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Joe Dumit: Expressing the CAVES

30 Nov

What’s one difference between artists and scientists? Artists don’t sit still. This is not the question Joe Dumit set out to answer when he proposed bringing a group of dancers, sculptors, writers, and others to explore the virtual reality environment of UC Davis’s Keck CAVES. But, Dumit—whose own research focuses on the anthropology of science, technology, medicine, and media—says the CAVES’ scientists “were continually struck by how much the artists physically moved within the CAVE environment, how much of their bodies were in motion, in contrast to how little they (the scientists) tend to move while doing their research.” The artists, it seems, were used to doing physical work in imagined spaces.

Expressing the Caves, co-designed by Dumit, sculptor Robin Hill and geologist Dawn Sumner, was originally planned as a daylong session for 18 artists and computer scientists to brainstorm new ideas, but thanks to the exigencies of scheduling, it morphed into an ongoing series of visits by individuals or small groups. Whatever was lost in general conversation, was made up for, Dumit says, by the chance to focus on specific projects. The artists, needless to say, loved having more time at the controls.

Data in motion, according to Dumit, was what the artists were most intrigued with, and it’s an experience the CAVES are uniquely positioned to deliver. Initially a collaboration between earth and computer scientists, the CAVE—3 walls and a floor equipped with stereoscopic displays and various tracking devices—has allowed researchers to seemingly fly around, through, and under a Laguna Beach landslide, and examine a 100 year history of California’s seismic activity from a vantage point close to the center of the earth. Informative yes, but also visually stunning. Immersive worlds, wildly intersecting planes, data points colored a pleasingly grassy green: Artists have already recognized the possibilities.

According to UCDavis professor of sculpture Robin Hill, the CAVES are  almost a genre unto themselves. “I could not help but think of it as a performance space of sorts, as the authentic image experience takes place there and no where else,” she says. “No forms of documentation do it justice, as one’s perception/understanding is completely dependent on the technology.”

What sort of art is now emerging from the CAVES? Semi-solid might be one description. Dancers doing contact improvisation maintain balance by sharing weight. What happens when the dancers are miles apart and represented by three-dimensional avatars moving at a slight time delay? Using Remote Collaboration techniques pioneered by Oliver Kreylos—one of the architects of the Keck CAVES’ visualization software—and based on hacked game technology (Microsoft Kinects), a group of visiting dancers and CAVE scientists have been exploring the idea of weightless weight and the sensory requirements of silent communication.

Perhaps because it allows data to be viewed from so many angles simultaneously, the CAVE seems to inspire a similar mashup of disciplines and approaches. Hill brought one of the images of snowflakes she’s been exploring with mathematician Janko Gravner to the CAVE where she viewed it as an object that one might fly through. Having seen the inside of the flake, she is now working on translating that image for a 3D printer to render in sculptural form.

For a virtual installation possibly titled Take Me To Your Dream, San Francisco writer/artist Meredith Tromble has compiled “ a vortex”  of dream elements from the biographies of computer scientists, geologists, and mathematicians which participants will choose and arrange in virtual environments, “subject,” says Dumit, “to a dream-appropriate degree of chance and surprise.” Once home from Antarctica, Tromble’s collaborator, UC geologist Dawn Sumner will be creating the vortex and programming it to replace text with images.

And what have the scientists come away with? The artists’ propensity for movement created programming challenges, Dumit admits, but also generated new gestures, commands, and playback features. Dumit’s own project—fitting for the organizer of all this collaborative inquiry—is a study of “research presence” among CAVE users. It was inspired, he says by the vocabulary used during the brainstorming sessions. It’s one thing to be comfortable moving in imaginary space; another to find words to describe the where there.

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Anastasia Hill: Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism

8 Nov

Arguably, a psychonaut is anyone who’s ever experienced REM sleep—or more particularly, anyone who’s tried to pinpoint the coordinates of a city they’ve only visited in dreams. The term psychonaut, or mind-sailor, seems to have been first used–-admiringly—in a 1970 essay by Ernst Jünger on drugs and inebriation. Efforts to categorize and codify routes to trance states, however, date to early Buddhist and Hindu texts and possibly to the walls of pre-historic caves. They encompass philosophical investigations of Greek drama and laboratory attempts to discover why—physiologically speaking—Jimi Hendrix might have seen a purple haze and not an olive green one.

The course readings for Anastasia Yumeko Hill’s Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism (UCSB, Winter 2011) for the most part span only the 19th  through 21st centuries —an exception is Euripides’ Bacchae. But they cover the exploration of deliberately altered consciousness from a number of compass points: art, philosophy, chemistry, psychoanalysis, cybernetics, anthropology, spirituality, and media studies. To name some. Among the syllabus authors: sociologist/critic Walter Benjamin, dolphin researcher John C Lilly, painter and media artist Teresa Wennberg, and Zen Buddhist abbot Joan Halifax.

The kind of paradox encountered when the mind tries to study itself was elegantly stated by Benjamin in his 1929 essay, Surrealism (one of the course readings) “The most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance.”  Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism attempted both—pairing class discussion of “Trance and Form,” “Intoxication and Surrealism” and “Psychotechnology” with field trips to a variety of immersive experiences including a ritual sweat in a traditional sweat lodge and an acoustic sound bath in the Integraton, a geo-magnetically enhanced wooden dome built on the edge of the Mojave desert by aircraft mechanic turned ufologist George Van Tassel.

Hill’s survey of Psychonautic literature begins with psychedelic pioneers Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzger who faced a paradox similar to those Benjamin described when trying to program an LSD experience. A subject might have difficulty remembering an intention, or balk when reminded by the bodiless head of Ishtar. Altered realities demand altered language: Leary and his colleagues found it in Tibetan Book of the Dead whose specialized vocabulary reinforced the idea of trip as initiation. Hill pairs them with contemporary writers–Technosis author and Wired contributor Erik Davis (“Spiritual Cyborg”) and UCSD new media theorist, Lev Manovich—who look to digital paradigms to suggest broader questions of aesthetics, perception, and social reality.

Fittingly the course finale was an outdoor festival in Isla Vista—attended, Hill says, by about 200 people. The 19 students, whose backgrounds included film and media, art, philosophy, and environmental studies, presented group projects oriented around themes covered during the semester: Dionysia, 19th century Mesmerism, Surrealism, Psychedelia, and Techno-Spiritualism. The idea, Hill says, was to “give a sense of how we experience and construct meaning around culturally and historically specific variations” of altered consciousness.

Drawing on writing by Edgar Allen Poe and working  with a student outside the course who practices hypnotism, the Mesmer group “reproduced Mesmer’s salon wherein ‘patients’ could receive treatment from a hypnotist accompanied by two of the students dressed in 19th century garb. They also created an oversized see-saw with a large mirror erected in the center, blocking each see-sawer’s view of the other and creating a very disorienting spacial experience.”

The festival also had a guest star, artist Gary Hill.  In a workshop with students before the event he showed a piece of his concurrent NYC exhibition of surf, death, tropes & tableaux: The Psychedelic Gedankenexperiment—an installation of sculpture, painting and manipulated video, accompanied by mediated viewing devices. Gary Hill, a pioneer of new media art and “electronic linguistics” is also Anastasia’s father. As a girl she appeared in some of his works. In a time-honored generational reversal– though one that almost always involves some alteration of consciousness—he now appeared in hers. At the festival he performed sound and voice improvisations to student videos and invited visitors to experiment with handheld wands that transform the user’s gestures into a remotely synthesized music.

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Catherine Liu: Learning From Irvine

2 Nov

In 1972 “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” was filmed at UC Irvine—an apt choice not only because William Pereira, chief architect of  newly-built campus-on-a-hill, was a sometime Hollywood art director. To many, the movie’s scenes of shaggy but kindly-eyed slave-apes toiling in a landscape of stark modernist monoliths encapsulated a popular view of the campus and its surrounding community. Irvine was synonymous with sterile corporate planning, and both the university architecture and the Irvine corporation’s policies were seen as hostile to freedom and creativity along with unkempt appearances.

According to Catherine Liu, UCI professor of Film & Media Studies, that view has not changed much. “Usually people denigrate the plannedness of this community,” she says. “I find it visually not very stimulating, and it’s also kind of awful the way the Irvine company controls things. But you have to keep in mind that there’s a definite utopian aspiration—for green spaces, for public spaces. There’s a lot more park space and natural landscape here than in, say, Newport Beach And the vision that we have of homogeneity is really wrong. It’s become one of the most diverse small cities in America—because of the changing immigrant population.”

1972 was also the year that architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour first published Learning from Las Vegas, the book that inspired Liu’s and Cole Aker’s project, Learning from Irvine. Like the book’s authors, who carefully examined that most maligned and ubiquitous Western landscape, the roadside commercial strip—and suspended the usual judgments about visual clutter and vulgar ornamentation in order to understand how and why these features functioned—Liu’s ongoing  project takes a closer look at the supposedly bland or creepily authoritarian landscapes of suburban Orange County.

“Certain things shape the way Irvine looks,” Liu says. “The demise of the city and the rise of suburbia has often been deplored as the demise of the intellectual and the rise of the organization man. But if you actually look at the 50s and 60s—at the popular discourse as well as the academic discourse–there’s a lot of fear about conformity. Irvine is usually seen as a space designed for the white-collar worker -conformist, but I’m really interested in how and why there’s this incredibly robust support for a public university at this site, during the same period.”

Learning from Irvine grew out of Liu’s own interdisciplinary interests. She names post-1945 American intellectual history, the history of built environments, corporate modernism, visual studies. “And institutional history—that has been the basis of a lot of my work for the past 5 years, including the more political work I’ve done about defending public and higher education.” There was a time, she says  “when the public university actually stood on the side of the people of California, and it seems as if that has been sundered. I’m interested to see if we can read some of these histories against the grain.”

Among the things Liu is looking at in examining the Irvine Master Plan, and its early architects, Pereira and David Neuman, are “the ways in which we erase local histories” Part of her inspiration, she says comes from Joan Didion’s Where I Was From,  particularly  the essays about de-industrialization in Orange County, and California’s inability to think about itself as a place with a history.

For its first event, in April 2010, Learning from Irvine brought Neuman, now campus architect at University of Virginia back to Orange County for a talk titled “Learning from Denise, Bob, and Bill: A UCI Lesson.” Neuman, who was UCI’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Planning in the 1980s, commissioned buildings by well known innovators including Venturi (the Bob of his lecture) and Frank Gehry.

“These architecture-driven projects were deeply related to William Pereira’s buildings,” Liu says. “Neuman and Pereira both felt that architecture is meant to serve but at the same time Neuman was willing to give these young architects a chance to design something that would be challenging.”

One way he was able to relate the buildings—and perhaps cushion the challenge–was with green space. “Neuman,” Liu says, “spent probably a lot of his budget on landscaping and creating a context for his buildings.“ Nonetheless, the Gehry building he commissioned is a prime example of erased history. It was torn down in 2007, not quite two decades after it was built.

UCI has had only three chief architects in its fifty years, but that’s been ample time for styles and approaches—corporate modernism,  post-modernism, contextualism—to fall in and out of repute. Looking back at the building of the campus, Liu sees connections that haven’t always been recognized. Neuman and Pereira, she says, “defined a sense of the active, participatory white collar worker, someone who’s trying to forge aesthetically challenging, architecturally challenging spaces in this public university. That architectural vision—maybe it shapes a sense of visual conformity, but it also shapes challenges to and anxieties about visual conformity and large organizations. That’s something my students and I are really interested in”

Irvine’s unexpected challenges to visual conformity are also the subject of an exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum this fall: Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California 1964-1971. For artists including Robert Irwin, Craig Kaufman, and Frank Stella, the campus frequently dismissed as a corporate monolith served instead as a blank canvas. Located, Eden-like, far from the art world’s hubs—and blessed with California light and clothing-optional weather–it offered an ideal experimental climate. In their work of the period, materials, surface, line and political engagement took unexpected and influential directions.

Liu sees the exhibit tying in with Learning from Irvine’s investigation of what actually happened on campus in its earliest days. Partnering with the museum, the project will present films in the Humanities Gateway building’s McCormick screening. room by two of the exhibit’s artists: Richard Newton—whose performances and installations create luminous landscapes from stale bread or motel bathrooms–and Gary Beydler who turned familiar L.A. icons –freeways, the Venice pier—into lingering mysteries.  “The campus is not very accessible or open to outsiders,” Liu says, “so this seemed like a natural fit. Laguna Museum of Art has no screening facility, and we have this new bijou theatre”

Asked if her project’s various aspects can be described as “proximity studies,”—a term current in  several disciplines including art, physics, social science, and real estate—Liu  explains: “For me it’s better to think of it as local histories, institutional histories, political discourse–these are things that have been motivating me, and I think proximity studies is just a summary of all that. It translates into artistic practice. I’m not an artist and we’re not necessarily an arts organization, but we definitely have this very powerful interdisciplinary project. I like to  understand it as the organization of spaces and the organization of histories.“

The goal, she says, is not only establishing better links between the academic world and other overlapping communities, but identifying “what it is we’re defending when we’re defending public higher education and public space.”

From Spanish Land Grant to cattle baron fiefdom to embattled family trust to Donald Bren’s sole ownership, Irvine-the- acreage has a complicated history. “One of the things that Joan Didion points out” Liu says, “is that unlike the big ranch owners of Santa Barbara, the Irvine family never sold off its land piecemeal. This is why it was able to control this area of Orange County–because it kept it in the family. And now its president and CEO Donald Bren is one of the biggest donors to UCI. This has huge problems, but at the same time you have to look at the history of US philanthropy. If we de-fund public universities, these kinds of figures will have much more power in the future. But to say that it’s all bad is to forget the history of why the Irvine family gave this land to the state for a dollar so the UC could build a campus here.”

“I’m not defending the Irvine corporation, but I am saying that planning might allow for positive use of public spaces and preservation. Ever since there were these disastrous public housing projects built in the 50s, The trend in urban studies has been has been to denounce planning. To see it as the will of the elite being imposed on people. My question would be—what if there were a collective agency that had the power of the Irvine corporation to actually think through multiple needs, the uses of space. And to not go through these ad hoc reactive processes by which most of L.A. has been planned—or unplanned? What if we put the Irvine company aside and thought about a public agency, or  about a collective sense of the big picture?”

What if California reinvented itself instead of its history?

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Ken Rogers: Off Peak:

27 Oct

In 1924 when oil was discovered in Los Angeles’s Baldwin Hills, the city’s westward expansion was just getting underway, and the community of Inglewood, lying southeast of the oil field, was said to be the fastest growing city in the US. Fast but not crowded: Its biggest industry was chinchilla farming. Within a year the oil field was in peak production, its crumpled hills lined with bird-like pump jacks.

 

By 2000 the flow of oil and populations had reversed. The Inglewood field was a dusty hole in a donut of mostly residential development. Well production had dwindled and plans were laid for many of its 1000-plus acres to be reclaimed as parkland. It was a tantalizing prospect, as UCR’s Ken Rogers writes in Off Peak, the collaborative public practice project he’s organized around the oilfield debate. A giant swath of accessible open space would occupy “an elevated geological peak located at the geographic center of the city of Los Angeles.”

 

Instead, the flow reversed again. PXP, the site’s operator, used new prospecting methods to map access to deep reserves in a 21 square mile area. The discovery coincided with the rise in oil prices which led Los Angeles County to ignore plans for the park and permit 600 new wells. One result of the drilling was the venting of fumes that forced the evacuation of surrounding communities.

 

Rogers’ initial involvement with the oilfield was personal. As a resident of an affected neighborhood, he attended meetings that brought together various streams: concerned citizens, environmentalists and community activists. In 2006 a coalition of these group sued PXP and the County, charging violations of environmental standards. As the suit meandered through the courts, Rogers saw an opportunity to support the coalition in a more formal way, through his work with artists using collaborative strategies.

 

He invited Bulbo, a Tijuana, and now Los Angeles, media collective, to create a video documentary about neighborhood response to the oilfields. Bulbo’s methodology is participatory rather than distanced. For a piece about traditional Mexican pottery making, Rogers says, members of collective lived with the potters for several months. Community access to the finished product is not only via internet. In Mexico their videos are screened and distributed in local market stalls, racked beside pirated Hollywood films and telenovelas. Shooting a series of workshops and conversations at various locations around the Baldwin Hills, Bulbo has worked to create a record that will become part of the oilfield neighbors’ own history of themselves. Community screenings are planned for the end of the year.

 

Events took another turn this July when the lawsuit was settled, forcing PXP to drill fewer new wells Oil production, however, will continue until 2028, delaying park plans for decades. What happens in the meantime is the subject of Roger’s next planned event, Off Peak: Reclaiming the Baldwin Hills. The day-in-the-field, which includes an urban hike and a roundtable discussion, will look at means of sustaining the community that Inglewood field unintentionally created.

 

Participants bring expertise with different models of engagement. As a founding member of Los Angeles Urban Rangers, the hike’s leader, Sara Daleiden, creates guides and tools, including walking tours that foster a direct experience of the city’s landscape, both natural and cultural. Lark Galloway-Gilliam grew up in South Los Angeles, the area of the city surrounding the oilfields, and is executive director of Community Health Councils, an organization that advocates for consumer rights, public accountability, and quality healthcare for all residents. Bill Kelley jr. is an art historian, teacher, curator, and critic, whose fields include contemporary Latin American and collaborative art.

 

Fittingly, this art-health-environment colloquy—Rogers calls it a think-tank—will conduct its discussion at the Baldwin Hills Conservancy’s Scenic Overlook, the one piece of the envisioned great park that has materialized. From this green vantage point, with it views to mountains and sea, Rogers hopes a new kind of community action will arise. Instead of finding common ground in being against something, Rogers says, “there’s now the possibility of being for something. There’s the possibility of city residents taking ownership of their immediate environment.”

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 4)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

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Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their persepctives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

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PART IV

UCIRA: Jeff, you recently had a project funded on Kickstarter. Can you talk a bit about your experiences with the process?

Jeff: My campaign was for a project that I am still working on called Unlogo, and I actually started it twice.  It is going to be a community-driven video filtering service that filters logos out of videos. The first time it failed, but right after it ended, it was picked up by BoingBoing and a bunch of people contacted me saying that they wanted to support it, so I relaunched it. I felt weird about this because I thought it kind of betrayed the “all or nothing” spirit of Kickstarter, but I did it anyway.

My experience actually wasn’t ideal, but it was my own fault.  As you probably know, on Kickstarter you are encouraged to offer a range or prizes to contributors at different levels — kind of like an NPR pledge drive. I offered prizes like a simple credit on the site, t-shirt, stickers, to a private lesson in computer vision.  I had contributors at every level – I think close to 200 in all.  So I ended up spending over half of the money on the prizes that I had promised to people. So I didn’t really make enough to fund the project, but it did raise the visibility of the project quite a bit and generally got people talking about it, so that helped me in other tangible ways.

The biggest benefit, I think, was the inspiration that came from tons of strangers getting behind my idea.

UCIRA: You also responded to Steve’s question of a few weeks ago with the observation that Kickstarter (and others) may be introducing the concept of support for the arts to a whole new group of people. Who do you imagine this new group to be and how might their participation in arts funding change things?

Jeff:  I’m not sure I have any idea. In my case, I think it was mostly Vimeo and BoingBoing readers, but I don’t know how to generalize that for crowdfunding in general. But in terms of my comments about Steve’s purposefully inflammatory statement (Steve is good at that – like Fox News good), I think I was mostly just conforming to a reputation that I have worked to cultivate with Steve as a pro Internet flame-warrior and arguing against the absurdity of the proposition. To propose that people who contribute their own money to art projects are supporting some right-wing de-funding agenda is like saying that doctors who volunteer in clinics are supporting lack of universal health care. There is no causality there at all, and no proof offered. I don’t think Kickstarter is perfect. I think that it is a great idea, and I know that it has made lots of projects possible that otherwise wouldn’t have been, but in the end, it didn’t really do much for me. It was the statement itself that made me feel the need to defend crowdfunding.

UCIRA: Dan, since UCIRA initially funded your project Who’s Hungry West Hollywood (with Dan Hurlin), you’ve expanded the project to other cities, and have raised a considerable amount of money to support your work. I want to list the funders you credit on your website as introduction to my first question to you (see below). My sense is that individual artists are often in the position of having to raise little sums of money from a great many funders in order to see their work through to completion. Does this list represent the usual scope of fundraising you do in order to see a project happen? How much of your time and creative energy is spent on capital- as opposed to creative development?

Dan: Yes, artists are most often forced to slice the revenue pie into slender pieces.  Still, I firmly believe (and I tell my students and anyone who will listen) that there is enough money out there to fund projects.  Because I have been building this project over a number of iterations for several years, I have gotten better at articulating it to funders (though apparently not to presenters!). At the same time, the project has been building its own archive, and so appears to be more and more substantial, which seems to attract attention.  So, yes, this is the usual scope of grants that I apply for, but the percentage of successful proposals is getting larger and larger.  In addition to the reasons I stated above, I also think that I stumbled into a project that touches a lot of funders’ missions at this cultural moment, whose themes include community engagement, interdisciplinarity, food scarcity, and oral narratives.  I would say my time is pretty evenly split between ‘capital,’ as you say, and studio practice.  But those two things are not, of course, mutually exclusive.  I feel strongly that there is intrinsic value in every proposal, as each different one forces you to consider the value of your project from different perspectives.  The big problem for me is that I haven’t found a way to do both at the same time: to the extent that they are separate activities, they are in conflict with each other.

[the list] The National Endowment for the Arts, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, UCLA Center for Community Partnership, Southwest Oral History Association, MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Music scores commissioned by Meet The Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund.

UCIRA:  You were also recently invited to participate in United States Artists projects. Can you talk a bit about your experience with using this mechanism to fund your work in comparison to some of the others listed above?

Dan: I came to US Artists Project Site through my collaborator, Dan Hurlin, who is a US Artists fellow.  USA invited Dan to participate in the site, and he chose to raise funds for Who’s Hungry.  The system was (is?) still in its beta phase, and was not particularly user-friendly.  It took a long time to figure out how to set it up and operate it.  Dan and I chose to raise a small amount ($3,000). Somewhere along the way, we both were given the impression that this is what was expected of us.  Now, of course, I wish we had set a higher goal, as the $3,000 was easily reached.

Interestingly, my participation in the site attracted a lot of attention, way out of proportion to the amount we raised.  It seemed to be very well publicized; USA made excellent use of social media networking in this regard.

One really good thing about this site and others like it is that it is as much about developing and maintaining relationships around the work as it is about fundraising.  The maintenance part of that equation takes a good deal of work, ongoing, and it’s easy (in my case, for instance) to start out keeping those connections warm and then over the subsequent weeks and months allowing them to cool.

In a way, these kinds of sites are a logical extension of the ‘personal appeal’ letter that many artists send out in November/December of most years.  I think it’s a great way of asking yourself what the value of your work is to the communities it serves.  I also think that donor fatigue is no longer the exclusive province of the rich.  As Kickstarter-type sites have proliferated, they have democratized the field, so that anyone can easily and legitimately ask for funding at any time.  And anyone can be asked – and more and more often are.

UCIRA: After looking over the campaigns launched on various microfunding sites, it seems like artists are asked to present (even sell) their work very differently than they would to secure other sorts of funding. Do you agree? How do you feel about asking for money in this way? 

Dan: I don’t think so.  Like I say, it’s an extension of an existing practice that artists have been doing for a long time.  Personally, I tend to be very circumspect when it comes to this kind of direct fundraising.  I want to communicate to individual donors that I only ask when I feel it’s very important, and when their contribution will mean the most.  So, I feel perfectly fine about asking for support, because I will only do so when I truly believe the project deserves it – and can articulate why it does.

Jeff: My work is in a space between technology and art that a lot of traditional grant institutions usually don’t respond very well to.  I’ve only applied for a few traditional art grants in my lifetime, so I’m not sure I’m an expert, but I *always* feel like I am selling myself. I actually think it’s worse in traditional arts grants because you have to conform to the taste of a particular panel of judges. For instance, Rhizome and Turbulence are very different than NYFA and NYSCA, which means that you have to frame the same work differently. At least on the Internet you can be pretty sure that your work is going to appeal to someone out there. Although I toned down the nerdiness a bit in my Kickstarter campaign, I was more or less myself and just described the project as I would to a friend. It’s just a matter of finding the right community.

UCIRA:  Another characteristic of these kinds of campaigns is an attempt, at least, at relationship-building with donors who give at higher levels through the promise of continued communication about the project, or some kind of promotional schwag, from totebags to signed editions. What was your experience with this element of the process ? Did it (as some say it is supposed to do) build a better ‘fan base’, audience or community for your project?

Dan: It was definitely fun to imagine what might be a ‘reward’ for funders at different levels.  In the end, not so fun to follow through!  But people responded to the premiums.  Again, I think there is intrinsic value in providing swag for people.  It’s another way to brand yourself, and I don’t mean that cynically…. I am [also] still playing catch-up on this!  I’m not proud of this.  I’m interested to know if other artists find themselves in the same boat.  It may be a generational thing, in part, as well.  I’m still a neophyte when it comes to social media networking, and I find it difficult to be consistent.

Jeff:  I didn’t much care for this element of Kickstarter.  I am a very slow worker, and I didn’t want to feel like the donors were waiting by their computers for status updates.  And as I mentioned above, the prizes nearly broke the bank.  It was [also] a bad fit for me because I wasn’t making anything physical. I had to go out of my way to get t-shirts and USB drives printed and all that.  It did build a kind of fan base, though.  I actually ended up getting a completely separate grant from someone at the UN who found out about the project through Kickstarter for twice as much as my original campaign.

UCIRA:  I think that the situation of the artist working in the Academy is quite different from those who make their living through the market. How does the academic focus on research and practice fit with the hybrid nature of mechanisms like USA projects or Kickstarter? Is there a qualitative difference in finding one’s funding in this way as opposed to being funded through a non-profit or with government support?   

Dan:  I don’t find a huge qualitative difference in these different funding mechanisms.  Frankly, I try to keep my work in the university and my work in the non-profit sector separate as much as possible.  In general, I don’t feel it enhances my image as an independent artist to be associated with a university.  If anything, university funding is often the most difficult to deal with, as it is generally more restricted than foundation or government grants, and it is extremely difficult to pay out expenses through our department.

UCIRA:  One argument that has been made about this kind of group arts funding is that what will emerge at the end is a watered-down version of culture – that with ‘the masses’ deciding who gets funding and who doesn’t, more experimental and risk-taking work will go undone. Thoughts?  

Thuy: That argument is understandable and one that was considered very seriously during the research and development phase of USA Projects. In creating a micro-philanthropy platform, it was critical for us that caliber of artistic quality remained consistently high while being accessible to people everywhere. We believe that the vetting process ensures this level of quality and excellence. It takes the guesswork out of crowdfunding.

This platform allows artists the flexibility to do experimental and risky-taking work because they are not using traditional fundraising sources. New York filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris raised $11,500 to complete his documentary connecting the Black civil rights movement with the gay and lesbian marriage equality movement. Los Angeles furniture designer Tanya Aguiñiga raised more than $8,000 to launch Artists Helping Artisans, a collaboration with artisans in Chiapas, Mexico, whose craft traditions are at risk. Jim Woodring, a pen and ink cartoonist, manufactured a giant seven-foot-long steel dip pen and penholder. Jim mastered the mechanics of operating the pen—which weighs 30 pounds—at public demonstrations in Seattle.

Online fundraising also leverages the immediacy of the Internet. Zoe Strauss, a photographer in Philadelphia, raised over $5,000 for On the Beach, a photo series documenting the people and places affected by the Gulf Oil Spill. Zoe raised the money in just 4 days! Had she proposed funding for this project from an organization, it would have most likely taken much longer.

With USA Projects, artists can also raise money for different stages of a project. This provides valuable assistance at the naissance period. Success is more than just getting funding–it also means seeing the development of fresh ideas. Mickael Broth, a visual artist and writer, is currently seeking funding for the development phase of a print memoir about his time incarcerated for graffiti vandalism. It’s a story of art, graffiti, the legal system, and about taking risks in the pursuit of making art.

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On the Ice is the first feature-length fiction film made in Alaska by an Iñupiaq writer/director with an entirely Inuit cast. Andrew successfully raised funds to help get the film to the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered this year. He was able to bring the actors down from Alaska, pay for food and lodging, and hire a publicist. Additionally, the Rasmuson Foundation generously matched the funds he raised.

Dan:  I don’t think that this kind of funding replaces, in theory or practice, the need for traditional funding in the arts.  And it doesn’t seem to me that the stakes are high enough to effect culture with a capital ‘C’.  I think the benefits of engagement outweigh the possible risks. However, I feel much more ambivalent about things like the A.W.A.R.D. show, in which live audiences decide who among a small group of artist who perform that evening get $10,000 of somebody else’s money.  That kind of competition sets up winners and losers and does not, I think, build community.

Jeff:  I think this is a kind of zero-sum view.  There was this idea that was brought up on Facebook that institutions (I like to imagine personified as a moustachioed fat guy in a top hat) would look at Kickstarter and feel better about cutting his contributions to the arts, but this is a made-up narrative. I haven’t come across any proof that crowdfunding sites are contributing in any way to the decrease of institutional grant giving.  And even if they were, it completely ignores the intention of the people contributing to crowdsourcing sites.  Rather than wasting energy blaming well-meaning people for contributing money to art projects that inspire them, wouldn’t it be better to think about how individuals and institutions can work together to find some model that allows both kinds of giving?

I’d also take issue with the fact that “the masses” never support experimental and risky ideas, or that grant-giving institutions always do.  At the risk of just sounding like a naive/bitter loser, I’ve had projects turned down by art institutions and been personally informed that it was for insurance reasons (a ParkingDay idea involving launching people into the air), because it wasn’t appropriate for children (Laborers of Love – a crowdsourced porn creation site).  I’ve had others that I think are strong ideas, but that I haven’t bothered to submit because they are legally dubious (DeleteCity – saves deleted YouTube videos), or it would be offensive to donors/board members (Praying@Home/GodBlock – critical of religion).  Kickstarter wouldn’t necessarily be constrained by these issues.

UCIRA:  I am also wondering what the proliferation of this kind of funding model might mean when we think about issues of sustainability. At UCIRA, we modeled our grants partially on what Creative Capital has tried to do – thinking through what our particular set of artists might need in order to support the life of their projects. We were tired of just writing checks and sending people on their way. Not that I think we have come up with an answer, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on question of arts funding and sustainability.  

Thuy: Unfortunately, government arts funding will always have its limitations with budget deficits. At United States Artists, a robust organization is envisioned with a 100+ year horizon, providing artists’ significant resources to do their work.  To meet this goal, USA hopes to permanently endow the USA Fellows program with $50 million. To date, $9 million has been raised toward the goal.

Dan:  I think that what UCIRA and Creative Capital are up to addresses the issue of sustainability much more than social media micro-funding.  I see the latter as one very small – and very positive -piece of the puzzle, but not one that can or should be relied on in an ongoing way.  I think that the model of combining non-monetary support with funding does a much better job.

 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 3)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their perspectives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

********

PART III

UCIRA:  What kids of shifts might we see in terms of the kinds of research, work, projects supported in this emerging funding climate? i.e. do you see a demonstrable difference in the kind of support offered through governmental versus private avenues?

Steve:  You’re asking about what kinds of projects will get supported and if that will change, but I am going to expand your question to both projects and the processes involved at the artist level and beyond.

First, I need to acknowledge the many advantages of crowdfunding because they are significant. For someone with a great idea and little track record crowdfunding can be incredible. I remember how hard it was for me in 2000, without even a complete slide sheet, trying to prove to a foundation that I could pull off an ambitious project. When an organization is fronting $12,000 dollars, they want to make sure it won’t be wasted. As a newcomer, this barrier can be discouraging. Crowdfunding gives more people access because arguably all you need is a good idea and the ability to communicate it well.

For me, I’ve been claiming ‘artist’ on my taxes since 2000. That’s 11 years of hustling, from being a newcomer, bending over backwards proving myself, and advancing to where I turn down opportunities I would have fought for in years prior. Having been through a variety of positions and situations, I like that I can sidestep the demands of the bureaucracy (the California Arts Council application process was the most elaborate I’ve ever navigated) and instead make a video, go straight to my base, and raise the money more quickly. That’s good.

Part of your question touches on a idea that ‘appealing to the masses’ for funding would mean that projects chasing the lowest common denominator will be successful, but I don’t believe art will follow the path of reality television. People are very smart, are able to learn, and have a variety of interests. Crowdfunding allows niche creators to find the niche audiences who love them.

I believe that what is funded depends much more on how well the artist can communicate why they are passionate about the project and why people should care. Ironically, this very thing is what I’m convinced destroyed the NEA. The NEA wasn’t able to communicate the value of funding artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley, and Andres Serrano. These were artists who made groundbreaking work, but had no place in the market. They deserved to be supported by the government because the market never supports such challenging, but valuable work. (See my video on why public funds should be used to support artwork that may be considered offensive:

( http://visitsteve.com/made/video-for-power-taboo-and-the-artist/)

Setting aside my skepticism I read an amazing interview were Serrano explained ‘Piss Christ’ in his own words. I was completely won over. I went from a skeptic to now advocating for Serrano when he comes up in conversations. This direct communication from the artist that turns the viewer into a supporter is exactly what happens in a Kickstarter video! The same communication with the audience doesn’t happen when the artist is isolated in their studio and issued a check. The viewer isn’t as likely to become an advocate.

So I’m not concerned about the quality or types of projects supported with this funding model. I think this is where public funding could learn a lot when if we could plan a successful hybrid.

However, focusing on the funding of projects is a mistake.

A friend argued that this direct funding meant that artists receive a higher percentage of the resources. They argued the bureaucracy of arts organizations is inefficient, stating only [fill in some horrifying percentage] reaches the actual artists. I won’t argue that any given arts organization couldn’t be more efficient. It probably could, but that argument is a red herring. Let me explain.

As artists, our job is to make art. If you make your living as one, you know being an artist is less hanging out at cafés and ruminating on the way the light lands on your danish and much more similar to managing the day to day operations of a one person small business. You are responsible for everything. Arts organizations and their ‘bureaucracy,’ when at their best, take some of these burdens away so artists can make art. I might need to get to a different location to focus on a new important project. A residency program, with all its overhead, helps do that. If I want to have an exhibition, I’ll need to work with a gallery, with all its overhead. The non-profit galleries and residency programs that receive NEA funds help artists accomplish things we couldn’t do on our own. In fact, some take on securing funding for our projects so we don’t have to – lets not forget fundraising is a lot of work and most of us would rather be in the studio.

Public funding doesn’t only mean supporting artists and projects financially, but supporting an arts infrastructure that is needed and wanted, but can’t exist in a strictly capitalist system.

If we move further towards privatized funding and crowdfunding, what happens to the infrastructure? I’ll gladly throw in a few dollars for an exciting project through crowdfunding, but what about a roof repair?

Art requires public funding because art simply doesn’t exist exclusively in the marketplace. Republican leaders and libertarian ideologues see things that don’t thrive under capitalism as weak, unnecessary, or inherently unpopular. We know this isn’t true, they’re simply using the wrong lens to look at the problem.

So why accept a perspective we know is false?

It’s time to create a vision, taking the best from every model, and work toward our ideals. Caring about culture means effectively communicating it’s value. It means engaging power by working to tax the wealthy and corporations at pre-Reagan rates and working to cut defense spending. It means advocating for, increasing, and securing public funding for the arts and our arts infrastructure now and for the future. It means instead of settling for short-term solutions, pushing to make our dreams reality.

 

CONTINUE READING: CLICK FOR PART 4

 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 2)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their persepctives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

PART II:

UCIRA: Steve, I contacted you about this topic after you made the observation that crowdfunding essentially equates to artists support for right wing tax cuts. Can you expand on this idea a bit?

Steve: In George H. W. Bush’s 1989 presidential campaign he began using the phrase ‘the thousand points of light.’ In his inauguration speech he explained the thousand points of light are ‘all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. [?] The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.’

Well that sounds good. It means community and supporting each other, I am for that. But I’d argue George H. W. Bush didn’t mean it exactly like I do. When George H.W. Bush talked about a thousand points of light, it led directly into talk about ‘balancing’ the federal budget – or, to cut to the chase, continuing the Reagan administration’s policy of smaller government. The idea being: when we cut government spending, everything will be just fine because all those wonderful community organizations and charitable people, the thousand points of light, will sweep in. Government programs aren’t needed because volunteers will do the work.

This brings me to my fear: how is what the right wing dreamed of years ago different than what we celebrate as crowd-funding today? The NEA hasn’t funded individual artists since the early 1990s and state art budgets are getting cut in record numbers to record lows. Kansas recently cut its arts funding entirely. On the other hand, Kickstarter has moved $60,000,000 for over 10,000 projects since it’s launch just a few years ago.

As someone who’s personally created various crowd-funding strategies and campaigns, I know from experience this support comes primarily from our own networks. While we individually route our money (perhaps losing some to Amazon.com along the way) to help support each other, public funding could use one dollar per taxpayer to each year quintuple the amount Kickstarter has distributed since it began. Even more if we taxed corporations at the rate we did a few decades ago. Don’t we all agree this form of ‘crowd-sourcing’ is less of a burden on our already strained communities and a better use of our state funds?

We’re artists. We’re independent, creative, and resourceful. When we see a problem, we find ways to solve it. But instead of using our skills to engage power and secure public funding of the arts for now and the future, we’ve accepted the right-wing paradigm and started working within it.

 

And we’ve done a great job. Crowdfunding is remarkable in solving short term problems: artists need to get paid, our culture needs (and clearly wants) these projects to exist, we want to participate in a community. But how are we solving our long term problems – our government should truly be a representation, a reflection of us as a people and support culture instead of conflict, artists instead of bankers – when looking at the much bigger picture, is crowdfunding exacerbating those long-term problems and enabling us to move government further from our ideals?

As crowdfunding solves the short term problem so well, does it pacify our outrage at the defunding of the arts and culture? After all, my project still got funded, so what does it matter where the money came from?? Does it stall our ability to envision improvements to public funding? Looking at the WPA or the NEA, these models had benefits and flaws. Instead of looking at the advantages of crowdfunding and other innovations to improve current and past models of public funding, I think most people may, more or less, accept the extreme right position that these past efforts are only failures to be abandoned.

 

UCIRA: It does of course seem interesting that so many crowdfunding platforms for the arts have come online in the last two years just as arguments over government support for the arts have again heated up (i.e. recent threats to/cuts from the NEA budget, as well as total elimination of funding for the Kansas arts commission, for instance). Does the emergence of new mechanisms for private support for the arts necessarily have to be linked to this re-emergent neoliberal dialogue or can we think about it differently? 

Steve: Well of course, you could argue both ways.

If one said ‘crowd-funding shouldn’t be paralleled with public funding, it democratizes philanthropy and makes it accessible to all instead of isolated to the ultra wealthy’ they’d be partially right. It does do that. There are many lenses to view crowd-funding:

• As a streamlined and democratic update to private philanthropy and foundations

• Pre-sales of market goods (i.e. a DVD of my band, a limited edition print of my photography) that allows the creator to gauge the market before beginning a project

• An innovation that better connects audiences to the process throughout a project’s life

If the arts were better funded publicly (and I mean qualitatively and quantitatively) we wouldn’t see private crowd funding emerge with such popularity. If the innovation that’s happening with even the concept of websites like Indie-go-go, Kickstarter, Eventful, and Artists Share happened in public art commissions, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are. There is definitely a link.

More than this, I’ve heard arts administrators say candidly ‘we lost funding for that program, so instead we’re going to do a crowdfunding thing.’ When the NEA stopped funding individual artists the Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital stepped in to give individual artists grants at the national level. More recently, after cutting the Kansas state arts budget to zero this year, to take its place the Governor established a private foundation to fund the arts. Conscious and not, there is a direct connection between the neoliberal agenda and the privatization of arts funding.

Certainly the core of crowdfunding is not new. Artists are resourceful by nature and we tend to support each other. Lots of people understand art’s tangible and intangible value and are willing to chip in and support us in our efforts. I remember being a student in community college and unable to afford Super 8 film to make my final film project. I wrote to family and relatives and asked for help and their small contributions of $5 to $100 allowed me to make a film I am still proud of. 15 years later we funded the $18,000 New York Times Special Edition a similar way. It works, it always has, though it works more efficiently than just a couple years ago.

A healthy culture has opportunities for artists from a variety of sources; private support, foundations, the commercial art world, and public funding. None of these pieces are new, but the shift in balance is. The defunding of arts programs at this level is new, and the shift from public to private funding is new. We’re moving out of balance.

For some perspective, imagine if we crowdfunded wars. ‘C’mon everyone, If we can hit 1.25 trillion dollars we can invade Iraq and Afghanistan!’ If you believe the government represents the people when spending trillions on nuclear weapons, the military, and international intelligence, but barely funding the arts, then great. For the rest of us, I can’t emphasize how important it is to remember: we don’t need to make these cuts to culture. Our country is overflowing with wealth and abundance, it’s just being withheld by the ultra-rich thanks to changes in our tax structure designed by the extreme right. (And paying for wars, of course.) When we accept the notion that ‘austerity’ is necessary, accept privatization as a solution, and abandon a long-term vision we play right into Grover Norquist’s bathtub fantasies.

Every organization working to solve the short term problem of lack of funding also has a duty to dedicate some energy to long-term thinking, innovation, and advocacy that will reinstate that funding.

 

CONTINUE READING (CLICK FOR PART 3)


 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 1)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their perspectives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

PART I:

UCIRA: Thuy, you come to this question from an organizational perspective, as a Senior Program Officer for United States Artists. Can you tell me some more about how your organization decided to enter the crowdfunding field?

Thuy: United States Artists (USA) was founded in 2006 with a mission to invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society. USA operates from the premise that art can be the impetus for building enormous stores of social, political, and economic capital in the 21st century. It also affirms that individual artists are an important cultural resource and recognizes that the needs of American artists today are extraordinary.

USA is committed to addressing these needs. USA was founded in part to fill the gap left when the National Endowment for the Arts cut back its individual artist fellowships. Through the USA Fellows program, which annually awards 50 unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to outstanding performing, visual, media, and literary artists across the country, USA has put $12.5 million in the hands of artists in the five years since its founding.

Last year we launched USA Projects, the first microphilanthropy site dedicated exclusively to artists living and working in the United States, where anyone can discover original projects from some of today’s most innovative artists and make tax-deductible donations to support their work. Donations–of any amount, even $1–also support artist training, artist education, and the broader mission of United States Artists.  USA Projects was created to foster direct connections between artists and the public, catalyze new funding for artists, bring creative projects to life, and build community support for the most accomplished artists in America.

UCIRA: How are the artists chosen for the projects area?  

Thuy: In the course of developing this initiative, research showed that it was important both to artists and potential supporters to ensure a high level of experience and quality among the participating artists. The artists seeking funding on USA Projects have been vetted and recognized for the caliber of their work by USA or by one of more than 100 qualifying organizations across the country. Experts review projects within their fields of expertise for legitimacy, viability, artistic quality, and appropriateness of the scale of the project. Reviewers will change periodically.

USA Projects Partners include organizations such as Creative Capital, Austin Film Society, Penland School of Crafts, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), National Performance Network, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, and the California Community Foundation. (A complete list of qualifying organizations, along with artist eligibility requirements and a brief application, are posted online at www.unitedstatesartists.org.)

UCIRA: How do you see this kind of support mechanism changing your relationship with the artists who participate?

Thuy: We believe USA Projects will be a game changing tool for artists and cultural philanthropy in this country.  We know that artists need more money for their work. It is a misconception to think that artists have the funding necessary to develop new creative work just because they have already received recognition. The unfortunate reality is that many of the finest artists in this country are struggling to make ends meet. Even in the short time since the USA Fellows program launched in 2006, there has been a rise in the number of artists who have used their $50,000 award to cover essential needs like medical bills, health insurance, and even housing. Particularly in this difficult economy, the other forms of employment or funding that most artists depend upon have grown scarce, and new sources of support are more critical than ever.

USA Projects was inspired by a desire to leverage the power of the Internet to extend its mission to accomplished artists everywhere. Some benefits for artists include:

–       Generate donations to support new projects

–       Participate in organization and group matching funds

–       Increase their following by showcasing their work to a community of art lovers, supporters, and premier art organizations

–       Build an ever-increasing database of donors that they can come back to time and again

–       Support at every step of the process; USA’s Artist Education and Support Program is designed to help artists thrive in an online fundraising environment (project development, budgeting, segmentation, video production and editing, donor relations, building an online following)

USA Projects offers a sophisticated matching fund system that gives any organization, foundation, group or individual the ability to create a matching fund, specify their criteria, and automatically identify and apply funds to appropriate projects. One of the site’s first matching funds was pioneered by visual artist Mark Bradford, who donated the proceeds from the sale of one of his own paintings to create the Artist2Artist Fund. Every participating artist benefits from this fund, which continues to grow through support from other participating USA Fellows.

This model has proven to be successful for the organization as well as participating artists. Since USA Projects began last year, 75% of all projects successfully reach their goal (another site averages under 50%); average donations are $120 (this is also quite high); and over $1 million has been raised for artists’ projects.

“One of the valuable things that I got from this endeavor was losing my fear to ask. Even though philanthropists slammed doors in my face I was determined to succeed. So the fear was gone and I used every opportunity to ask whenever possible. This led to 48 hours before the deadline and still just over a thousand dollars to raise, I find myself at the symphony where I run into a friend and colleague and decided to ask. The next day she donated $1,000. And as they say the rest is history. Thank you for all your help and guidance throughout this process, I needed your support every step of the way.”

UCIRA: How would you describe the difference between the USA process and others such as  Kickstarter or Rockethub?

Thuy: USA Projects builds on best practices in the burgeoning crowdfunding arena and represents the first online community where the public can find, learn about, and make tax-deductible contributions directly to highly accomplished artists in all disciplines.  USA owes a debt of gratitude to pioneering sites like DonorsChoose, Kiva, and Kickstarter for demonstrating how the web can foster new support for educational and creative endeavors.

What sets United States Artists apart is its network of leading artists in all artistic disciplines and geographic regions of the country; an esteemed annual artist fellowship program; relationships with leading cultural peer organizations; great brand equity among a focused group of committed donors; and an engaged and influential Board of Directors. Some of the key differentiators between USA Projects and the others are:

–       First online community exclusively for artists, their friends, fans and followers

–       Only accomplished artists are invited to post projects

–       Donors directly contribute to a project at any level and may qualify for a range of perks

–       All donations are tax deductible

–       Matching grants allow artists to raise additional money and donors to double their perks

–       Artists receive full-service support and education

–       USAP Partners are a powerful force to help artists advance their work

 

 

CONTINUE READING (CLICK FOR PART 2)

 

 

Dee Hibbert-Jones: Living Condition

19 Oct

 

 

Dee Hibbert-Jones‘s first conception of the project now known as Living Condition was relatively simple–or so she says by phone, during a pre-lunch break from drawing. “We thought we would produce an animated clip that dealt with the manifestations of trauma. Stuttering, hesitations, those kind of things.” It’s a subject—call it the outward and visible signs of inward denial and turmoil–that Hibbert-Jones, Associate Professor of Art and co-director of UCSC‘s Social Practice Research Center, has been investigating for the past decade.

 

But stories, as journalists and novelists often discover, develop a life of their own. In choosing relatives of prisoners on death row as their subject, Hibbert-Jones and her collaborative partner Nomi Talisman, found themselves in a crosscurrent of intersecting narratives and unheard voices. Facts in the cases were sometimes in dispute or unknown; testimony changed over time. And while some family members had spoken publicly about their relative’s case, their own experience of events before and after the sentence often went unmentioned

 

“It became clear,” Hibbert-Jones says, “that we needed a more narrative version. These stories needed telling. We couldn’t just extract the emotional content from them.“ Seven years, dozens of hours of interviews, and thousands of drawings later, Living Condition, intended as one project, is on its way to becoming three: a thirty minute animated film, a series of politically focused webisodes, and an installation highlighting the expressive manifestations of trauma.

 

Animation is notoriously time-consuming. The 5-minute clip that’s posted at http://deehibbert-jones.ucsc.edu/Impact_03.html took Hibbert -Jones and Talisman 3 months to draw. Its final section–from an interview with Bill Babbitt, whose brother, a Viet Nam veteran, was executed in 1999–consists of about 2000 drawings. Hibbert-Jones says that her own morning’s work has yielded about 25 drawings, though there is an advantage to the repetitious frame-by-frame process. “If it’s something I’ve drawn before, I can actually talk to friends and family while doing it.”

 

In its expanded version, Living Condition will relate the experiences of three people whose relatives—a son in one case, a sibling in two others—faced the death penalty. Visually, the film’s focus moves from black and white headshots—line-drawn in a tight frame-by frame sequence that follows the speakers’ mouth movements—to more distant, views of crowds, neighborhoods, and events. These—sometimes fragmented or almost dream-like—are accented with washes of color. There’s an unreal quality to some sections, Hibbert-Jones says, “because elements of the story are being told second-hand, or they’re telling how they reacted. We’re still experimenting with animating those sections in very different ways to create these surrealistic moods.”

 

They plan to weave the participants’ narratives around a linear chronology: childhood, to sentencing to execution or release. The cases are all different, she notes, but everybody says the same things. “Everyone says ‘it was one thing after another.’ Everybody says ‘I couldn’t think about that. Death. How could it be death?’ There are these utterances, these phrases and denials, these accepting of responsibilities that we want to echo through the film.”

 

For Hibbert-Jones who grew up in England—a country that doesn’t have capital punishment—the notion itself is “almost unbelievable.” What, she wonders, are “the implications of a decision made democratically to execute someone?” The question looms larger after Troy Davis’s recent execution. Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, who actively fought for a reconsideration of his case in Georgia and federal courts, is one of their three voices. Her narrative, which once occupied a hopeful middle ground in the film’s structure, with the prisoner’s fate still undecided, has turned into another with a grim outcome. The artists now must go back and re-interview her. The story has grown again.

 

There is another similarity between the speakers. Although it wasn’t the artists’ intention, all of the families in the film are African American. Hibbert-Jones says she and Talisman chose to present the stories as animation, “partly for anonymity for some of the people involved,” and partly because animation makes it easier for people to identify with what they’re watching. Rather than making physical details of race or, class explicit, a drawing creates the opportunity for viewers to see themselves in the character. It’s as though the space inside the animator’s frame becomes a kind of hologram—multidimensional, but always clearly elsewhere.

 

An illustration of that power to confer both perspective and intimacy came when Hibbert-Jones showed the clip of Bill Babbitt to audiences in its video version, before it was animated. In it, he describes in wrenching detail the guilt he continues to feel over his brother Manny’s death. (Bill turned him in to the police hoping he would get treatment for his obvious psychological and stress-related disorders. The rest of his family has not forgiven him.).

 

“People couldn’t deal with it,” Hibbert-Jones says of the un-animated version. “It’s hard to witness his pain.” She links the audience’s response to Eve Sedgwick’s studies of shame and the overwhelming urge to look away it produces. Animated, Babbitt’s testimony remains anguishing, but it’s also riveting. The illusory wall created by the moving screen becomes a kind of shared ground, like the psychological territory that Sedgwick sees shame creating.

 

“Bill bangs the microphone at one point,” Hibbert-Jones says, ”and it becomes really real. His hand comes up and somehow breaks the flat wall of animation, and part of you is going, Wow! You have a relationship. You can connect to the experience without feeling implicated too much. That’s our hope, at least.” The idea, in other words, is that Living Condition will construct, for both speaker and audience, a safe space to inhabit together.

 

Unfinished stories and unattended voices are a constant in HIbbert-Jones’ work. Her first degree was in literature and she went on to do masters degrees in women’s studies and teaching. “Part of my investment in teaching,” she says “is allowing people these voices that they don’t get to hear.” The turn toward images– and an MFA –came later, inspired by her father’s stroke. In wiping out his ability to speak or write, it abruptly halted their weekly letters. In their absence, Hibbert-Jones found herself relying more and more on artwork to express her feelings.

 

Her first collaboration with Talisman, Letter to an Unknown Friend (2004), was inspired by correspondence Hibbert-Jones salvaged from the San Francisco Landfill. Visitors were invited to sit at a desk with a manipulated typewriter equipped with an LCD screen (Talisman is a new media specialist) and reply to letters that dated from almost every decade in the 20th century

 

Some of the unheard voices she investigates are those enshrined in language. In “Metaphors We Live By” (2006) the physical implications usually ignored in common synonyms like “help” and “support” or “similarity” and “closeness” become the subject of iconic line drawings. In I-140 the voices are more personal. The 2009 video shows Talisman and Hibbert-Jones–life as well as artistic partners– holding signs by the highway chronicling Talisman’s struggle with the US Immigration Service. “It was extremely difficult to do the piece. We were both shocked at how abject and pathetically middle-aged and worn we looked, standing on the side of streets. But we wanted it to have that rawness to it,” Hibbert-Jones says. That sense of rawness and openness to emotion has become increasingly important to them in Living Condition.

 

Pursuing it, they’ve become willing to go where the story leads—even when it heads in an unplanned direction. When Community Resource Initiative, the San Francisco capital defense office they worked with on the project, recommended Bill Babbitt as an interview subject, Hibbert- Jones declined, fearing the fact that his brother was a Viet Nam veteran would add too many extra elements and distract their focus. But, she recalls, one of the women in the office kept telling them “you know, you want to interview Bill.” Eventually, Hibbert-Jones heard what the woman was saying: “You want to interview Bill.” “And,” the artist says, “she was right.”

 

Getting a story is one thing; listening to it is another.

 

 

Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Some Birds

10 Oct

Like the sky-filling flocks of snow geese that descend on the Sacramento Valley in fall, Birds, Chico MacMurtrie’s kinetic installation which opened September 29th at UC Davis’s Nelson gallery, transforms a familiar landscape into a mysterious one.

Entering, visitors encounter ten large white fabric objects, tapered at each end —MacMurtrie has described them as recalling “the simplest line drawing of a bird”— hanging in the air above their heads. The installation has itself migrated up the Pacific flyway, having spent the spring at UC Irvine’s Beale Gallery. At the Nelson, curator Renny Pritikin calls the set-up “quite theatrical, with the only lights coming from underneath the birds.” Hung in a line, they fill one arm of the U-shaped gallery, then turn the corner.

Initially, though, the birds remain objects: pendulous, limp. For MacMurtrie, artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works (ARW), creation means bringing some thing to life. He and his congregation of artists, engineers, fabricators and software designers have spent two decades —first in the Bay Area, now in Brooklyn— devising sculptural machines that seem to be self-propelled, even self-motivated. An early example, Urge, in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, sets a life-size bronze androgyne on top of a 12 foot globe. When a sufficiently heavy visitor sits on a facing bench, the figure flexes and lowers —via underground lever and counterweight—to a similar sitting position.

In Birds, the animating mechanisms that ARW formerly constructed from metal or wood have been re-envisioned in high-tensile fabric. Each bird contains an arrangement of flexible joints and textile “muscles” (some originally designed for military use but reshaped here.) With air valves and potentiometers under computer control, these featherweight pneumatic structures fill and gradually lift their enveloping material: a flock rising in answer to an in-borne call.

Fully inflated, each pair of wings at the Nelson stretches almost from wall to wall. Once the sculptures have achieved lift-off, rhythmic alternation of inflation and deflation can create a flapping motion and a breathing sound. What is not always apparent is that the entire process is impacted by its viewers.

The presence of people in the gallery not only triggers the birds’ inflation, but can also have an inhibiting effect. A computer vision system tracks the number of humans in any given space. Too much human presence—too many, too close?—initiates a different cycle. Flight can falter. The disruptive effects on one unit in time extend to the rest.

“As in most digital interaction,” Pritikin says, “there is not an immediate, one-to-one reaction. It takes a while for the sculpture to react, and it reacts subtly. So sometimes people are impatient and don’t wait or don’t appreciate the tremors that their presence sets off in the birds.”

In their earliest conception, robots moved via exterior controls, usually with a wild-haired inventor at the knobs. Later friendlier models like R2D2 activated their own built-in circuitry —a process sometimes known as intelligence. MacMurtrie’s new generations of robots reflect a world in which control is not simply a matter of power or will but a network of impulses, reactions, instincts, and information.

For Pritikin, though, MacMurtrie’s installation is “not primarily about the interactivity, but rather about the meditative, silent evolution of the birds, just as though you were watching a flock of swans on a pond, oblivious of you.”

Breaking movement down into its nuts and bolts —or, in the case of Birds, to a fabric, four-muscle universal joint— robots illuminate the similarities all species share beneath their startling diversity. Still, the puzzle remains: what exactly propels us?

####

Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Art of Regional Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q & A with the organizers of BOOM

15 Aug

William Kaminski, "Well" 2011

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

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

Cima Rahmankhan, "Ask", 2011

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

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

Jacob Fowler, "Marina", 2011

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

Michelle Carla Handel, "Love Me Anyway", 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

[ii] Ibid, pp. 2-3.

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

[iv] Ibid, p. 15.

[v] See Andrew Scull, et al., Open letter by 21 UCSD department heads, 15 June 2009, posted http://toodumbtolivearchive.blogspot.com/2009/07/june-15-2009-dear-i-write-on-behalf-of.html (accessed 11 April 2011); Louis Freedberg, “Chancellor: UC Berkeley Morphing into a Federal University,” California Watch, 23 February 2011, http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/chancellor-uc-berkeley-morphing-federal-university-8816 (accessed 11 April 2011); Jack Stripling, “U of Wisconsin at Madison’s Chancellor Defends Proposed Separation From System,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 February 2011, available online at http://chronicle.com/article/U-of-Wisconsin-at-Madisons/126532/ (accessed 11 April 2011).

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xii] Kerr, Uses, p. 81.

[xiii] University of California Commission on the Future, Final Report, November 2010, p. 2. Report is online athttp://ucfuture.universityofcalifornia.edu/, accessed 24 February 2011.

[xiv] Ibid, p. 2.

[xv] Quoted in Deborah Solomon, “Big Man on Campus: Questions for Mark Yudof,” New York Times, 24 September 2009, published online athttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27fobq4-t.html.

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

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

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

What counts as artistic research in the University of California?

31 Mar

What counts as artistic research in the University of California?

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

 

 

Send them to ucirasota@gmail.com in by April 12th at the latest.

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

SOTA Q&A: Thoughts on California Dreamin?

30 Sep


The California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) recently collaborated with The Institute for the Future (IFTF) to produce this map that is the result of a “social impact research project, designed to provoke citizens to imagine and build a sustainable future for California for the next ten years and beyond.”

SOTA will publish responses (200 words or less please) received by Monday, October 4th at https://ucsota.wordpress.com/ and share with arts related employees and students across the system through the UCIRA email list-serv and social media pages. Send your responses to “UCIRA’s State of the Arts” ucirasota@gmail.com>

Check out the project here: http://www.iftf.org/californiadreaming

Planning for the School Year with micha cárdenas (UCSD)

14 Sep

Last month SOTA sent out a Q&A to the UCIRA list-serv about preparing for the school year and got back some great responses, posted here. After it was posted we got one more really insightful response from micha cárdenas at UC San Diego. If you would like to respond to this or other Q & As post a comment on this text or email ucirasota@gmail.com.

Q: Recently on Remaking the University blog Michael Meranze (UCLA) reflected on the summer and the upcoming school year: “This year crucial issues about the organization of University life and work, about the relationships between the campuses, the intersection between UC and the larger Higher Education system, about pensions, staff layoffs, and student fees are going to confront us all. This summer may have been quiet—but in all likelihood it is the calm before the storm.” SOTA wants to know what challenges do people need to be preparing for, thinking about as the school year begins? What is on your mind?

A: micha cárdenas (Lecturer, Visual Arts Department and Critical Gender Studies and Artist/Theorist, bang.lab; all at UCSD) – For me, what’s on my mind is the question “how far can I go?” As a lecturer, I’m very aware that I can lose my job for participating in indefinite strikes, blockades and occupations, but they are the only actions that I think are going to be effective at this point. We’re all coming back to a university reshaped by budget cuts, and we have to choose between acceptance and noncompliance. For myself, at UCSD, I was saddened last year to see so many large marches and single or few day strikes totally co-opted by [UC President] Yudof. Across the UC, huge marches happen, and Yudof puts out a press release the next day saying how proud he is of the democracy in action in our school system, when really there is none. Really, we come back to fewer jobs, friends laid off, fewer classes for students and more tuition. I applaud and support efforts Ken spoke of to coordinate a non-payment plan of the tuition increases. I feel myself, like the only thing on my mind is how to join and support efforts that are continuing to start blockades and occupations, because I think we’re long past any semblance of democracy or negotiation and are at the point where we have to either stop the machine of privatization or help it function. I was also saddened by what I saw happen at many UCSD rallies where a diversity of tactics was not respected. I saw march organizers, “protest police”, literally break up and stop multiple street blockades at UCSD last school year, and that can’t happen. Hopefully those of us willing to stop the working of the university in order to open a space to re-imagine and reclaim education can see now that the name “activist” or the “organizer” t-shirt is not enough to indicate an ally, and that we have to find solidarity and build it with those people we share an affinity and a passion with and act on that solidarity. I for one, am ready to put my body on the line and hope I can find some people who are willing to join me.

Q & A: Rabkin (UCB) and Haas (UCLA) on Resources

14 Sep
Q&A is an irregular series on SOTA which will pose a question to a small group of faculty, staff or students from different campuses and compile their responses. If you would like to respond to the question, please do so in the comments section of this post or email ucirasota@gmail.com.
Q: How are you going to share resources this academic year? Does sharing resources signify a submission to the budget cuts or is it necessary restructuring? How can sharing resources model a better university based on principals of cooperation over competition?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Michele Rabkin (Associate Director, Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley) – The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley has a history of collaboration. Even before the most drastic budget cuts, our funds were always smaller than our ambitions, so we sought to leverage them for greatest effect. This meant joining with others on campus to co-sponsor projects that no one department could pull off alone (frequently artists’ residencies that were interdisciplinary in scope). Now, with our programmatic funds edging perilously close to zero, sharing of resources is key to our survival. This takes two forms. In one, we seek to partner with other units on campus, such as the Townsend Center for Humanities, on projects of mutual interest. They may be able to contribute funds or other types of support (such as the Townsend Lab, a tool for online collaboration). In the other, we provide staff support to arts-related projects initiated by the Dean (such as the new Berkeley Arts Seminars for freshmen) in exchange for additional financial support. While we have to be careful to maintain a balance between the core priorities of ARC and those of our collaborators, both these kinds of partnerships are effective and we will continue to pursue them whether or not the budget situation improves.

A: Gilda Haas (Urban Planning Dept. UCLA and editor of Dr. Pop) – I started this program called Community Scholars in 1991, which has since been led by others. This year and last, what I’m teaching at UCLA has had at its core the idea of sharing resources.  A primary goal is to turn university resources out towards the community, by making a space for community and labor leaders, and as of lately also artists, to work with our graduate students on an applied research project for six months, and then, reciprocally, for us all to benefit from their knowledge and experience.  For almost 20 years, the program has been a collaborative effort between the urban planning department and the UCLA Labor Center.  It has rarely had line funding.  It has succeeded thus far due to a strong commitment to the idea and a sense of accountability to a constituency.  In the world of the work that I do, which is community development, popular education, and organizing for social change, there are always budget cuts.  There are always anti-union efforts to defund the labor center.  Our collaboration is necessary for survival, but more importantly, it is necessary for inspiration, creativity, breaking through silos, and expanding our networks.

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