A Year of Challenges and Transformation
What does it mean to share an “end of year” newsletter while in the midst of so many transformations, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and new beginnings?
While the academic year has officially come to a close, there is no way to put closure on the issues and challenges that all of us continue to face. The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been turbulent for our university, our country, and the world, even as it has also exposed economic and health disparities across sectors and demographics. Those disparities are part and parcel of larger structural inequities whose underlying racism has also been exposed; the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others bespeaks the deep and historic sickness of our country. Contending with a “pandemic within a pandemic”—to quote our Congresswoman Barbara Lee—means facing the intimate and systemic links between an immediate public health crisis such as COVID-19 and the historic, 400-year public legacies of slavery and structural racism. That link is on our minds as we recall a year of tumult and transformation, of best-laid plans and unplanned improvisation.
The COVID-19 outbreak challenged us to redesign and innovate across all four domains of A+D work—Research, Teaching, Community Life, and Communication. Our most significant artist-in-residence project was meant to be the launch of Kahlil Joseph’s two-channel video installation, BLKNWS, across the campus. This major public art project had to be canceled in March, but we are cautiously optimistic (not to mention honored, thrilled, and sobered) that an alternative multi-site streaming of this deeply important, anti-racist work will be remotely shared with our campus community in the Fall. As #BlackLivesMatter protests unfolded throughout our country, we collected resources on advocacy efforts, relief funds, and creative resources to share with our community, all committed to ending structural racism and to promoting actually existing democracy. Other improvisations have been required. We transitioned our Arts + Design public lecture series and classrooms online, and we ramped up our robust digital archive of lectures from years prior for our community to revisit. We created a new section on our website, aptly titled Creativity in the Time of Covid, to deepen our collective engagement with artists, as well as the arts, design, humanities, and cultural organizations that keep our region and our country vibrant. In Washington D.C., yours truly shared initiatives underway at UC Berkeley to advance the arts, design, and humanities as part of our broad Creative Discovery platform and campus strategic plan for elevating the Student Experience. With all of these activities and more, we will continue to demonstrate the vital role of Creativity in the Research, Teaching, and Service mission of UC Berkeley, especially as the university addresses the twin effects of systemic racism and COVID-19 in the years ahead.
As you explore this newsletter, you will see that we continued our commitment to innovative artistic work and to technological innovation. Adapted from internationally renowned theater artist and alum Stan Lai’s award-winning play, A Dream Like a Dream, we produced the virtual reality short film, Tale of the Tibetan Nomad, created by Bay Area filmmaker Carol Liu. The short 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. Throughout the year, our 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. Produced in collaboration with dozens of campus partners, we focused on the theme of Democracy and Equity in the evenings, and Public Art, Race, and Belonging in the afternoons. In addition, we collaborated in the launch of the Oakland and Saint Denis International Cooperation Project, examining the role of cultural and artistic actors in urban development. This project supplements our ongoing research on the role of the University in Creative Place-making; as co-PI of a UCOP multi-campus research platform, we will continue to explore this topic, especially as the concept of ‘place’ is redefined for the arts and for higher education as we adopt new protocols for inhabiting public space. Finally, stay tuned as we continue to focus our programs on UC Berkeley’s Signature Research Initiatives, exploring how the arts, culture, and design advance the future of Democracy, Equity, Health, Environment, and Inclusive Intelligence.
While vital research continued, we also aligned our educational projects with the campus strategy to elevate the Student Experience. Our A+D website allows students and their families to CONNECT by acting as the central hub 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 temporarily transforming our Arts Passport to provide accessible, online 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 processes. Most importantly, our educational platforms allow students to DISCOVER themselves and their world through creative means. Thanks to collaboration with the Music department and generous donors, we were able to launch a new course in Music Therapy, one that we are thrilled to expand in the coming year. Whether in our Creative Discovery Grant Program, our flagship public course on the arts and design, 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.
Notably, none of the above would have been possible without innovative communication platforms. Indeed, at a time when all of us are connecting online, A+D’s communication systems have become essential. As I write, we are assembling resources for advocacy, funding support, and artistic projects that coincide 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. A digital Campus Public Art + Architecture Map is in development 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 2020, we know that these and other online resources will be vital to ensure connection and innovation across our creative campus.
Finally, at a time of fiscal precarity 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 and Laurie Macfee will expand their roles in education and public programming; KC Forcier continues as my brilliant research assistant; summer mason will guide our campus collaborations with Kahlil Joseph and BLKNWS, and Soomin Suh directs A+D Communications and is the force behind the newsletter that you are reading now. Deep thanks to all of our supporters, particularly to Coleman Fung, Cyrus Hadidi, Jacqueline Jackson, Nancy Olson, Laura and Gregg Perloff, Paul Wattis III, and Buzz and Jan Wiesenfeld.
Most importantly, we extend heartfelt thanks to our students, colleagues, regional partners, and community members for your support and for your inspiration. We cherish each and everyone of you as we navigate the bracing challenges and apocalyptic possibilities of a year that is far from over.
View the full end-of-year newsletter here.