Tag Archives: UC Santa Barbara

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 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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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.

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.

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/


Chicano Secret Service

27 Jan

The Chicano Secret Service, composed of actors and graduate students from UCSB  and UCR, performed live at UCIRA’s “Future Tense” conference in November of 2010. Here are three excerpts from the show at UC San Diego:

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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