In a campus as large as UC Santa Cruz, it can be difficult to find your place. After leaving high school, third-years Edie Trautwein and Sydney Eliot both initially joined Cowell Senate, but found their campus homes in two radically different areas.
Trautwein is now a curator for Sesnon Underground and Eliot is the Chief of Staff for the Student Union Assembly Office of the President (SUA OP). The two came together again to create a bridge between the arts and student government through the Sesnon Underground x SUA OP collaboration.
Sesnon Underground is the student-run experimental art gallery associated with the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery that primarily focuses on undergraduate artists in the UCSC community.
Trautwein approached Eliot with the idea in December 2020, hoping to create a gallery that would showcase the artistic talents of those in student government and encourage the worlds to collide. After presenting the collaboration to the SUA in early February, Trautwein and Eliot got to work preparing a community art night and collecting submissions.
“Student government has always really been embedded in my experience as a student at UC Santa Cruz…So when I got this job at the gallery, I really wanted to connect the two spaces because I feel like there can be a disconnect between student government and the student arts community on campus,” Trautwein said. “Students that are in the arts don’t always feel like they have a place in student government, and student government doesn’t always include the arts or have a lot of creative arts division majors that participate in their space.”
The collaboration came to a tentative end with a series of Instagram takeovers, an Instagram Live between Trautwein and Eliot, and the reveal of the Sesnon Underground x SUA OP Pop-Up Gallery on the Sesnon Underground Instagram page on March 1. While the Instagram activities have come to an end, Trautwein and Eliot said submissions will remain open for any students in government who still wish to participate and have their artwork posted by the Sesnon Underground account.
Before the Instagram Live, Trautwein did an hour long takeover of the SUA OP Instagram page, and SUA OP Director of Policy Maria Dolores Castillo did the same for the Sesnon Underground account. In her takeover, Dolores Castillo introduced viewers to her co-workers at SUA OP, talked about her own engagement with art and recent SUA initiatives and events. Castillo also submitted artwork of her own to the gallery.
“With the collaboration I decided to make a drawing where I traced my hand and I traced my sister’s hand,” Dolores Castillo said. “I put those words in [the hands] so she can feel like she is powerful, and that’s why I titled it ‘Sister Superpowers,’ because I didn’t want it to just be, ‘This is who we are.’ We have to embrace these traits that we have and we have to be more than what people think we are.”
Ten pieces of art were submitted to the Sesnon Underground x SUA OP Pop-Up Gallery, with submissions coming from both SUA officers and College senators. Artwork ranged from paintings, sculptures, collaged photography, and even knitwear.
During their Instagram Live, Trautwein and Eliot talked about each art piece, answered questions from the audience, and discussed the role of art in student government. The sentiment of art colliding with government exists both on the small scale of college government and in the larger scheme of incorporating arts into political events, such as Amanda Gorman’s poetry reading at the inauguration.
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“Helpline”: The SUA OP recently concluded their challenge for app developers to create a prototype app for their latest initiative to create an app for UCSC students to get help navigating the campus, ask questions, and report various issues on campus. The competition concluded on Feb. 28, and the winner will receive $500.
“Art is a really powerful force in politics and it can bring about a lot of change, as well as just being a really good way to express yourself creatively,” Eliot said during the Instagram Live on March 1. “I’ve been working on a crochet sweater that I submitted…I created it myself by basically making different squares out of crochet knit, and then sewing it all together, kind of like a big quilt. I’m actually pretty happy that I didn’t use a pattern because it feels more like me, it’s all original.”
Throughout their Live, Trautwein and Eliot encouraged students to get involved with student government and use art as an outlet for stress and creativity. The duo talked about their own works of art and inspirations, as well as how students who are looking to get involved with campus may want to start in their college senates.
At the close of the event, Trautwein urged viewers to follow Sesnon Underground on Instagram and contribute to their student artist spotlight — Instagram posts dedicated to the submissions of student artists. Eliot said that SUA OP is always looking for new collaboration opportunities.
“Even if you’re a little nervous or you don’t think you can contribute anything to the space, everyone can contribute something, first of all. Second is to build self confidence and get your foot in the door when it comes to something you’re interested in doing when you leave college.” Eliot said. “I think a great way [to get involved] is to join your student senate at your college, it’s usually 15 to 20 people, and then they can teach you about all the other orgs and the different opportunities that are out there.”