Tag Archives: What Counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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