Opening Up and Stepping Down

Shannon Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor

How poignant to be writing my last End of Year Newsletter as Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts + Design, a missive that also doubles as an “End of Term” reflection. It is moving for me to be concluding this role just as our world is opening up to life post-vaccine. My term began almost six years ago when then Chancellor Nicholas Dirks asked me to launch a wide-ranging, cross campus Arts and Design Initiative at Berkeley. Since that moment, we at the Office of Berkeley Arts + Design have been building multi-organizational programs that featured and propelled the role of Creativity in the research, teaching, and service mission of the University of California at Berkeley. Along the way, we have benefitted from the collaborative spirit of faculty, staff, students, and alumni across departments, schools, and museums on campus – as well as the energy and vision of regional, national, and international partners. Meanwhile, we have also fielded the ups and downs of our campus’s recent history –the structural deficits of 2016, the leadership transitions and “Free Speech” debates of 2017, new campus strategic plans of 2018, the completion of sesquicentennial celebrations of 2019, and of course the effects of a global pandemic on our educational culture during 2020 until now. Throughout it all, A+D has responded strategically and nimbly, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, devising novel solutions, and redirecting energies when the situation required. Throughout it all, A+D remained and remains true to the mission of promoting Creativity for the Greater Good.

In what follows, I recap some of the highlights of 2020-21-- our COVID year—while setting these projects within A+D’s longer history of innovation and collaboration in the domains of Research, Education, Community, and Communication. I also welcome my successor, Professor Lisa Wymore, who will lead A+D as part of the broad creative goals of the Center for Undergraduate Discovery and our Campus’s Strategic Plan to elevate and reinvent the Student Experience at Berkeley.

Creativity and Research

Whether featuring the creative accomplishment of Berkeley students, faculty, and alums or advancing public dialogue and public scholarship about the arts and design, A+D’s programming, artist residencies, partnerships, and grants mined the intersection of creativity and research. Flagship programs like A+D Mondays and A+D Thursdays have become prime public programs for disseminating the ideas, people, and creative achievement that most compel the Berkeley faculty. A+D Mondays is produced in collaboration with dozens of campus partners—from Berkeley Center for New Media to Art Practice, from the Graduate School of Journalism to the College of Environmental Design, from BAMPFA to Cal Performances, from the African American Student Development Office to the Arts Advocates of Berkeley Law, and many more. We focused on a variety of themes each year—“Public (Re) Assembly,” “Fact and Fiction,” and this year’s “Together: Reinventing Politics, Reimaging Health;” all themes were strategically chosen to mobilize a creative dialogue around the arts’ contribution to Berkeley’s Signature Research Initiatives on Democracy, Equity, Health, Environment, and Inclusive Intelligence. Partnering campus organizations co-hosted a Rockstar roster of artists, designers, scholars, activists and rainmakers, including Angela Davis, Nicholas Negroponte, Rebecca Solnit, Darren Walker, William Pope.L, Isaac Julien, and several dozen more. Meanwhile, we could take advantage of the A+D Mondays to facilitate partnership and dialogue locally, nationally, and internationally. For instance, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine used Berkeley as a site for disseminating its recent report on the role of the arts and humanities in STEM/M education—and they loved having Provost Alivisatos, VCR Katz, and VCUE Koshland join in. As a co-PI of UC systemwide grants and international grants “creative placemaking,” I was pleased that A+D Mondays could be a public resource on this important movement, whether to disseminate the new cultural plans of the cities of Oakland and Berkeley or to foster international dialogue with “City/Cité,” co-produced with the California Humanities Council and the French Consul General of San Francisco. For our own campus, A+D Mondays was a space of “public (re) assembly” during the fraught and painful debates around Free Speech; this year, our Monday series has been a vehicle for brainstorming the memorial design for the Black Wednesday Wall on Sproul Plaza. Our public programs continue to do public good. 

Collaborative initiatives continued in other research partnerships and in stellar artist residencies. In 2018, for instance, A+D co-coordinated and funded a campus-wide AR/VR platform, including conferences at the Berkeley Center for New Media, the HTL Vive Center, the Academic Innovation Studio, and the Film & Media Department; an exhibition of eight new ARVR artworks at the Worth Ryder Gallery; as well as Professor Luisa Caldas’s stunning AR/VR recreation of the BAMPFA museum. These kinds of projects brought campus innovators from more than a dozen disciplines who shared their work to packed audiences of scholars, artists, students, industry partners, and community members. Our AR/VR platform opened up an imaginative and critical space of engagement, coming to terms with the ethical and aesthetic implications of these new technologies. Signature artist residencies also open up new spaces of creative discovery. 2019 brought that kind of opportunity with the arrival of world-renowned theater artist and Cal alum, Stan Lai. Working with undergraduates and graduate students from Theater, Engineering, English, Architecture, East Asian Studies, Art Practice, Film, Music and more, Lai created, “AGO,” an immersive performance of Buddhist tales drawn from historical and geographic sites across the globe. AGO went on to have its professional world premiere in Shanghai. That residency also provided us with the opportunity to produce the virtual reality short film on Stan Lai’s creative practice, Tale of the Tibetan Nomad, directed by Bay Area filmmaker Carol Liu. The short VR film premiered at the online 2020 Tribeca Film Festival in April along with a public dialogue on the post-COVID role of online streaming and VR film; it was publicly available for home viewing through the Tribeca Immersive Cinema 360 program in partnership with Oculus. 

Of course, 2020 and 2021 brought an entirely unprecedented set of challenges to the concept of “artist residency” and “public engagement” as our campus went on lockdown. Our most significant artist-in-residence project was meant to be the launch of Kahlil Joseph’s video installation, BLKNWS, on sixteen screens sited throughout the campus. We are cautiously optimistic (not to mention honored, thrilled, and sobered) that we will have the chance in 2022 to install this deeply provocative, anti-racist work. Other improvisations have been required. As so much of the entire country went on Zoom, we transitioned our Arts + Design public lecture series and classrooms online, and we ramped up our robust digital archive of lectures for our community to revisit. All of these breathtaking lectures, dialogues, and public interventions are available on the A+D Youtube channel, a discovery platform of “translational research” for the Berkeley community and beyond. A new roster of exciting speakers is already in formation for Fall 2021; check back on the A+D website to learn more about what Professor Lisa Wymore and the A+D/Discovery team have in store.

Creativity and Education

Guided by UC Berkeley’s broader vision for 21st century higher education, A+D seeks to ensure that ‘creativity’ is a core dimension of our students’ educational experience. Our pedagogical outreach took a number of forms. Thousands of students took advantage of our Creative Gateway courses: an ever-expanding suite of foundational arts education offerings that met the integrative learning goals of a “creative gateway” experience. These courses served students of all majors—from business to physics, from architecture to sociology, from biology to dance—and seek to expose them to a range of creative forms across the visual arts, performing arts, literature, film, and design. Thanks to the generosity of Laura and Gregg Perloff, we were able to seed a new educational domain of creative discovery in music and arts therapy; we look forward to expanding this curriculum in years to come. As enthusiasm for A+D's educational programs rose, we created a unique program of Creative Discovery Course grants, incentivizing faculty to embed creative pedagogy in new and existing courses. We were absolutely floored by the faculty’s excitement about this program. From the College of Natural Resources to the College of Engineering, from the College of Letters and Sciences to the College of Environmental Design, faculty created novel experiences, innovative learning environments, and breathtaking capstone experiences, demonstrating how artistic practice could activate and vivify the educational experience of our student scientists, historians, engineers, and philosophers, as well as all of our students in the traditional arts departments. Check out our Creative Discovery sites for Faculty and under Student Resources to learn more about the fruits of these incredible courses. 

Of course, our flagship course in the creative gateway suite is A+D’s own Thinking Through the Arts and Design. Housed at BAMPFA (pre-COVID) around a different theme each semester, it includes an embedded public lecture series—A+D Thursdays—that opens the course to a wider, intergenerational community. Themes included “Architecture of Life,” “Curation Across Disciplines,California Counter-Cultures, and Migration and Transformation. During the 2021 spring semester, yours truly was privileged to lead this course under the theme of “Time-based Media Art,” creating an online education platform that—with the support of the Kramlich Art Foundation—introduced students of all majors to some of the most important artists and curators in the field. At a time when all of us were teaching and learning online, this course gave us the opportunity to think more deeply about the aesthetic, political, and ethical dimensions of screen-based interaction. All of our visiting lectures are, once again, available on the A+D Youtube channel, including luminous interventions from Steve McQueen, William Kentridge, and Cal alumna, Shirin Neshat.  Looking ahead to Fall of 2021, we are thrilled that Professor Greg Niemeyer will lead this course under the theme of “Creativity and Practice,” bringing together a range of UCB faculty and Creative Discovery grant recipients to share concepts and tools for creative pedagogy.  

Creativity and Community

We are committed to embedding creativity into the fabric of student life at UC Berkeley and to advancing its unparalleled engine of social mobility. A+D is driven by the mission of cultural equity and by the belief in the arts as a place of exchange amongst people of all classes and cultures. All evidence shows that a commitment to creativity produces a sense of belonging amongst our students while building bridges between our campus and our local and global communities.

Our new Arts Passport was one important step in fulfilling that commitment. Launched on Cal Day in 2018 —inside a newly redesigned UC Berkeley mobile app, the passport was downloaded more than 14,000 times in the first week. Since then, thousands of students have taken advantage of free tickets and special offers at on-campus organizations such as Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Cal Performances, Department of Music, and the Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies season; and at off-campus partners that included SFMOMA, OMCA, the Bay Area Book Festival, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, amongst many others. The Arts Passport prototype was first made possible thanks to the ingenuity and energy of MEng students at the Fung Institute; its growth and technical advancement is now made possible thanks to our partnership with the Office of CTO Bill Allison and with the university mobile app firm, MODO, founded by Cal alum Stewart Elliot. While the pandemic forced the Arts Passport to become a vehicle for online arts engagement over the past year, that pause gave time for our technical team to develop new functionalities; an improved app will be released in Fall of 2021, just as arts organizations reopen to welcome our students!

Throughout my term as AVCAD, we provided, not only arts access, but also career development opportunities for our students at institutions on campus and across the Bay Area. Working with the Public Service Center, the Career Center, and numerous campus and regional organizations, A+D facilitated processes of placement and academic credit for creative internships, including PSC volunteer arts teaching for Cal students in local public schools (C.R.E.A.T.E.) and dozens of internships in arts administration in regional organizations. We were particularly thrilled to collaborate with the Bay Area Book Festival, not only in sponsoring exciting programs, but also in sponsoring a team of Cal interns and in facilitating access to the festival for thousands of Berkeley students. A+D continues to partner with local arts institutions on career mentorship, including mixers with Bay Area cultural leaders and sponsoring student clubs. We welcome our Bay Area community partners to festive Creative Careers Events, to Regional Arts Preview Mixers, and to End of Year Celebrations that connect our students and faculty to industry leaders and arts professionals across the Bay Area’s creative landscape. Stay tuned for more exciting community collaborations as arts organizations re-open in the coming year!

Creativity and Communication

Notably, none of the above would have been possible without innovative communication platforms. On a large campus such as ours, it can be hard to find one’s way. Even with our vast creative landscape, it can be challenging for our public to understand the creative range and impact of UC Berkeley. At A+D, we believe that communication is a form of care; it facilitates connection to our community members and helps our students establish a sense of belonging on campus. The 2016 launch of the A+D website was a herculean task whose impact was well worth the effort; it now features dozens of departments and schools, dozens of centers and venues, along with nearly 100 student clubs working across the fields of visual art, performance, literature, film and design. In 2017, A+D made further strides in the communication domain, working with hundreds of faculty, alums, and campus organizations to create new multi-organizational communication platforms. We kicked off that year with an award-winning (truly!) Snapchat tour of Berkeley’s creative landscape, receiving more than 200,000 views in five days and queuing up on-the-ground A+D campus tours throughout the Fall Golden Bears Orientation. We have since rolled out similar social platforms—for Homecoming, Big Give, and Cal Day. As our campus commits to re-igniting a 21st century public compact, stories of creative impact are essential. In 2019, we were thrilled to collaborate with the Promise of Berkeley – UDAR’s alumni publication – to make sure that those inspiring stories were circulated widely. The overwhelming response of all of these platforms testifies to the importance and success of increased awareness of the creative culture of UC Berkeley.

The significance and necessity of creative communication became even clearer during the pandemic. Indeed, at a time when all of us were connecting online, A+D’s communication systems were even more essential. We assembled resources for advocacy, funding support, and artistic projects that coincided with the activist and policy goals of #BlackLivesMatter. On our website, we created Creativity in the Time of Covid to provide an easily accessible, comprehensive list of online advocacy and creative resources for our campus and regional community during shelter-in-place. We developed a digital Campus Public Art + Architecture Map to encourage our community to engage with UC Berkeley’s most prominent and historically significant works of public art online through Artivive, an AR/VR app. As we look ahead to Fall 2021, we know that these and other online resources will have continued vitality, ensuring connection and innovation even as our creative campus returns to life offline. 

Creative Endings and New Beginnings

All of this interdisciplinary creativity in research, education, community life, and communication turned out to be particularly timely for our campus. Upon assuming her role as Chancellor, Carol Christ decided that she did not endorse some of the broader, infrastructural goals of the A+D Initiative as it was initially devised. Coinciding with a time of fiscal retrenchment, the campus’s financial commitment to the A+D endeavor was significantly reduced. That said, Chancellor Christ was quite clear that A+D should be a key player in the campus’s strategic commitment to elevating the Student Experience and asked me to reframe all of our programs to enhancing undergraduate life and to advancing the role of Discovery within a 21st century student life at Berkeley.  Thanks to the leadership of EVCP Paul Alivisatos, VCUE Cathy Koshland, and VCR Randy Katz, “Discovery” fast became a keyword in framing the cross-disciplinary, cross-functional “mash up” that distinguishes so much of Berkeley’s educational potential. Guided by the principles of Discovery at Berkeley, we situated and propelled every one of A+D programs to provide gateway and discovery experiences that enable students to cross-pollinate across fields, creating innovative, memory making projects before they graduate. Our A+D website and social media allow students and their families to CONNECT by acting as central hubs for programs and events from creative departments and venues across campus, along with numerous student clubs. We reimagined how to ENGAGE with our community by positioning our Arts Passport to provide accessible, online and offline opportunities for creative encounters to all Berkeley students (even at a time of physical distancing). Our Made at Berkeley Gallery has been replenished with exciting projects, some of which respond to the Coronavirus, encouraging students and faculty to REFLECT on their products and creative capstone projects. Most importantly, our educational platforms allow students to DISCOVER themselves and their world through creative means. Whether through A+D Mondays or our Creative Discovery Grant Program, whether in our flagship public course on the arts and design or in our Creative Careers events, or in our Student Committee on Creative Discovery, we foreground creativity as both method and goal in cross-disciplinary Discovery.

Finally, at a time of precarity (financially and physiologically) for our University and our regional arts partners, we at A+D are profoundly grateful for the ongoing support of generous donors. Indeed, the continuation of every one of the programs described above now depends entirely on philanthropic donation and external grants. It is also thanks to these donors that we have been able to maintain an incredibly committed staff—Paris Cotz in education and public programming and Soomin Suh who directs A+D Communications. These two incredible staff members will support my successor, Professor Lisa Wymore, as she and the leaders of the Center for Undergraduate Discovery continue to expand and deepen the role of creativity in the public life of our public university. My deepest thanks goes out to all of our philanthropic supporters over these last few years, particularly Coleman Fung, Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi, Reid Hoffman and Michelle Yee, Charles Huang and Lillian Qian, Jacqueline Jackson, Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Nancy Olson, Laura and Gregg Perloff, George Strompolos, Liza and Paul Wachter, Paul Wattis III, and Buzz Wiesenfeld.

Most importantly, now at this time of transition for all of us, I extend my heartfelt thanks to my students, colleagues, regional and international partners, and community members for your support and for your inspiration. I have been grateful for each and every one of you as we navigated the bracing challenges and apocalyptic possibilities of the last year…and the last few years.  You will be in my heart as I look ahead to some thrilling new projects and as I cherish the memories of our ambitious work together.     

With gratitude, Fiat Lux,

Shannon Jackson
Outgoing Associate Vice Chancellor