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Americans for the Arts Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV

16 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Barbara County Final Report:

 

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP):

 

Written by ZouZou Chapman
UCIRA Program Coordinator

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

29 Mar

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

UCSD’s Sixth College Conference

Education in Action: Mobilizing the Next Generation for Social Reform

January 26, 2012

by Kim Yasuda (UCIRA Co-Director)

http://sixth.ucsd.edu/experiential-learning-conference/#more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Report Back: Proximity at a Distance

31 Jul

by UCIRA Co-Director Kim Yasuda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Conference After Another? Rethinking + Linking Gatherings

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking What Counts: Self-determined Self-assessment

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

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

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

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

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


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

Political Equator 3: Report Back from Liz Losh

21 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Media as Free Speech

26 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Reflection on UCIRA’s Conference

15 Mar

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Reflections on UCIRA Conferences 2005-2010

19 Jan

Reflections on UCIRA Conferences 2004-2010 from Dr. Holly E. Unruh (Associate Director of UC Institute for Research in the Arts)

November 2010 marked the 4th time UCIRA held its ‘State of the Arts’ conference – an event designed to bring together artists, scholars and arts administrators from across the system and beyond. Over the course of the three days we spent at UC San Diego considering the theme Future Tense: Alternative Arts and Economies in the University, I was asked several times about the history of the ‘State of the Arts’ conferences – what differentiated each one, what sorts of discussions were generated by the different themes; how did they vary from campus to campus? But perhaps most importantly I was provoked to think about the question of what it really means to ‘do’ a system/statewide ‘arts’ conference. When we launched ‘State of the Arts’ in 2005, the stakes – for faculty and for students, for arts education, for public education in general – were much different. The idea of a conference which was more like a festival (an un-conference), celebrating and linking the arts across UC and thus across the state, was an exciting prospect to consider. As we enter the very different climate of 2011 the question looms: where to spend our efforts and our dwindling funds? What can we best accomplish with our resources and how? Should ‘State of the Arts’ continue?

Still Building workshop and installation on California student movements at UCIRA Conference (UCSD in November, 2010)

‘State of the Arts’ has now been held on the UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC San Diego campuses. One thing that has remained a constant from year to year, venue to venue, has been the urging on our part that the host campus try to include a few proven elements: a multiplicity of voices (disciplinary, generational, etc.); an emphasis on the presentation of work over ideas (doing over discourse, in our internal parlance); and that they use the conference as an opportunity to showcase the work happening on their own campus. Our hope is that by using ‘State of the Arts’ as a showcase platform they will hit upon an atmosphere that will make it more like an arts festival than academic conference. This happens when artists on the campus open up studios, labs, work spaces and even classrooms. When we get past the polished critical analysis of work already completed, it becomes clear how much of what we do in the arts in the University environment is not only grounded in solid research and theoretically sophisticated (as a traditional panel presentation will surely aim to stress) but also lively and improvisational, action-based, and focused on the testing of forms, collaborative configurations and ideas – all values UCIRA as an institution highly prizes.

Deans Panel at UCIRA's Future Tense Conference (at UCSD November, 2010)

Another thread connecting each conference has been the invitation for UC administrators to come, witness, and hopefully respond to, the work in question. Since our second conference in 2007, we have been joined each year by a panel of arts Deans from across UC. By the third time they came to ‘State of the Arts’ in 2010, the Deans were (we like to think) comfortable enough with the work we were doing  to not only speak freely about what they saw as the challenges facing UC’s arts departments in the current fiscal crisis, but also to form a working committee that hopes to engage in very concrete ways with addressing some of these issues.

Different campuses have configured the conference in different ways: In year 1 (2005) at UCSB we did not have an overarching theme, although as the board sat down to curate the panels it became clear that we were all (latently) aware of some major strengths in arts research spanning the system – strengths that seemed to need articulation, connection and discussion. Over the two days of this initial conference we witnessed a variety of projects undertaken by UC artists which exemplified what we as an institution were then calling ‘Action Research’ – work which took what could easily have been purely academic questions out into the real world for testing, involved students as co-learners in the endeavor and co-producers of the knowledge, and which more often that not was as deeply collaborative in nature as it was spatially embedded in particular situations or issues. We also found that numerous individuals shared an interest in questions of habitation, design and architecture and the linked issue of sustainability – conceived both in economic, environmental and also in social terms. Finally, a strong theme to many of the presentations was the cross-cutting work being done to link art, science and technology throughout the UC system. A major project we highlighted that year was Marko Peljhan’s (Art./MAT, UCSB – and now our UCIRA co-Director) Makrolab.

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