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The University of California, San Diego’s (UCSD) University Art Gallery (UAG) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, but this may also prove to be its last year. In a public announcement on Tuesday, the university’s administration revealed that the UAG space will be shut down on June 2 and converted into classrooms to accommodate UCSD’s rapidly rising enrollment. As UCSD’s student newspaper The Guardian pointed out, this will make it the only University of California school without a large campus art gallery, a startling prospect for a school with a very highly regarded Visual Arts Department — alumni include Moyra Davey, Rujeko Hockley, Nina Katchadourian, Artie Vierkant, and Angela Washko.
In their statement announcing the imminent closing of the gallery, UCSD Executive Vice Chancellor Suresh Subramani and Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta cite its faltering finances as an ongoing issue, but the main reason for its closing seems to be a dire need for additional classrooms. The statement, sent to Hyperallergic by Della Coletta’s office, reads in part:
[I]n recent years the UAG has faced financial challenges, and last year its operation was put on hold pending a proposal for future use. Proposals to fund the gallery have been put forward recently, but the university must evaluate these options in the context of other pressing needs. Since 2014–15 the undergraduate population has grown by almost 1,700. We will add approximately 1,300 students in 2016–17, and UC San Diego has a mandate to further increase enrollments in the two years that follow. Such increases impact our spatial needs on campus — more students need more classroom space. Although new classrooms are planned to come online over the next few years, the immediate need means we must repurpose existing space. The gallery space is among those sites that will serve UC San Diego students as classroom in the near term.
The announcement of the closure coincided with Dispossessed: A call to PRAYER AND PROTEST, a series of performances, exhibitions, and interventions organized by artists MR Barnadas and Tae Hwang — who make collaborative work under the name Collective Magpie, and completed their dissertation at UCSD as a collective. In response to UCSD’s decision to dismantle the gallery, the artists have marked its doors with a large, red “X” and plan to continue programming the space and its exterior up until the day it’s due to close for good, June 2. Yesterday’s actions included a student march and a performance outside the gallery by Ricardo Dominguez, an artist and associate professor in UCSD’s Visual Arts Department.
“If the closure of the UAG space meets without resistance, UCSD will be the only UC school without a university gallery,” Barnadas and Hwang told Hyperallergic over email. “Further, the destruction of this gallery is a critical statement from the university at large expressing complete indifference and lack of understanding of the critical role that the arts and humanities play in culture, as well as in an educational context. The proposal to destroy a cultural site and resource of this significance, without meaningful discussion with students, faculty, and staff is both shortsighted and, finally, lacking in vision entirely. It is a total failure of stewardship.”
Students have also launched a petition addressed to UCSD Chancelor Pradeep Khosla opposing the closure of the UAG, demanding a more transparent and open process for finding new classroom space, and pointing out the inadequacy of the campus’s other art spaces as substitutes for the UAG. “Only the University Art Gallery provides an appropriate space for exhibiting the works of famous alumni and emerging and diverse artists as well as undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and visiting artists,” the petition states. “In short, we are witnessing the dismantling of art space crucial to the professional training of Visual Arts students and to the vibrancy of the arts community on campus.” As of this writing it had garnered over 2,100 signatures.
The UAG cause even received a celebrity endorsement from Rosario Dawson, who was on campus canvasing for Bernie Sanders in anticipation of California’s presidential primary on June 7, and was approached by supporters of the gallery. “When we say ‘take the money out of politics,’ it’s so that we can have money for arts and so many other things,” Dawson says in a video posted on Instagram by UAG supporters, “it’s about redirecting that money and using and spending it more wisely.”
The UAG’s future was already uncertain prior to this week’s announcement. Its activities were suspended last May, and it reopened earlier this month for an exhibition of work by undergraduate students. “Discussions on the future plans for the Gallery will resume in the Fall,” according to a note on its website.
“The loss the UAG and archive will have an extremely negative impact not only on UCSD’s international reputation and local communities,” Barnadas and Hwang said, “but also on future generations in that it delivers a toxic message on what we as culture and society value — and devalue.”