UCSD To Build New Craft Center By 2021

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Interior of the Crafts Center with surfboards.
Photo courtesy of the UCSD Crafts Center.

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In an attempt to renew UCSD’s commitment to artistic entrepreneurship, the university is building an 11,000-square-foot craft center. This endeavor, years in the making following the sudden shutdown of its predecessor half a decade ago, is projected to open in early 2021. The center will be located in the heart of the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning neighborhood. 

Visual artist and UCSC graduate Annika Nelson, who currently teaches for UCSD Extension’s Teaching English through Art (TEA) program, will head the new center.

“When I came on board in April it became quickly apparent to me that there is a lot of curiosity about the new Craft Center and a lot of enthusiasm for its return to campus…I am currently focusing on building a diverse network of skilled artists to serve as instructors…I hope to make the Craft Center a true intersection space where people from all over San Diego can meet and make,” said Nelson in a statement to The Triton.

The road to recovery for the Craft Center was a long one. Due to neglect and insufficient funding, the original 40-year-old center was temporarily closed in 2012. Subsequent inaction on the university’s part gave way to a permanent closure and eventual demolition three years later.

After the facility shut down, students translated their passion for the Crafts Center into outrage at its demise. However, between adventurous student forays into the unused facility, an unofficial tenant named Dana and the university’s continued failure to address financial concerns, the center stayed closed until 2015, when it was torn down in response to a Fire Marshall order.

Despite an outcry from the student body and several petitions in support, it took another two years for UCSD to announce plans for a new craft center. The new center is a part of a 1.6 billion dollar effort to rejuvenate the campus to welcome a surging freshman population.

Building a new center is an ambitious undertaking, in part because it will have to live up to what a former student describes as the legendary status of the first center that was founded by artist Ron Carlson in the 70s.

As one Yelp reviewer from 2007, Ethan, described: “UCSD’s Crafts Center has provided me and hundreds of others with fun, relief, refuge, release and maybe even a bit of artistic talent over the years.” He continues, “…For access to some of the best educators at UCSD and what could be the skill or hobby of a lifetime, the Crafts Center really can’t be beat.”

Though the original Crafts Center generated some income, the amount was not typically enough to cover its expenses and overhead. This is currently the largest concern for the new center, which is being paid for through donor funding. The university says the center will reach “year-over-year financial stability with a nimble business model that makes the most of cross-campus efficiencies.” The administration has  yet to publicly release more specific information about how the center will support itself.

The university is not only optimistic about the financial future of the center, but also the impact it will have on our student community. UCSD hopes the center will be a hub for intellectual stimulation and bold expression, as well as a space to integrate students with the off-campus community in novel ways.

The new facility strives to augment the first’s architectural strengths. Echoing the previous center’s design – which centered on earthy tones and close proximity to a eucalyptus grove. In line with this aesthetic, natural light will be emphasized through large windows in the new facility.  This nature-design symbiosis is reflected in the work of Nelson, whose own practice is heavily influenced by the environment and spans various design disciplines. From children’s book illustrations to multiple public installations, including a sculpture series in California’s Tidelands Park, her experiences make her a strong mentor to welcome a variety of creators to the space.

Nelson doesn’t take the challenge of heading a new center lightly; “In many ways, being the manager of the new Craft Center is the Olympics I’ve been training for my whole professional life”, she said. 

Having spent nearly 15 years involved with Arts, Humanities, Languages and Digital Arts at UC San Diego Extension, she “ truly believe[s] that making art can ‘save lives’ and help people see the world in new ways.”

The importance of the craft center on campus is undeniable: it strives to be organic and student-focused in a campus that, in the minds of its students, can often dangerously veer towards the “inorganic and sterile”. Ultimately, it is this, the original center’s artistic vitality and community integration, that its successor must seek to emulate.

Sarvani Kolachana is a staff writer for The Triton.