows the possibility of seeing something unconceived, creating new knowledge to be tested. One student discovered that slave-making ants parasitize different species here than anywhere else. Another found that traditional timing of grazing severely impacts native bees. Their willingness to notice differences and open their eyes to new patterns put them on a path that led from art to science.

In another example where connections between formerly unrelated elements created knowledge leading to action, researchers living at Sagehen in the 1950’s randomly happened upon large rainbow trout spawning in tiny ephemeral rivulets. This serendipitous discovery ultimately changed Forest Service management policy for these formerly devalued, temporary watercourses. Again, the journey from art, to science, to policy.

Our Sagehen Forest Project is another prime example.

This project will soon begin restructuring the Sagehen Basin forest for greater resiliency against climate change and wildfire, more natural structure, and friendlier wildlife habitat. I would argue that the collaborative, two-year process of designing the project was essentially about writing a community narrative. It followed a trajectory that moved from science, to art, to policy.

Planning the project began with a meeting of all the stakeholders we could think to invite: loggers, environmentalists, wildlife biologists, NGOs, agencies, and other interested parties. The first meeting essentially consisted of the Forest Service and the UC Berkeley saying, “The science suggests our forest is failing, and we’d like you to help us figure out what to do about it,” to which everyone else replied, “Okay, show us what you are thinking and we’ll tell you how we feel about it.”


Image credit: Faerthen Felix

It was such a vast departure from management precedent to begin like this—without preconceived notions, without a strategy, without preferred alternatives, starting with just a problem in which everyone felt invested—that no one could initially wrap their head around it. We discussed the science; we walked in the woods; we looked deeply at the forest; we marked trees for removal; we cordoned off animal habitat; we cut and burned test plots.

A year and a half later, the team had hammered out a radically new prescription and proposed action for the Forest Service to codify and execute. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got something they could live with. We would remove lots of smaller trees from roughly 30% of the basin, in patchy, topographically driven patterns.

Then at the eleventh hour, the day before the final meeting, an endangered northern goshawk moved its nest out of the area marked for its protected habitat and into an area slated for forest restructuring.

This was the moment when environmental groups could have vetoed the entire project. In the meeting, we addressed the bird’s movements. Everyone tensely turned to the environmentalists’ representative, who thought for a moment before saying, “What we are trying to do will make things better for those birds. I can’t see stopping this project because of that bird.”

Image credit: Faerthen Felix

We let out a breath of relief, carved the nest site out of the map, and agreed to wait until nesting season was over before working in the vicinity. Remarkably, the process moved forward.

The Forest Service received three letters of support during the public comment period: one from UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station, one from Sierra Pacific Industries (the loggers), and one from Sierra Forest Legacy (the environmentalists).

This kind of agreement among these very different stakeholders is unprecedented. Such folks don’t usually agree, much less voice support for the same forest project.

It would have been helpful in all these cases to have a physical artwork to mold and share the narrative, to provide a doorway to participation and ownership by the community of the new truths…and the subsequent science and policy emerging from them.

We are now working toward the installation of such an approachable physical artwork at Sagehen, the Invisible Barn. Conceived by designers stpmj, the barn consists of a small building wrapped in reflective film. The building blends into the environment and enables visitors to view themselves standing in the midst of the forest. The structure encourages contemplation of the meaning and presence of people in nature, without telling them explicitly what to think or how to feel.

Image credit: Faerthen Felix

Invisible Barn is a departure from the idea of imposing preconceived, top-down form on a community narrative. It’s more abstract.

Invisible Barn builds on the techniques of the Aldo Leopold Land Ethic Leadership (LEL) workshops held here at Sagehen a few years back. LEL teaches participants to “Observe, Participate, Reflect,” which provides “a framework to help you facilitate values-based discussions in a new and open way, allowing you to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own views as well as those that differ.” There is no end goal except to start a conversation around a subject and see what commonalities emerge to guide future action.

Given the almost universal reduction in natural history emphasis, collections, and field time within university science programs in favor of lab work, art is naturally going to play a far larger role in discovering and exploring future scientific questions, and will create linkages between and within communities to effect policy change as a result of this science. Somebody has to be out there observing the world as it is and reporting its meaning back to us.

Image credit: Faerthen Felix

The point of this lengthy manifesto is that the public doesn’t seem to understand what art has to do with our research program, or why art is important beyond its aesthetic value.

We have heard this directly from an agency partner, and from many confused visitors who, perhaps understandably, can’t wrap their heads around Force Majeur, the 50-year art project by Helen and Newton Harrison that explores enhancements to the water carrying capacity of the soil in this watershed and in the other mountains of the world.

At least the Sagehen art program is already stimulating questions.

Addressing this confusion would be very helpful to our community, to Sagehen, and to the UC Natural Reserve System in general.

Maybe it would be a good idea to talk to other groups about this issue and ways to address it? Maybe we need more partners? Maybe we need a larger effort in the form of a workshop of some kind? Maybe there are tools out there already that we are missing? Maybe we need to incorporate this priority of communicating the value and purpose of art in science and at reserves into artist-in-residence criteria? This would be at least as useful as any actual artwork produced.

We’ve had some interesting feedback and would like to continue the conversation about how to move forward from here. We hope you will weigh in on this conversation with your ideas.

Faerthen Felix,



2 Jun



Call for Proposals

UCIRA Artist Summer Residencies will provide up to $1500 as a travel and research stipend for UC faculty, students and/or staff working independently or collaboratively in all art forms to develop their work within the UC Natural Reserve System.

Online applications must be completed by June 15, 2014

How to Apply
*Applications are only accepted only through our online system, SlideRoom:*

Applications must include (all of the below requirements are available on the SlideRoom website):
– a summary sheet that names the reserve where you are interested in working and the dates you’d like to stay
– a narrative description of your proposed project or activity (one page maximum)
– up to five work samples

Since 2007, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) has developed experimental residency initiatives that offer opportunities for arts research to take place at sites within the UC Natural Reserve System (UC NRS). The 39 reserves of the UC NRS make examples of most of California’s diverse ecosystems available for research, education, and public service. The reserves are a rich source for exploration by artists. Staying at a reserve will immerse artists in the natural world, allow them to meet and mingle with scientists conducting field research, and develop work that moves beyond traditional concepts of art and science.

In partnership with the UC NRS, UCIRA is providing funding for up to five summer art residencies for a pilot residency program to take place between June and September 2014. Proposals will be selected based on the quality and suitability of arts research proposed at a particular reserve site. Selected artists will be provided with a travel and research stipend of up to $1500 to cover fees for reserve accommodations and travel to and from the site. Stipends do not include a per diem. Artists must remain in residence for a minimum of five days and up to one month. Artists may apply independently or as an organized group/collective who work together as an integral part of their practice.

Artists-in-residence are encouraged to work with the reserve manager and scientists using the site to develop opportunities for exploratory research that sensitively engage these environments in new ways. Working within the unique natural conditions available at each reserve, artists may choose to conduct independent projects or propose collaborative work that respects and/or effectively intersects with research taking place at the site. For example, proposed projects could visualize/animate scientific data or form potential working relationships with scientists themselves. Artists are advised to study the conditions and opportunities at each reserve site in preparation for their residency.

Use of the reserve must be approved by the reserve manager. Work may be limited by the presence of sensitive species, ongoing scientific experiments, resource preservation requirements, or other environmental conditions.

Artists may apply to work at one of the following reserves:

Reserve – Administering Campus

Sedgwick Reserve – UC Santa Barbara
Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory – UC Santa Barbara
Valentine Camp – UC Santa Barbara
Angelo Coast Range Reserve – UC Berkeley
Blue Oak Ranch Reserve – UC Berkeley
Hastings Natural History Reservation – UC Berkeley
Sagehen Creek Field Station – UC Berkeley
Yosemite Field Station – UC Merced
Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center * – UC Riverside
James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve – UC Riverside
Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center * + – UC Riverside

* summer weather is extremely hot
+ severe water use limits due to drought

For more information about individual reserves:


The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts is a statewide program dedicated to supporting and promoting arts practice and research across the University of California system. Through our grants programs we support UC artists and scholars from diverse disciplines dedicated to sustained public engagement, innovative approaches to form and content and research in the performing, visual, literary and media arts. We have additional interests in the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between creative research and teaching in the arts, and in supporting and showcasing projects that serve as demonstrations of best practices by artists within the University of California system.

We encourage you to familiarize yourself with our previously supported projects:

About the UC Natural Reserve System

When University of California researchers saw their research plots and teaching spots destroyed by development, a few forward-thinking faculty devised a way to preserve examples of California habitats for long-term study. The seven reserves established in 1965 have since grown into the world’s largest university-administered natural reserve system.

Today, the 39 sites of the UC Natural Reserve System include more than 756,000 acres. These living laboratories and outdoor classrooms provide protected environments for research, education, and public service. Most major state ecosystems are represented, from coastal tide pools to inland deserts, oak savannas to Sierra Nevada forests. The reserves also serve as a gateway to more than a million acres of public lands.

For more information about the UC Natural Reserve System:

For further information on this program, please contact Art2NRS Program Coordinator Kim Yasuda:

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

25 Jan
jesikah maria rossPhoto by

jesikah maria ross
Photo by

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

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

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

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

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

8 Jan

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

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


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


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




For more information on this project, please visit:

For more photos of this project, please visit:



(majority of text taken from project final report)

UCIRA Artist Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

19 Dec

UC Santa Barbara Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Americans for the Arts Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV

16 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Barbara County Final Report:


Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP):


Written by ZouZou Chapman
UCIRA Program Coordinator

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

12 Jul

re-posted from

by Sally Gaskill On July – 2 – 2012

Sally Gaskill


As it turns out, quite a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.      Where do arts graduates go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view of part of the SNAAPShot interactive website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist John Jota Leaños: Frontera

20 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist Heather Logas: Experimental Game Design

15 May

What do Demosthenes, Wordsworth, and students in Heather Logas’s UCSC course in experimental game design have in common? Solitary walks! Art 146, offered this spring, asked students to examine not only the underlying assumptions involved in game-making, but how inspiration can be cultivated.

Among the strategies explored in the interdisciplinary course—comprised, Logas notes, of roughly half computer science majors and half art majors—was a thirty minute walk.  According to a student on the class blog, “the goal, was to seek places and things you normally wouldn’t think about, challenging the definition of what games are.”

Logas proposed only two rules: to be open to possibilities and to walk alone. In one sense, that’s the underlying framework of many of the digital games the students have grown up playing. As to actually taking a solitary walk—that, the blogger reported, was for her an unusual and somewhat challenging experience.

Logas, who is an MFA candidate in Digital Arts and New Media, describes herself as “a game designer and an artist who wants to take these two worlds and moosh them together.” Her own games specialize in allowing players to examine the reasons behind their responses. A player of her Before You Close Your Eyes can come to a seemingly tragic end, receive a score on their compassion and timidity, and find themselves revived and back on the road to the palace, armed perhaps with more awareness.

In addition to Mechanics ( “rules you play a game by” ), Dynamics (“things that happen as a result of the rules”), and Aesthetics (“the packaging, what the game looks like”), Logas told her class, game designers need to think about the thoughts and emotions they want their game to elicit from players.

To that end, classroom strategies included spider web maps representing all the associations that came to peoples’ minds when a particular word –“saw,” say—was mentioned.  Seeing the tangled pathways that emerged between physical objects, metaphorical actions and pop-cultural references (Texas Chain Saw!) gave students another way of viewing the multiple levels that may be involved in a game.  Or an artwork.

Logas’s current interest is what she calls “physical interfaces for digital games.” She’s not talking about joysticks. After watching a speech by Bernie DeKoven, a founder of the New Game Movement (an on-the-ground outgrowth of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue) and Junkyard Sports (using found and everyday objects like chalk and shopping carts) Art146 students went outside to devise games that embody DeKoven’s idea of “coliberation.” By that he means games which address the question of how to truly play with other people rather than merely playing with a game.

What did they come up with?  Students, Logas observed, were “rolling down hills, rhyming in circles,” as well as inventing an energetic form of charades in which a player not only had to communicate an idea to his teammates but get them to perform it.

The solitary walks inspired other games. Hunters and Prey (subtitled Logarithmic Dodge Ball) uses teams made up of two kinds of players—those who can only hunt and those who can only be hunted. What makes things more interesting are rules that limit the hunters’ options and permit prey to develop strategic collaborations.

In Shadow Cube, a solo player uses actual cubes and the sun to cast a shadow line in prescribed patterns. As the student blog reports: “Some designs were easy to achieve whilst others proved to be quite challenging.” Like the art-making strategies of Fluxus, a movement which included John Cage and Yoko Ono and which Logas cites as one of her inspirations, Shadow Cube directs players’ attention to the intricate interplay between plan and chance. A useful observation whether the subject is games, art, or life.



Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist Sharon Daniel: Causes and Effects

10 May

The sound of silence in Sharon Daniel’s work is multi-toned. A woman details her life in a California prison sewing American flags for 55 cents an hour. A recovered addict turns the back streets of East Oakland into a photographic portrait of rutted asphalt and benign blue skies. The silence in Daniel’s decade’s worth of interrelated projects—Need X-Change, Blood Sugar, Undoing Time, and Golden Rule—is that of voices muffled. The silencers are poverty, abuse, discrimination, lack of education—and also public policy.

Daniel describes her role as that of ”context provider.” While using traditional documentary methods like filmed and printed interviews, she distributes tools—software, disposable cameras, walkmen, one-one-one instruction—she hopes will widen the public domain. Her aim is an internet that publishes the stories and perspectives of all members of society—as told by themselves.

One topic, closely examined, often leads to new perspectives on another. Need X-Change began with a demonstrated cause and effect: Disposable needles could significantly lessen an injected-drug user’s risk of catching or transmitting HIV. Working with participants in Casa Segura’s needle exchange program to record their thoughts and experiences, Daniel hoped to ensure the program’s continuance despite neighborhood fears and political resistance.

Their stories, however, pointed to a wider web of cause and consequence, including the revolving door by which addicts become inmates and inmates become addicts (explored in Blood Sugar), and the economic usefulness of an incarcerated population examined in Undoing Time (formerly titled Capitalist Punishment) and the upcoming Golden Rule.

In an introduction to Public Secrets–a work which like Undoing Time looks at the corporate use of prison labor—Daniel distinguishes between “secrets that are kept from the public,” and so called public secrets, those “secrets that the public chooses to keep safe from itself.” One such open secret is the widespread use of prisons to provide a cheap domestic labor force.

Offering inmates a chance to earn money while learning marketable skills sounds like a reasonable idea. Closer investigation reveals what Daniels calls an mushrooming, exploitative “security economy” in which, she writes, “private companies receive substantial tax incentives from state and local governments to establish facilities on prison sites and hire prison laborers who often work for less than a dollar a day.” It’s a powerful incentive, Daniel suggests, for acquiring ever more prisoners through harsher sentencing laws.

Recording inmates’ stories required another kind of secrecy. California has a media ban which makes it illegal for reporters to conduct face to face interviews with prisoners that are not monitored by prison officials. Daniel’s solution was to go undercover. Posing as a legal advocate, she spent five years interviewing women at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, the largest female correctional facility in the United States.

Among the video portrait that emerge from the interviews, one—from Undoing Time—gives the phrase ‘draped in the flag’ a chilling twist. A sixty-one year old African-American woman sits half covered by one of the large American flags she spends much of her time sewing and lists the labels by which she has been systematically dismissed: “black girl,” “lesbian,” “drug addict,” “HIV positive.” As she talks, it becomes harder to connect the symbolic flag that’s so vigorously waved over political debates with the stiff, painstakingly stitched fabric that engulfs her. The labels too begin to seem insubstantial in the presence of this thoughtful, articulate person, sentenced to fifteen years for possession of 20 dollars worth of heroin, who works for a tiny fraction of America’s minimum wage.

It’s shocking when the woman first rips a star off the flag in her lap. Then a hopeful thought occurs. Perhaps, just as stitches can be undone, the tightly woven networks of abuse can begin to be dismantled.


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

Spotlight on UCIRA Artist Annie Loui: Blue Light

1 May

A dark opening in an overgrown hillside; the opportunity for a daring feat of discovery—these are near-irresistible lures in any century. In 2002 they proved fatal for Glenn and Nicholas Anderson, 18 and 23 year-old brothers who drowned while exploring an abandoned Orange County silver mine. Annie Loui, choreographer, director and UCI professor, moved to Silverado canyon not long afterward and learned about the accident, which occurred nearby, from neighbors. Eight years later Blue Light, Loui’s multimedia production inspired by the story, premiered at UCI Irvine’s Studio Theater.

Named for the mine where the accident took place, Blue Light turns a tragic but not infrequent statistic—nationwide, old mines had already claimed 11 lives that year –into an examination and evocation of the adventurous impulse. Loui’s production, designed with the help of Cornerstone Theater’s Greg Pacificar and UCI graduate student Adam Levine, is built around giant, high-definition projections of the Santa Ana mountains. They fill the stage and the invitation they hold out is visceral. Actors turned superheroes  leap joyously toward the looming boulders and steel themselves to face the unknown darkness. The script, written by novelist and UCI professor Michelle Latiolais, and based on interviews with family and friends of the brothers, portrays adolescents who are sensitive to the world around them, excited by their own potential, but still untested.

Loui wanted the images to be huge in order to convey the larger than life scale of the terrain she sees out her windows. She was drawn to the story, she says, “partially because it was part of the community I was moving into. But what I ended up realizing was also really attaching me to it was that I’m an adventurous person. I’ll head off into the mountains by myself. If I were their age I would have probably been going in right there with them. I think there’s a sense of exploring, and the limitless of life, and not really knowing where any boundaries are when you’re a teenager. It’s a certain youthful energy and a certain ability to take off into the unknown with absolutely no thought for the ramifications. “

Leaps into the unknown  are in some sense fundamental to Loui’s work.

Falling Girl (2008), a collaboration with Scott Snibbe, is an interactive animation of a girl falling gently from a skyscraper and the people she encounters in the building’s windows on her way down—a journey which transforms her from girl to old woman and includes the film’s viewers. In that piece, the point of contact between the girl and the animated spectators is virtual–-as it is between viewers and the adjacent screen which captures and incorporates their movements into the girl’s fall. In much of Loui’s work, though, the contact point is tactile.

As a dancer and teacher she uses the principles of Contact Improvisation, a now widely used dance practice first developed in the 1970s. Contact begins with a single point of touch and shared weight between partners and uses it as the fulcrum of a 360 degree sphere of improvised movement. In her 2009 book, The Physical Actor, Loui extends the practice to partners working with text in a traditional theatre setting and teaches it in UCI’s graduate acting program.

She explains: “In the way I teach Contact, it’s very much about the relationship between the two people, and the most important thing is the authenticity of the relationship. So every physical movement of energy and weight exchange has to be authentically followed through in real attentiveness to your partner.”

The next step is adding words. She says she usually starts with scenes like those in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ones with “really quick exchanges that happen to rhyme. You find that if you’re just speaking the language while you’re moving and the movement comes first, you start embodying a lot of the meaning of the text without intending to. You don’t try to act it out in any way, or act out a character. You start allowing the text to inform your movement.”

She finds the process is “very liberating for the actors. You can take it down to more realistic scenes and keep that same energy going. You might end up doing a Chekhov scene where you’re sitting in a parlor drinking tea, and you’re flipping people over your back, as you’re talking about when the doctor is coming and how the samovar is doing. If you’ve done this work, if you’ve just Contacted the scene, and then you take it down to realism, its much more charged, because the relationship is already physically established between the two people. So if somebody crosses their legs and looks at their watch, somebody else will turn their head and look out the window. There’s a really interesting reciprocity that starts to happen.”

In “Blue Light” she extended the practice even further: “The video was so enormous and overwhelming, I had people responding to the projection like a contact partner. There’s one section where the screen is showing somebody going up a gorge, and the actor is dealing with the screen, ducking and jumping as new things come up.”

In some ways that sense of untamed nature has been informing her work ever since Loui, raised in Saint Louis, relocated to Southern California from Boston in the early 1990s. “The Midwest where I grew up is agrarian,” she says, “and where I trained was in Europe where, as we know, it’s been settled for so many thousands of years that wilderness isn’t really an option. But here, particularly in California, I feel that wilderness is part of the manifest destiny model. You go West and there’s this ever-expansive horizon of possibility. And in some ways I have actually found this to be true.”

Another Day in Paradise,  which Loui created soon after her arrival, dramatized the war between the promoters of cookie-cutter suburban development—like Irvine Ranch’s Donald Bren—and the mythic California of open spaces and individual freedom. Both that piece and Blue Light, Louie explains, were in part attempts to come to terms with her own transcontinental leap into a new environment.

“I was in Boston enough time to feel the constraints.” she says.“ And I was married to a New Englander, so I was well ensconced in that whole aesthetic of New England as a territory as well as a cultural—well I won’t quite say Mecca, but as a long tradition.”

Orange County was very much another country. “I was absolutely horrified when I first moved here by the amount of development and the accepted artificiality of the landscape that was being superimposed on top of this wilderness. I think part of the way I’ve made peace with it is to begin to understand that some of what I thought was artificial is really California. Palm trees do grow right here. And part of it was to move up into a landscape that’s completely indigenous.”

California’s shifting mix of myth and reality was brought back to Loui during the research for Blue Light. Heard today, the name of the mine sounds romantic, suggesting the gleam of silver or the beckoning flicker of a will of the wisp.  Loui found otherwise. Cave-ins are a mine danger most people recognize, but with the last of the Silverado mine operations shuttered since the early 1950s, few area residents knew that a blue light was a traditional warning sign. It signaled that oxygen-sapping methane gas, often present in rock faults, had seeped into the shaft. The Anderson brothers were both strong swimmers, but rescuers found oxygen levels in the tunnels where they drowned to be fatally low.

Loui had the sad job of informing the boys’ mother that the mine’s danger had at some point been well known. At the same time she encountered the outrage of cave buffs who resented any forest service efforts to restrict mine entrance. These paradoxical pulls of risk and restraint—central to contemporary discussions of wilderness, and, it might be noted, to contact improvisation—are neatly caught in Michelle Latiolais’s script. Glenn Anderson speaks admiringly of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and its romantic protagonist. His friend thinks the boy was stupidly unprepared. Their English teacher suggests that Krakauer may invented some details—which “would not be an issue” if the book were fiction.

Blue Light’s use of real people and events was for Loui another venture into new territory. It was, she says, “like writing biography in a way. You want to stay as close to truth as you can, and honor everybody’s memory.” The boys’ family, she notes, was “outrageously supportive” and the sold–out run during the UCI theatre season brought out a lot of the Silverado community. “It ended up”, she says, “being a bit of a commemorative event.”

Still, she adds, “it’s an interesting line to walk.” Full of push and pull, or as Loui puts it: “There’s only a certain amount of license you can take. And, taking license is what makes things theatrically interesting.” What seems to be required is an ever-shifting balance.


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

Cauleen Smith: From Eclipse to Solar Flare

26 Apr


The boy in the cape appears out of a corner of the screen to run down the walkways of a public housing complex Another appears doing a loping walk-run on the grass. Once joined together, they’re no longer random oddballs. With instruments lifted and steps synchronized, they’ve become members of a spirited unit: The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band. The explosive jazz-funk piece the band is playing is “Where Pathways Meet,” a 1978 composition by Sun Ra, a former resident of the housing complex.

In the project formerly known as Eclipse—now morphing into several separately titled strands including the marching band appearances—filmmaker Cauleen Smith’s central concern is the Unidentified Flying Object that is cultural innovation. Specifically, black cultural innovation. Ultimately envisioned as the second of three film projects linked to historic hubs of African-American musical expression (New Orleans, Chicago, and Kansas City), Smith’s current work centers on jazz musician Sun Ra and the radical reshaping both he and his music underwent during the years 1945 to 1961 that he spent on Chicago’s South Side.

When Sun Ra traveled north from Alabama at the end of WWII he was thirty year old Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount, a jazz pianist and respected Birmingham band leader, He was also a conscientious objector who had spent time in both prison and conservation camps. By the time he died in 1993, he had been internationally celebrated (including a 1969 cover-of Rolling Stone) as a visionary composer and performer and an influential Afro-futurist.

Not only a pioneer of free jazz and electronic music, he was a showman whose Arkestra might contain two dozen musicians, singers, and dancers wearing anything from satin robes to beanies with lighted propellers on top. By the early 1950s he had also created an elaborate and enduring persona. By renaming himself after the Egyptian sun god and claiming to be a member of the Angel Race born on Saturn, he pulled questions of race out of confining stereotypes and into buoyant, imaginative space.

Tracing Sun Ra’s transformative Chicago years leads Smith to two streams of questions. One: What was it about that place and time that spurred Herman Blount to reinvent himself and his music. Two: How can similar artistic transformations take place today?

Next month at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Smith debuts a dual-screen projection inspired by her research in Chicago. Titled “A Seed is a Star,” it includes video portraits of the last living members of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, some of whom first played with him at Chicago’s Wonder Inn in 1960—gigs which saw the Arkestra’s first use of costume: capes and doublets acquired from a local opera company.

Over the past two years, Smith has produced flash mob touch-downs in other parts of the city, including Chinatown Square where the Rich South High School band, brilliantly uniformed in reds and blues, materializes before visibly intrigued onlookers to play Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place.“ This and other filmed appearances will be part of Smith’s installation at Chicago’s threewalls gallery opening in September 2012

Sun Ra, according to his biographer, said that his space-inspired costumes, began as a message, a sign to people “that there are other things outside their closed environment.” And, he stressed, other cultures. For Smith, the marching band appearances serve a similar purpose. Providing what she calls “fleeting ecstatic moments of visual and aural incongruence,” they are like otherworldly beings or inspiration itself, interrupting ordinary life and proposing a new patterns. What if the city were not just, as she writes, “grey and gritty,” but “awash” in sparkling brilliance. Not just a cluster of separate spheres, but an interdependent galaxy. Not just what we expect, but what we might imagine.



Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

UCIRA Spotlight on Shahrokh Yadegari: Scarlet Stone

18 Apr

photo by Jim Carmody

A dazzling image emerges from Scarlet Stone, UCSD composer Shahrokh Yadegari’s fusion of music, dance, poetry, and interactive electronics. A long haired young man stands still, arms at his sides, as he is being slowly wrapped from the feet up in sheets of scarlet silk. The cloth flows from a bolt held by a woman in filmy black who declaims sonorous poetic cadences as she circles and immobilizes the anguished-faced youth.

In the ancient Persian story being told in Scarlet Stone, the young man, Sohrab—danced by Yadegari’s collaborator, French-Iranian choreographer Shahrokh Moshkin-Ghalam—is dying from a wound inflicted by his father. But another tale is being spun as well. In Yadegari’s version—based on a poem by the 20th century Iranian writer Siavash Kasrai and performed by members of the contemporary Iranian diaspora—storytellers and their subjects are engaged in a continuous dance. A hero is wrapped in the fabric of one era only to be set free to illuminate another—an image brought alive by the buoyant unfurling of the silk as Moshkin-Ghalam, left alone on the stage, whirls and whirls.

Like stories and storytellers, politics and culture are the warp and weft of Scarlet Stone. The story of Sohrab and his father Rostam was first written in Shahnameh (Tale of Kings) by the poet Ferdowsi at the end of the ninth century. Muslims had successfully invaded the kingdom of Persia two centuries earlier, and Arabic had become the dominant language. In collecting and turning into verse the tales of fifty mythic and historic kings of Persia—an enterprise that took Ferdowsi more than thirty years—he succeeded not only in creating a national epic, but in preserving the Persian language for continuing generations.

In Ferdowsi’s telling, the hero-king Rostam is wooed and seduced by the daughter of a neighboring king. She intends that their child be a force to bring their peoples together, but events conspire to separate the lovers. In time her son grows into a great warrior and is sent to battle against Rostam. The father does not recognize his son, and Sohrab receives a fatal blow

Poet Siavash Kasrai was born in 1927, two years after the Pahlevi regime took power. A leftist, he welcomed the end of the shah’s rule in 1979 but later was driven to leave the country. Mohre-ye Sorkh (Scarlet Stone), was the last poem Kasrai wrote before dying in Vienna in 1996. In his version of the ancient story, Sohrab confronts the poet Ferdowsi, demanding to know why his murderer-father seems to be the hero of the tale and what meaning his own death has in the face of his and his mother’s hopes of peace and brotherhood.

For Yadegari, Kasrai’s  poem remains a pertinent commentary on present events. Writing about his own Scarlet Stone which has been in production since the 2009 uprising in Iran, he notes: “For many years, the only option for defining a structural basis for a social or political movement was either leaning towards the left or the right. We feel the current movements in Iran, where all sections of people have come together to voice their desire for peaceful reform and freedom, are a living example of what Kasrai has presented in this work.”

One striking portrayal of changes that have already come: The roles of Ferdowsi and that of a modern storyteller in Yadegari’s production are both played by a woman, Fatemeh Habibizad (a.k.a. Gordafarid). Habibizad is recognized as modern Iran’s first female Naqqal, the name given to the professional storytellers who have, in the centuries following Ferdowsi’s writing of Shahnameh, recited its tales to rapt audiences in king’s courts and village coffeehouses—the latter, especially, a traditional male preserve.

When Habibizad as Ferdowsi in Scarlet Stone tells Sohrab that he is both responsible for his own fate and a hero to others, a story begun with the ancient oral traditions that were Ferdowsi’s sources, and shaped for the needs of fresh audiences by generations of Naqqali and poets, spirals up and outward like the scarlet silk on the performance stage. An unbroken line in a new figure.


Ariel Swartley
San Pedro, CA

Adam Tinkle: The Universal Language Orchestra of Spring Valley CA

3 Apr

Music may be a universal language, but the music made by the Universal Language Orchestra of Spring Valley CA is deliberately designed to emerge from the specifics of time and place. Among those specifics—the contemporary existence of cheap electronics; San Diego County’s network of recreation centers; and the region’s long tradition of visionary eccentrics.

If the orchestra has a spiritual godfather it’s probably Harry Partch, the maverick American composer, instrument designer, lover of found language, and student of universal myth, who spent the last decade of his life in and around San Diego. ULO creators—UCSD Music Department graduate student Adam Tinkle along with Bonnie Whiting Smith, Joe Marigilio, and others—believe like Partch, that instruments exist to serve musicians and not the other way around.

Orchestra players may or may not have musical experience. The 8 to 12 year olds who attend once-a-week ULO classes in the Spring Valley Community Center, begin not with traditional scales but by customizing their personal instruments. One that Tinkle is especially proud of is an electro-acoustic kalimba, which, he claims, “to our knowledge, bests all extant designs for a portable, amplifiable, user-customizable, and inexpensive musical instrument.”

The kalimba’s parts cost less than ten dollars, and the wiry keys are made from straightened hairpins (a green enterprise some girls particularly appreciated: providing new life for outmoded fashion accessories.) An introductory session is spent adjusting the length of the wires with a teacher’s help to create a range of pitches the student chooses. The next step: using music to tell a story.

The sound of rain is particularly prized in dry San Diego, and it’s the dominant note in the ULO opera students and teachers created last fall from a resonant piece of local history. A mile and a half south of the Center’s now suburban location the Sweetwater Reservoir was built in the 1880s as a hedge against the area’s frequent droughts. In early 1916 tradition reversed. Rainfall was so heavy that the Sweetwater dam failed, and countywide flooding washed away miles of railroad track and whole communities. Ironically, a month earlier the city of San Diego had hired local rainmaker Charley Hatfield whose experiments with chemical evaporations had produced results and testimonials from Texas to Tujunga. But the city, fearing lawsuits after the flood, refused to pay Hatfield, claiming the rains either weren’t his doing or weren’t covered by his contract.

For storm effects ULO players relied on recycled vegetable cans filled with rice or dried beans, sections of steel conduit of assorted lengths mounted on wood blocks—referred to as  metallophones—and plastic tubing restyled as didgeridoos. The performance, recorded at UCSD studios in December, was spirited and also underscored the project’s point: creativity like rain arises from a number of factors working in concert.

New sound-makers, too, may arrive at any moment. The ULO practicum offered at UCSD this spring focuses on alternative musical instrument design. In addition to touring a banjo factory and exploring signal processing, its students will draft their own innovative instruments as well as help Spring Valley children build their orchestra parts.

But the underlying purpose of ULO is less DIY than what Whiting Smith described as “a system in which the creativity and being of each individual is valued and collaboration between those individuals is essential.” Coming again this June under ULO’s aegis, is the Spring Valley Center’s Intergenerational jazz camp—a one week intensive led by saxophonist Tinkle. The faculty includes an undergraduate and a graduate student, a middle school bandleader, a retired teacher, and a former New Orleans musician. If a flood of never-before-heard-sounds inundates the area—so much the better.


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

SOTA: Report Back: Alternative Pedagogies and Uses of the University

29 Mar

SOTA: Report Back: Alternative Pedagogies  and Uses of the University

UCSD’s Sixth College Conference

Education in Action: Mobilizing the Next Generation for Social Reform

January 26, 2012

by Kim Yasuda (UCIRA Co-Director)

A day-long event of concurrent panels hosted by UCSD’s Sixth College proposed numerous case studies in undergraduate and graduate education emerging out of the UCSD campus.  Cross-cutting “experiential learning’ projects from the arts, design, planning, education, media studies, STEM, social sciences and business contributed to thought sessions under an array of thematic frames, such as Public Dialogue, Digital Literacy, Global Education as well as Student Development, Business Opportunity and Campus-Community Collaboration.  Regardless of discipline, the integral role of the arts featured prominently throughout the presentations.

The conference was an outgrowth of the Sixth College Practicum (( and its collaboration with campus and community partners. With close to 1,000 students engaged yearly, Sixth College Practicum promotes “civic engagement and global consciousness, satisfying general education requirements through alternative, innovative projects”.

Particularly striking and atypical of most academic conferences was the degree to which the student agency was valued as a critical part of the discourse.  Student-lead activism guides the work of Sixth College community and this was evident in the mixed panel sessions in which students, faculty, administrators and community members presented as co-investigators in research, repurposing the academic space as we know it and desperately need to rethink it.

Student presence was a primary goal for lead conference organizers, Sixth College Acting Provost and Professor of Mathematics, James Lin, Practicum Director and Diane Forbes , Director of Academic Programs, Liz Losh and Associate Director, Eliza Slavet.

The youngest of UCSD’s six college divisions, Sixth College was established in 2001 as a “21st century pedagogy” and alternative to “disciplined studies of the previous millennium”. Sixth College curriculum was designed to arm students with a distinctive skill-set in “self knowledge, technical know-how, interpersonal skills and cultural awareness” to become “effective global citizens who engage creatively and ethically with the complex issues facing the world”.

Experiential learning strategies emerging from Sixth College address the pressing need for larger institutional change on the part of the university to invest its intellectual capital beyond campus borders. Whether local or global, conceptions of classroom learning took place within vastly expanded fields, with students actively engaged in the broad and complex arena of public culture. Projects highlight student-centered research that confront emerging questions around the efficacy of current learning models in higher education, especially at a large public research university, pressed to educate its increasing and diverse California population.

Sixth College has undertaken its own ‘repurposing’ of UCSD’s existing academic structures and resources into more relevant instructional strategies. Through the College’s unique co-curricular programs, undergraduate students are encouraged to think nimbly across disciplines, while becoming “more engaged innovators within an ever-expanding global arena”.  For example, to address campus GE requirements, Sixth College Practicum courses have been combined under the CAT: Culture, Art+Technology program ( CAT curriculum fulfills the basic writing requirement for graduation from UCSD, while providing a more relevant foundation for students to gain “an understanding of society in an integrated, interdisciplinary way”. Discussion sections of each course in the CAT program are led by graduate students from many different departments to encourage interdisciplinary discussion. Faculty are also recruited to CAT from across the disciplinary spectrum (anthropology, communication, history, literature, music, philosophy, sociology, visual arts, etc.).

As part of its expanded mission, the CAT learning model tackles research questions such as “In the 21stCentury, how do we shape the world and how does it shape us? What are the ethical questions raised by designed objects, environments and interactions? How do cultures manage change? How far back in time should we look? What forms of production and consumption do we take for granted in contemporary life? How do new solutions sometimes create new problems?”  These lines of inquiry shape CAT curriculum, programs and activities.

ARTiffact Gallery, housed in the public spaces in and around the offices of Academic programs at Sixth College, showcases works conceptually related to the courses in the CAT program.  Currently on exhibition this winter is Mapping Occupations, “an exhibition that explores our preoccupations with space through the practices of mapping, diagramming, modeling and speculating. The exhibit, curated by Associate Director, Eliza Slavet, features the work of UCSD arts faculty, Teddy Cruz, cog-nate Collective, Matthew Hebert, High Tech Media Arts program, David Kim, Stephanie Lie, The Periscope Project, Hermione Spriggs and Patricia Stone

With the support of a second UCIRA art-science planning grant for its curricular launch in the CAT program next year, “Something from Nothing: Audacious Speculations in Art, Science and Entrepreneurialism” CAT 3is a teaching-research initiative to explore “connections, overlaps and productive tensions” between conceptual/activist art, scientific research and business.

CAT program director, Liz Losh, recently appointed to UCIRA’s system wide advisory board, came to UCSD in 2010 to assume her interdisciplinary appointment as faculty and director of academic programs for Sixth College.  Teaching in 3 departments (Literature, Visual Arts, and Communications), Losh’s own research investigates multiple vectors across digital humanities, public culture, offering theoretical reflection on the role of democracy and new media.  Losh’s commitment to alternative pedagogies and creative practice translates effectively between her roles as researcher, program administrator and faculty member.

A interview with Liz Losh will be featured in an upcoming post of UCIRA’s SOTA blogpost.

UCIRA Artist Spotlight on Holley Moyes: Raising the Sky in 2012

7 Mar

What does it mean to discover the past? For an archaeologist like Holley Moyes, the experience includes dirt, ambiguous fragments, and the tedium of sorting and cataloging. But there is also the imaginative moment, the sudden seeing of a distant culture come alive in a particular space and time. For Moyes, associate professor of anthropology at UC Merced, both kinds of discovery are essential.

The two year interdisciplinary project, Raising the Sky in 2012, encourages students as well as residents of the University’s surrounding Central Valley community to encounter the ancient Maya, Moyes’s specialty, via multiple paths—literary, visual, scholarly and popular. Moyes draws on her own work excavating caves in Belize, on the array of artifacts uncovered in Mesoamerican jungles—pottery, sculpture, hieroglyphic inscriptions—on historical accounts from the Spanish conquest, and on the studies of modern ethnographers. She’s also, she says “been reminding students that the Maya aren’t dead. They’re still alive and well and there’s millions of them. There are actually a lot who live right in San Francisco.”

At the center of the project is the Popol Vuh, the most extensive example of pre-Columbian literature yet discovered. Like the bible and other ancient epics it blends history with myth, opening with an account of the world’s creation, “out of a calm sea and a great expanse of sky.” Once an acceptable version of man is created—the forefathers make several attempts using mud, wood, and corn—the narrative turns to tales of the Hero Twins (there are, in fact, two sets) and their battles with the lords of the underworld. The final section relates the history of a particular people, the Quiché of the Guatemala highlands—their migrations, rituals, and the genealogies of their rulers.

Besides teaching the work in her anthropology classes on the Maya, Moyes has used it in an interdisciplinary course, “Writing Narrative for Archaeology,” and lectured on it in both literature and studio art classes. In a nice piece of synergy, Popol Vuh was chosen this year as the basic text for the Core I class required of all freshmen. Moyes is also developing an original script in collaboration with Gerardo Aldana, a Maya scholar at  UC Santa Barbara, that’s based on one of the Popol Vuh characters—a woman.

Epics may be the original science fiction, envisioning in great detail what for readers in another culture amounts to an alternate reality. The problem for Moyes is all the unscientific, supposedly Mayan realities that are propounded by Hollywood film makers, New Age mystics and historical novelists who keep “bringing in aliens” rather than doing research. In her classes, she says. “I try to debunk some of their ideas. I talk to them a little bit about 2012 and what it really is, and how it’s not going to be the end of the world like the movie says.”

Rather than calling the Maya prophets, she suggests, why not see them as the great astronomers they demonstrably were: “They knew that Venus was the morning star and the evening star, which is something the Greeks didn’t figure out for a really long time. They had a more accurate calendar than the Spanish did when they came to conquer them.”

The survival of the Popol Vuh is also a dramatic story. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the Maya had been using a hieroglyphic script to keep written records in bark-paper books. Church fathers, intent on converting the population to Christianity, burned all the manuscripts they could find and persecuted those known to be scribes. In his introduction to Popol Vuh, Allen Christenson, the translator of the edition that Moyes chose for her classes, explains that a group of Quiché nobles transcribed the epic into Latin letters soon after their lands fell to the Spanish, then kept the text hidden for two centuries. In the 1700s a sympathetic priest, Francisco Ximénez, was allowed to make a copy—the only one now known to survive.

Christenson has been a frequent visitor to the Merced campus. Moyes’ students, tempted to think of the Quiché as vanished people like the Trojans, instead hear Christenson’s stories of living among them, What had largely vanished, he reports, was the idea that their language could be written. Working with elders who burned copal over a Xerox copy of the Popol Vuh to mark the seriousness of the undertaking, Christenson was able to use the Quiché text discovered by Ximénez as the basis of his new translation.

Written in the present tense, the epic seems almost cinematic, and students, Moyes says, respond to the work strongly. The Hero Twins are appealing action characters, relying on cleverness when they are overmatched. More contemporary still, they are ball players. Their game—versions are still played among the Maya and ancient ball courts have been excavated—features a solid rubber ball. Today Moyes says, it’s usually played something like volleyball. In the past, she says “based on what we can see in the iconography, they might have used an implement to hit the ball.”

At the beginning of March, a multidisciplinary symposium on the Popol Vuh kicked off with a public lecture at downtown Merced‘s Multicultural Arts Center  The lecturer was Michael Coe, professor of anthropology emeritus at Yale, whose best-selling works on pre-Columbian-history include the academic detective story, Breaking the Maya Code. Also  opening at the Center was of a show of student art work based on Mayan iconography.

Included along with two and three dimensional works from Tonya Lopez-Craig’s classes were videos from Popol Vuh in Flatlandia –a project of Cyber Heritage students. In one, two avatars, a female herbalist and a younger woman, converse in a torch-lit Mayan garden among seemingly indigenous plants. Topics covered in the student-written dialogue include marriage, mothers; men, and the political pressures on women.

Cyber Heritage classes, Moyes says “focus on the relationship between cultural heritage and technology, in particular social media and virtual worlds.”  Using Flatlandia, an independent Open Simulator platform, the students first created a virtual reconstruction –complete with archaeologically accurate temples, palaces and ball courts–of the ancient Maya capital of Tikal, Guatemala. The classes then read the first act of Moyes’ script based on the Popol Vuh, and created their own versions with dialogue.

“We’re hoping to create some writers who want to write historic fiction,” Moyes says “What I’ve tried to do with my classes is calibrate my students’ judgment about what’s good and what’s kind of cheesy.” She tells the “Writing Narrative for Archaeology,” students: “You don’t need aliens to make it interesting. These people are fascinating in their own right.” But they do need to be able to cite sources for their ideas.

Moyes made her own imaginative connection with ancient history after a decade in New York acting with a socially conscious theatre group. When the group shut down at the end of the 1980s, a circuitous path led her through dental hygiene school (her father was a dentist; and the degree meant she could get part time work that paid  “a lot better” than waitressing) and on to anthropology, where they were delighted to have her study teeth. A vacation job on a survey in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness sparked her interest in archaeology and having transferred to that department, her choice of a Belize cave excavation as the site of her required Field School semester completed a circle. Caves had been a passion since childhood, but they also, as she is still discovering, served the Maya as a kind of theatre.

“Caves among the Maya are always ritual spaces,“ Moyes explains. She has a book coming out in the fall, Sacred Darkness– about the ritual use of caves from a cross cultural perspective. “People live in rock shelters,” she finds, “they’ll live in the mouth of the cave, but people don’t live in the dark zones.”

In the cave she’s now working on in Belize, “the entrance is bigger than a cathedral, and its completely modified with architecture—platforms and stairs. It’s a giant performance space. So I’ve started to really think about Maya performance. And think how to reconstruct that from a scientific basis.”

Archaeology she thinks “moved away from understanding what people might have felt or any kind of phenomenology in the 70s and 80s.” Instead it took a more consciously scientific and materialist approach, and “talked a lot about what people were eating,” Things now are moving in the other direction, she says, to bring people back into archaeology.

“I think this is something that archaeologists really want to do,” Moyes says. “We can answer a lot of questions about the past. But they may not be what people really want to know. We have the material record, but ultimately, as humans, we want to know what it was like to be human in the past.”


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

10 Proposals for Life After Art School

5 Mar

I was just on a panel with some of my fellow MFA students here at the University of Illinois at Chicago about life after undergraduate study in the arts. I was writing up some notes yesterday to prepare and then it turned into this manifesto of sorts. The benefit of the manifesto is it kept me from rambling as much as I would’ve otherwise (because all the rambling was put onto paper and turned into this handout). I should say in advance that it is a bit more focused on having an “art career” than having a good life and so some other time I will have to write-up those proposals and see where they correspond or conflict with these. So if you are curious, have a look:

10 Proposals for Life After your BFA: These are not rules, they are proposals and advice based on my personal experience

  1. Do not be afraid to know how things work. This applies to research in general or to your life and career. If you seriously want to be a famous rapper – learn how people become famous rappers and what systems they have to navigate to do so. Learn it all, learn about the PR agencies, the magazines, the unpaid interns, the talent scouts, the corruption, the street teams, the fans, and especially about the contracts. If you understand how stuff works then it is easier to make an informed decision about if you really want to participate in that system or not. This will also help you not talk about stuff you don’t know.

  1. Try not to go to graduate school until you have done (think about a minimum of 5 years) of other stuff. Do something impressive. Fail at something ambitious. This will help ensure you have questions that really need to be addressed in grad school. Actually learn how stuff works (see #1). Try not to teach adults before you are 30 (unless you are in a co-learning environment). College students are getting older and you want to be sure you actually have enough life experience to share with them. Surely there is something else you can do for money up until that point.

  1. Find or create a community that gives you support, helps you continue to develop as a person and artist, and that is critical. Support other people because there is much to be gained from being a good audience, the kind of audience you would want to have for your work. It is a great learning experience to be intimately aware of how other people work and even collaborate with them. And the critical thing is important to…if you just hang out with people think everything is great then you will not learn anything from each other. This will help you avoid shelling out more money to go to grad school, because these are the things most people go back to school for (community and critical dialogue).. Then if you end up going to school, you will have a really good reason to do so.

  1. Sincerely and seriously participate in “conversations” or fields outside of your job and outside of art. While some people can be fulfilled by solving artistic problems with art their entire lives, many more people get inspiration by being deeply aware of other aspects of the world around them (and their art). The sincere part matters – people universally hate tourists and fakers. Seriously consider getting a graduate degree in another field. This will also help you not talk about stuff you don’t know.

  1. Don’t let people scam you into thinking that their little project is the most important thing in the world. These people are like parasites and they prey on smart people who just got BFA degrees. They make you think that life will be better one day if you “get exposure” or “make connections.” Think long and hard about what you actually want to be doing. Remember suggestion #1. Participate in things you want to participate in (especially if they are unpaid volunteer work). Once people start paying you to do stuff, then you have to do the internal negotiation about what you will and will not do for filthy cash money. Also, don’t be afraid to get contracts if you are working with large sums of money (whatever that means to you).

  1. Consider what forms of labor and administration are necessary to do different kinds of projects. Don’t get into running a gallery or a collaborative art group or whatever without thinking about if you want to and how you want to raise money and make decisions in a group. Just like you shouldn’t make videos if you dont like editing them or make graffiti if you aren’t ok with getting arrested.

  1. Get internships or crap jobs that will give you resources or inspiration. Everyone does stupid stuff for money, but maybe you can be a little strategic about what stupid stuff you do.

  1. Do not be afraid to talk honestly about your desire for work and/or financial situation. There is a tendency in art communities and when there is a power imbalance (artist talking to curator; unemployed teacher talking to employed teacher). But there is a recession going on and it needs to be understood that some people have jobs and others do not. If you need a job and someone can give you one, politely say, “You know that sometimes I teach art and I would be happy to work with you if there was ever an opening.” That way you will not regret it as a missed opportunity. Just don’t be tacky. After all, most people are in the same boat these days.

  1. Organize your stuff, answer emails, and don’t be afraid of spreadsheets. Being a slacker on communication is not charming. Find a Getting Things Done system. Find a balance between self-promoting and self-marginalization. Figure out what that means to you. People hate people who talk about themselves all the time but people don’t even hate people who self-marginalize because they don’t even know who they are.

  1. Self-Care. Do not neglect your body/mind/soul needs. There is more to life than work and it is important to have boundaries. Smart phones and smart-phone-culture can make you feel like you do not know when you are “on” or “off.” For instance, the weekend is something that people died so we could have (and I mean organized workers died). So consider relaxing on the weekend or at least one day a week.

(Daniel Tucker, 2/20/12)

UCIRA Artist Spotlight on Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly: Work and Play

27 Feb

UCLA artists and Moving Theater founders Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly describe Work and Play: How the Art World Performs as a hybrid—part scholarly convention, part performance art festival. Their three-day event, scheduled to take place this fall at the Hammer Museum, will summon a constellation of practitioners involved in contemporary performance: artists, writers, curators and students. (In the Moving Theatre, the duo function as a little bit of each.) This constellation’s purpose: to tackle from multiple perspectives what Gerard and Kelly call “the requisite issues” of doing, showing and writing about a genre which is itself a hybrid.

Findings from the sessions are destined for a special edition of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, (MIT Press). Meanwhile, the festive part of the program will feature pubic performances of works by participants and screenings of influential films from the last five decades. Among them: Andy Warhol’s Paul Swan, in which the eighty year old actor/ dancer /painter Swan, once called the most beautiful man in the world, spends much of the time off camera, grumping and bumping as he hunts for the clothes he needs to perform in. After a three days spent scanning in one way or another, the distances between the so-called private and performing self, a number of boundaries, including those between work and play, may begin to blur.

While Gerard and Kelley are producing a hyphenate, their subtitle invites another more familiar kind of double-take. Reframed as a question—how does the art world perform? –the phrase points to a couple of different doors containing options only a little less opposed than marriageable ladies and razor-toothed tigers.

On one hand, the genre evoked by the term performance art—having evolved over the past half century on the cultural  fringes and in donated basements—has now accumulated a substantial enough history to attract the embrace of major museums. As an example, Gerard and Kelly cite the four decade retrospective of Marina Abramovic’s work The Artist is Present at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010.

The wider interest fostered by such shows is welcome. Pieces may get commissioned as well as remembered. One live performance that Work and Play expects to present is Andrea Fraser’s Men on the Line, created for Southern California’s 2011-12 Pacific Standard Time exhibition.

Basing the work on transcriptions of  a 1972 radio broadcast, Fraser, a professor of new genres in UCLA’s department of Art, takes on the voices of four men as they discuss the then-nascent Women’s movement and how they define themselves as supporters and feminists. Ideas of gender and role—social, historical, assigned or chosen—crisscross in Fraser’s delivery. So do easy assumptions about social issues like equality and difference—now as then, a central focus of performance theory and practice.

Another central tenet of performance, however, is that it’s live—essentially ephemeral and sometimes challenging—while museums are geared to housing material objects and enshrining certain modes of decorum.  In one response, to be presented at Work and Play, participant Boris Charmatz has created an objectless and impermanent museum, Musée de la Danse, in which aspects of living performers like exhalations and stance become the exhibition.

For some, though, the question is should the ephemeral be preserved? Another film to be presented is Babette Mangolte’s acclaimed Watermotor, a single four minute take of Trisha Brown’s high speed 1978 solo of the same name which she pairs with a second take shot in slow motion. Considering her film 25 years later, Margolte wrote,” I now think that for a dancer to commit to eternity the way you moved on a particular day is risky.”

Work and Play participant Trajal Harrell frames the question differently. His Antigone Jr swirls together classical Greek drama, the Harlem Vogue scene and the performance theories pursued in the early 1960s at Greenwich Village’s Judson Church. Ephemera, he suggests, is another word for the disappearing acts performed by cultural values.

For all the mainstream attention newly devoted to performance, Gerard and Kelly  note, UC’s slashed budgets have meant that the funding available for presenting such works in the university–once a major source of  the genre’s audience—has greatly diminished. Along with examining the field, Work and Play proposes–for three days anyway—to pick up the pieces.


Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

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