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Photo: Jin Zhu. Photo: Futurefarmers. Photo: Brian Karl. Photo credit: r. Renate Kupke, project scientist at the UCSC Center for Adaptive Optics, spoke clearly about her work reducing distortion interference in telescopic data from outer space.
Participants nodded along intently to the playback through a handheld shortwave radio transmitter, one of many supplied for the gathering by sound artist Anna Friz, UCSC professor of film and digital media. This past February, Wandering Seminar shared creative pedagogical alternatives and perspectives with constantly shifting, reforming groups of students, professors, and artists. They mobilized across the UCSC campus over walkways and meadows, at bus stops and redwood groves, in plazas and labs, and via image and radio transmissions of seminar content.
During research, the collective connected faculty and students across disciplinary boundaries and with artists outside the university to de collaborative projects that could stimulate information exchange.
Futurefarmers facilitated the first collaborations of many academics at UCSC, often despite long tenures. In response, Futurefarmers set out to create new paths for different meetings of minds. The diverse means of broadcasting and making public the outcomes of these exchanges—low- and high-tech, social and playful, visionary and down-to-earth—is typical of both Futurefarmers and IAS. Public-facing and dedicated to education, IAS launched in to generate exhibitions and events, artist residencies, and public programs in close conversation with faculty, students, and the university community.
When interim director Rachel Nelson succeeded Weber inIAS underwent a thematic expansion, increasing focus on environmental and social justice issues, including prison abolition and sexual and gender equality.
UC Santa Cruz has a long history of interdisciplinary thinking and explorations of alternative educational structures. Kresge College, a pedagogical community and residential college within the larger university that launched inalso offers precedent. An experiment to involve students in the de and implementation of curricula and in the administration of college life more generally, Kresge ultimately foundered as it was gradually subsumed by more conventional university procedures and protocols.
However, its legacy of deliberately reimagining how groups of interested students and faculty might gather and collaborate to influence higher education has continued to inspire the attitudes and ideals of succeeding generations of academics. Ideas and principles of alternative education deeply informed Wandering Seminar and found their way into individual sessions. Located mostly outdoors, the six free-form Wandering Seminar sessions proposed alternatives to longstanding hierarchical pedagogical conventions like the classroom, the lab, and the lecture.
The Institute looks to re-contextualize and re-catalyze faculty research methodologies and content while also responding to student interests. It does not aim to simply aid the delivery of ideas and information from experts to students but rather embody and challenge concepts through the work of artists, creative thinkers, and nonacademic specialists.
Art and science are broad concerns, and IAS programs have pursued engaged thinking on culture, society, environment, and politics. Solitary Garden has since achieved heightened relevance amid shelter-in-place orders necessitated by the Covid pandemic, the dramatic spread of coronavirus in US prisons—which has directly impacted Young and hundreds of other inmates at San Quentin—and calls for prison and police abolition in recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Nelson also credited UCSC as a birthplace of the activist organization Critical Resistance, which seeks to dismantle the prison-industrial complex and is responsible for introducing the idea of prison abolition into greater public discussion in the late s and early s. But the Covid pandemic was not the only crisis to embroil UCSC during the winter and spring quarters.
The increasingly public battle over fair wages for intellectual labor culminated in a wildcat strike by graduate students. The protests, supported by many faculty members and undergraduates, presented a new context—and a new challenge—for Wandering Seminar. This was followed by the termination of fellowship contracts for over eighty protesters, which added the threat of deportation for some international grad students. Just after the Wandering Seminar sessions concluded on February 29, graduate students at several other University of California campuses voted to strike in solidarity, but the coronavirus crisis superseded much of this momentum as UC campuses ceased most on-campus and in-person operations.
At least one ly committed participant chose to withdraw from a scheduled Seminar session, canceling their participation outright, while another shifted to a discussion via radio in lieu of a presentation on campus. Such maneuvers presented a marked contrast to the usual goings-on of education. A marked uptick in social media activity and a dedicated Vimeo channel have channeled info on Institute projects for physically distant viewers and delivered substantive content as well. Structural responses to these questions are rare, but they assume increased ificance during times of crisis.
Amid the successive ruptures of the strike, pandemic, and protest, pedagogy as usual has slowed or halted entirely. The time is long past due for radical shifts in thinking about how art and educational systems serve or fail to serve their communities. Such shifts will be pursued by IAS programs, despite and because of current and future challenges.
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