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Building UC Riverside into a National Center for Arts and Humanities

by: Ricardo Duran   (June 2004)

Dedicated faculty members, and some fortunately-timed financial support from private foundations, have produced a thriving arts and humanities scene at UC Riverside, despite those headlines about California’s budget crisis.

That support has allowed UCR to build key areas and innovative approaches to the arts and humanities; support that helps keep the campus a vibrant center for performance, connected to its surrounding community and relevant to the larger community.

“One of the things that has been said by program officers from foundations about how we seem to be different from other campuses is that faculty have a very high level of consciousness about applying our research in the arts and humanities to the community in general,” said Emory Elliott, a distinguished professor of English and director of the Center for Ideas and Society.

He said there is an excitement about the possibilities here, because the Inland area is growing quickly and is ethnically diverse. And there is excitement about the way that UCR faculty work together across disciplines to create new programs.

Deborah Wong, an associate professor of music, said she has seen the same reaction. “A couple of members of the Luce Foundation visited and what they saw was faculty that was energized and excited about possibilities here. That energy translates directly into new programs, new ideas and new publications. They are looking for evidence and we came through.”

Success builds on itself. One foundation grant seeds the ground for the next, helping to build new programs and new attention. Foundations are looking for the best return on their investment, especially at UC Riverside.

Maier held the world’s most prestigious chair in Southeast Asian Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands prior to joining UC Riverside. He has also taught at Kyoto University, Cornell University and UCLA.

Junior faculty member Mariam Beevi Lam, a scholar of Vietnamese language, Vietnamese literature and film, joined UC Riverside in 2003.

“Our Asia program mission is to strengthen American capacity to understand and interact with Asia,” said Helena Kolenda, a program officer at the Luce Foundation. “We do this primarily through support for Asian studies, teaching and research at American higher education institutions.”

“The Luce grant was aimed at creating a critical mass of faculty at UC Riverside with specialties in Southeast Asian studies,” said Deborah Wong, a professor of music and proponent of the grant.

UC Riverside had set a foundation for this critical mass by hiring Filipino Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez from UC Berkeley in 2001 to join the Ethnic Studies Department. The campus had also formed the Southeast Asian Performing Arts Studies Center in 1997 with faculty in music, dance, religious studies, and ethnic studies. The center examines the links performing arts forge between Southeast Asian homelands and expatriate communities such as those in California. The center now works with faculty from UC campuses in Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine.

The grant will also help shape new ways of looking at how geographic areas are studied, such as looking at the causes and factors behind global migrations like the post Vietnamese-war migration of Southeast Asians to California, Wong said.

“Because the study of Southeast Asia is weaker in the U.S. than, for example, the study of China, we have a particular interest in fostering the development of the field of Southeast Asia studies,” Kolenda added.

Cultural Diversity and Aesthetics

One of the largest sources of foundation grant support in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, comes from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations in their support of cultural diversity research, teaching and conferences organized by UC Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society.

The campus has received grants from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations totaling more than $1.2 million primarily for projects that study the impact of cultural diversity on society and the arts in the U.S. The growth of the campus, acquiring talented young faculty and the development of the Center for Ideas and Society, helped attract the foundations’ attentions.

“During the 1990s, we built an extraordinary faculty in the humanities, arts and social sciences,” said Elliott, director of the center. A 1998 conference titled Aesthetics and Difference: Cultural Diversity, Literature and the Arts drew the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education and brought a good deal of attention to the campus.

Subsequent visits by Ford and Rockefeller Foundation representatives with groups of faculty brought favorable results, Elliott added.

These grants have underwritten an array of seminars, performances, visiting scholars and lectures in such areas as gender and sexuality, diversity and multiculturalism, and performance and visual culture.

Among the work funded through the grant are performances, such as the hip hop theater workshop Sample This and Inventing Native Modern Dance; lecture series’ with titles like, The African Diaspora, which examined the trans-Atlantic Slave trade, and Aesthetics, Ideology and Difference in Hispanic Literature, which brought prominent scholars in Latin American Literature to campus to discuss the artistic connections between the Americas. The grants have paid for conferences with titles such as The Black Aesthetic 1960-2001, Sexualities and Knowledges, and Revitalizing Heritage: California Indians in an Era of Sovereignty.

In 2002, the Center for Ideas and Society applied for and received a three-year, $450,000 Ford Foundation grant for a project proposal titled Cultural Cloning: The Social Injustices of Reproducing Sameness, which is more social science oriented and is funding six research groups in topics such as labor systems, kinship and family systems, constructing civilization, state systems, educational systems, and aesthetic systems.

“We expect to have as many as four books come out of this research,” Elliott said.

Such grants help raise the academic profile of UC Riverside and help attract not only excellent new faculty but also outstanding graduate and undergraduate students, he added. The Center for Ideas and Society Web site http://www.ideasand

Bringing Arts to the Community

What do digital dance, a conversation with Sara Shelton Mann and A.A. Milne’s The Ugly Duckling have in common?

They’ve all been brought to the community thanks to the ongoing support of the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, which has supported the Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts at UC Riverside since 1996, to the tune of slightly less than $3 million.

The privately-funded arts outreach program is designed to create the opportunity for faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students in the Departments of Creative Writing, Dance, History of Art, Music, Theatre and the Sweeney Art Gallery and UCR/California Museum of Photography to extend their creativity to local schools, nursing homes, and community centers that have little access to the arts. UC Riverside is one of only three institutions in the Nation receiving Gluck support. The others are UCLA and Juilliard.

Some recent performances included Dancing With Technologies in November 2003 involving graduate dance fellow Isabel Valverde, who introduced people to emerging dance forms that experiment with new technologies, sometimes called digital dancing. The Tens was a dance and music performance created by Gluck Graduate Dance Fellow Shawn Womack and performed in April 2003, by dancer and UC Riverside alumna Jennifer Twilley as a conversation between the elements of movement and sound with Josh Aerie, the assistant principal cellist for the Inland Empire/Riverside County Philharmonic Orchestra.

Conversations with the Choreographers brought several of today’s outstanding choreographers to UC Riverside for a series of informal dialogues about their works and artistic visions. Among those who appeared were Alonzo King, Eiko and Koma, Sara Shelton Mann and Rennie Harris.

The First Sundays Project is part of the UCR/CMP’s offerings of hands-on activities for families and children. Gluck fellows Darren Eskandari and David Horvitz organize and run workshops, such as Instant Animation 2004, which explores the secrets of animation that haven’t changed in over 100 years; and Phenawhoozie?—discovering 19th Century Toys. Gluck Fellows Web site
Improving General Education

Sometimes what begins as a grant-funded pilot program develops into a permanent addition to the campus. In May 1999, UC Riverside received a $150,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to offer a “learning community” to freshmen.

Classes were taught collaboratively by professors from different disciplines to challenge students to look at issues from multiple perspectives. The classes, known as cluster courses, had students look at issues in depth over the length of the academic year. The courses also offer a sense of community among the students, according to Associate Professor of History Lynda Bell, who helped write the grant proposal.

The Hewlett Program in General Education, as it was known, was the start of what is now CHASS Connect, where first-year students enroll in a year-long sequence, according to Bell.

“Dean (Patricia) O’Brien told me last fall that the current CHASS Connect program took a lot of its inspiration from the Hewlett program,” she said.

For Associate Professor of English Joseph Childers, the Hewlett program proved good training in putting together multidisciplinary courses.

“The course I put together with Edmond Otis (martial arts instructor) and Max Neiman (professor of political science), had to do with the ways we talk about conflict. It was a three quarter course,” he said. “In the first quarter, we talked about how conflict was represented in literature, philosophy and the arts. The next quarter had to do with organizational conflict, political organizations, nations, and conflict in a macro arena. Third quarter had to do with interpersonal conflicts. We typically carried between 80 to 100 students every quarter. It was extraordinarily successful.”

Today CHASS Connect offers six course sequences with titles such as Of Cannibals: Myths, Legends and Facts; Origins of Race; Class and Gender; The Reliability of Evidence; The Cultural Iconography of Diversity; and Individual Visions and Global Perspectives: Explorations in Contemporary Identity Politics.

Livening Up the Graduate Student Experience

The purpose of the three-year, $166,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, is to bring graduate students into close intellectual collaboration with faculty to develop and organize a series of workshops in the humanities.

All workshops involve faculty conveners and a graduate student leader, along with faculty and graduate student participants on topics related to multiculturalism, aesthetics, difference, and social justice, according to Thomas Scanlon, professor of classics and chair in the Department of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages, who wrote the proposal.

“The key feature is that it fosters collaboration between faculty and graduate students on innovative research projects,” he said. “It is also a crucial infusion of funds to bring in major speakers from around the country to UC Riverside for lectures open to the public. In short, it enlivens the intellectual life of the college."

In October 2003, Joyce Appleby, a professor emerita t UCLA and a leading intellectual on the nation's revolutionary founders presented a workshop on Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

Philosophy Graduate Student Sam Page said his experiences working on the first year's series of talks ws invaluable.

"As a graduate student, it gave me experience organizing and carrying out a year-long series of talks, somehing I'll probably be doing quite a bit more of as an academic," Page said.

Scanlon said the Mellon Interdisciplinary Workshops in the Humanities offers a window into the way graduate students should be trained.

"Ph.D students should be trained in interdisciplinary approaches to research and instruction that will serve both their own work and enrich the institutions in which they will become faculty members," he said. In its first six months, program participants have been involved in 31 events, such as the Abuse of Ideals workshops in which Page was involved.

"the workshops enriched my education by providing a regular forum in which to interact with faculty and graduate students from throughout the humanities and social sciences and to hear a a variety of points of view on a paritcular issue," said Page, who hopes to land a tenure-track job starting in the Fall 2005.

The Future Looks Bright

Private foundation support is likely to grow at UC Riverside, especially since stronger than expected economic growth has helped boost foundation assets anywhere from 9 percent to 11 percent in 2003 according to the Foundation Center, fomred in 1965 as a clearinghouse funded by foudnations to track philanthropy and provide accurate information on giving.

And UC Riverside has the growth potential, the quality of faculty, the engagement with the community and the openness to new ideas, to remain a favorite of private foundations looking to boost the creation of new programs in the arts and humanities.

"We're well known in the country as a college that has a lot of experimentation, a lot of new approaches," said Elliot. And that is not only exciting to foundations, but to faculty and students. "It's exciting for students to feel that they are a apart of a developing field, something that will become a new discipline perhaps in the next ten or fifteen years. So it really feeds on itself," he said. "It generates excitement and excitement creates new ideas, and gets people organized."

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