Where Can Student Art Go?

Graffiti Art Park offers a place for student art at UCSD. (Cristina Damse/The Triton)

In fall of 2013, Graffiti Hall, a landmark once adored by all, closed because it was in the emergency exit of Mandeville Hall and the university had to maintain the facility. A less exhilarating alternative, Graffiti Art Park, opened October 13, 2014. The thrill of being consumed by wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor graffiti art cannot be conveyed through eight double-sided, plywood billboards. The existence of the University Art Gallery has also been threatened over the last two years and was almost closed permanently June 2 of this year, but was voted to remain temporarily open. The reason for the closure: more space for classrooms.

Although we do need classrooms and office space, spaces created for student expression should not be and are not expendable.

On this campus, art-based landmarks have slowly disappeared from view, even more so as they relate to social justice issues. Although there are odes to major social justice heroes through the Chicano Legacy mural, the Sojourner Truth statue, and the Black legacy mural, these are traditional forms of art exhibited done on University’s terms, not the students. When students protest on campus and create their own public art pieces, like the massive painted board meant to shed light on economic problems in America, they are removed. Yet, when anti-abortion advocates display triggering photographs and unreliable statistics or Islamophobic and homophobic hecklers harass students, the university seems to turn a blind eye.

Few students have a chance to interact with art that tackles problems that affect society on a structural and systemic level. There are organizations that grant all student access to larger scale productions specifically for social justice issues, like The Vagina Monologues & HerStories (VagMo), which is an annual production that addresses sexism. But it only happens during Winter Quarter. ArtPower incorporates academia into art. Sometimes the artists that they curate are centered around social justice issues, however they do not specifically host programs regarding social justice issues. They have shown films such as What Happened, Miss Simone?, which was shown back in February of this year, and Chicano Batman brought culture to UC San Diego with their performance at Celebration of the Arts on September 22. But this makes two larger-scale opportunities over the course of seven months.

The closing of the Craft Center back in 2012 made a huge dent in the art community here on campus. University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), the Associated Students, and Graduate Student Association proposed a fee increase referendum in 2013 that would have covered the costs of the Craft Center, but it did not pass. The Craft Center was not included in the funding in the 2015 fee increase referendum and in September of 2015, by order of the UCSD Fire Marshal, the center was demolished. According to the UC San Diego Campus Services, “the center [provided] personal enrichment and creative educational opportunities to individuals wishing to develop artistic skills in an active studio-classroom situation.” Students of all disciplines and skill levels could come and learn about photography, ceramics, drawing, glassblowing, and other awesome artistic forms. This center gave students an outlet to not only express, but to learn.

So what are students to do when they aren’t able to express concern for the world in a public artistic manner? Create their own outlets.

Students like Kyler Nathan IV and Cambria Anderson created their own outlet for expression through “Flexin’ My Expression,” a trilogy of spoken poetry events that was held here on campus. Events like this are different from others on campus not because of their purpose but because of their content. Students from a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints are able to showcase their opinions and talents, great or limited in the eyes of whoever beholds it. Is this not the point of student art?

Despite the measures taken by students to ensure that we have outlets for activism and artistic expression, it is essential to maintain that students are students. It is the job of the administration and planning organizations on campus, not ours, to ensure that we have opportunities and spaces for us to express ourselves. “I think it’s unreasonable for this campus, which houses so much STEM creation, to not have a space dedicated to artistic creation the same way,” says Kyra Green, a second year Revelle College student. “If we’re selling ourselves as a school of creation and vision, it should be a serious dedication!”

Art and activism are never-ending powerful forces that push on through the ages, and we cannot – will not – allow it to dissipate. Creating spaces on campus that allow students to challenge their judgements in a creative and fun manner is greater for overall student engagement than a 115 million dollar biological sciences building. UC San Diego obviously has the potential to develop student centered spaces that counter the perpetual banality of the campus, so let us hope that it does.

Amarachi Metu is a Arts and Entertainment writer for The Triton. She can be reached at ametu@ucsd.edu.