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/