April was a busy month for the Institute. We started off with the architect search public event April 3 (which was terrific, see my last post), and the next week we had the Portland-based art collective Public Doors and Windows here for three days of planning, interviews on campus, and a terrific "art walk" with students, faculty, and staff trekking all across campus. All of this is part of the innovative and eye-opening two-year residency we are embarking on with Harrell Fletcher, Molly Sherman, and Nolan Calisch of PDW.
The three of them make up an art collective founded by Fletcher, one of the most noted international practitioners of what has come to be known as "social practice art." This way of approaching art reflects the conviction that art is fundamentally grounded in social contexts and relationships. Social practice artists tend to collaborate closely with places, people, and sites to create works that frequently blur the boundaries between artists and their nominal audiences, transforming passive "viewers" into active participants and makers.
At UC Santa Cruz, the artists in Public Doors and Windows learned from us that the genesis of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences lay in the desire of many faculty to have something like a museum on campus. Then they asked, "What if you already had a museum? What if we looked at the University as if it were a museum, or like a museum in many of its functions, intentions, and behaviors?" Surprisingly, this question led to the realization that, indeed, like a museum, UC Santa Cruz has many collections, education programs, audiences, a highly distinctive architectural and landscape site, and a slew of paid "docents" to tour visitors through our educational program. The analogy was not exact, but it was illuminating. Out of it came PDW's proposal to construct with us a series of "museum tours"; an "exploded exhibition" of displays about UCSC collections and research activities sited around campus; a number of interviews with our "curators" (i.e. faculty and staff); a self-guided tour in the form of a smartphone/tablet app; and a "catalogue" or book that documents all of the above.
On April 11 we had our first tour, co-organized by Rachel Nelson, UCSC Ph.D. candidate in Visual Studies and, as my graduate assistant, the other staff member at the Institute. Rachel lined up an excellent group of undergraduate and graduate students to serve as tour guides, each of whom selected a "collection" or "exhibition" they wanted to focus on and arranged a guest speaker at that tour stop. We had a great group of participants who spent all Friday afternoon moving from the DARC building to the Institute's site, down to The Village (a student housing area) inside the lower quarry, then off to the legendary UCSC Farm, up to Porter College to see The Oldest Tree on campus, then to the Kresge Co-op, the STARS program (Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students), the Trailer Park, the amazing Thimann Greenhouse and botanical collection, and finally the Grateful Dead archive show at Dead Central in McHenry Library.
You could think of the walk as an experiential portrait of UC Santa Cruz. But like any portrait, it was a distinctive, idiosyncratic one—an artistic rendering and not an airbrushed, spin-doctored PR image. This was a portrait painted by people who live and work here, but facilitated by the artists in Public Doors and Windows. As we arrived on the roof of the Thimann lab building at the incredible Greenhouse, I was fascinated to hear a long-time faculty member murmur, "I didn't even know this place existed."
For me, as a relative newcomer, the day was both revealing and energizing. It showed again how the Institute can engage students, faculty, staff, and the community, working across campus and across disciplinary boundaries in novel ways to connect us with each other and the world.