By Elizabeth Limbach
Overcrowded classes. Limited courses. Faculty and budget cuts. These were only some of the complaints a particular group of UC Santa Cruz art students had before deciding the conditions within their department were too frustrating to ignore. Out of their frustration, the Student Art Movement (SAM) was born.
Third-year art and community studies major Molly Chudacoff, one of three SAM leaders, said after realizing the administration was not addressing their demands, the time had come to take matters into their own paint-covered hands.
“It’s about being involved in our education,” Chudacoff said. “Taking control.”
SAM’s recent formation was in fact a resurrection of the group, which existed about five years ago but dissolved after its leaders graduated. Chudacoff, along with fourth-year art majors Lindsay Winslow and Christina Wang, was inspired by recent loss of faculty and trouble crashing impacted classes to jump-start the idle group.
Wang says the fledgling group must gather enough interest and solidarity within the department before members can begin to tackle issues.
“We don’t have a strong community within the art department, and there is no dialogue,” Wang said. “Before we can get together and decide, ‘Yes! This is where we want to push the art department,’ we have to have an art department.”
For now, SAM’s focus is on establishing the group as a recognized force within the student body. The group’s recent efforts include meeting with faculty, holding yard sales, and scouting for younger art students to take over once the current members graduate.
Just as the art department must scour for funds, SAM members spend much of their energy gathering money for events, supplies, and eventually maybe some new classes. The group has already received a $937 Irwin Grant and is waiting for confirmation of another.
Although SAM’s goal is to improve the arts department specifically, Wang recognizes problems plaguing art students can be found across the board.
“This is something that isn’t specific to our department. I know a lot of other departments have these issues,” she said. “[This case] really is the university being extremely single-minded on the sciences and overlooking the liberal arts because we aren’t profitable.”
SAM members plan on implementing a mentor program in which incoming art students would pair with older ones in order to help newcomers better navigate through the major.
On a larger scale, the group is also considering creating petitions for parents to send to the Regents with messages along the lines of “I am paying X amount and yet my art student cannot get into any classes.”
In addition to class size and restriction issues, SAM members also hope to also address art student concerns such as the lack of a W requirement within the major and poor interdepartmental communication. The most pressing worry, however, is the development of an art graduate program. SAM members fear it will negatively affect all aspects of its undergraduate counterpart.
“It’s the grad program at the expense of an already dwindling, falling apart undergraduate program,” Wang said.
Miriam Hitchcock, who has been an arts lecturer at UCSC for 15 years, shares SAM’s trepidations about the graduate program.
“It is already hard to get into classes, but it is shrinking and becoming even more exclusive,” Hitchcock said. “Who is looking after undergraduate education? What is the big thrill of having a graduate program here and what happened to the glamour of a great undergraduate program?”
For each intro class she teaches, Hitchcock estimates she turns away a whole classroom’s worth of “qualified, sometimes art major” students attempting to crash the course. SAM members fear introduction of a graduate program will worsen these issues.
However, they hesitate to blame the department â€“ and the graduate program endeavors â€“ for their dissatisfaction.
“We certainly don’t want to point fingers,” Wang said. “Doing that would cause more interdepartment conflict and drama. We are looking for unity.”