a new community for the ARTS

By Scott Rappaport

Imagine a 30-foot-high pedestrian skybridge, modeled on the Pont des Arts in Paris, connecting patrons to an art museum, galleries, theaters, and a 1,500-seat performing arts auditorium. Painters and dancers mingle with cultural tourists in a central plaza surrounded by sculpture gardens, pausing occasionally to dine in a relaxing indoor/outdoor café. Filmmakers, actors, and musicians meet amid courtyards and artists' studios--all collaborating in a nationally renowned center for the arts, overlooking the stunning vistas of Monterey Bay.


Arts Division dean Ed Houghton shares plans for the new arts area with students.
Photo: Jim MacKenzie

UC Santa Cruz hopes to transform this idyllic scene into reality under a comprehensive arts and community access plan now being developed for the campus. This visionary effort, led by Arts Division dean Edward Houghton, has involved faculty, students, and staff, as well as outside architectural consultants. These groups have been working together for the past year to come up with a conceptual framework that will form the basis for future architectural plans. The end result will be a master blueprint--designed to dramatically enhance the Performing Arts area of the campus.

"This is where our artists are, where some of the most creative activities occur on campus," Houghton notes. "It's where the campus intersects with the community, where people come to see performances and experience the arts--music, dance, theater, film. So it's absolutely crucial that we plan wisely in this area."

Above: The current Performing Arts parking lot is the proposed site for a dramatically reconfigured and expanded center for the arts at UCSC.

The development of such a plan is not without significant challenges. How do you create a space for new construction that will work well with both existing buildings and the landscape, and at the same time provide a more enticing gateway to the campus?

In order to consider the best approach to these issues, UCSC hired a group of consultants led by Thomas Hacker Architects and Walker Macy. Both companies have a long history of designing plans for art centers and universities, collaborating on ventures such as Lewis & Clark College's Signature Project, Southern Oregon University's Center for the Visual Arts, and the Yellowstone Art Museum.

One of the trickiest hurdles the consultants face is determining how to build a pedestrian-friendly arts center that also meets the need for easy community access and parking. In response to this concern, architect Thomas Hacker has proposed removing the current parking lot in the Performing Arts area and building a new parking structure tucked among trees at the southern edge of the site. The center of the area would then be developed with a large auditorium space and museum, creating a central arts village that would connect the northern theater arts area with the southern music buildings.

"We are seeking a heart and soul for the area," observes Houghton. "The focus would be on taking cars out of the center and putting buildings and plazas in their place where people--major artists, emerging young artists, students, teachers, and audiences--can move and interact."

Driving this push for a long-range arts area plan has been a rapid rise in the number of UCSC students interested in the arts. Since the mid '90s, arts enrollments have been growing at a rate significantly faster than the total growth of the campus. "Students are applying to our programs in unprecedented numbers," says Houghton. "Five years ago, for example, we didn't have a Department of Film and Digital Media. Now we have over 400 students in that major alone."

In fact, to provide for the influx of new students, two new structures are already in the planning stage.

A state-funded $25 million arts building is slated to house the expanding digital arts program, as well as provide 10 studios for art faculty, a photography studio, and expanded space for music and theater arts classes. That building is expected to be completed by 2008.

The Arts Division has also received money from the campus to plan for a donor-funded art museum that would feature world-class touring art shows, teaching exhibits, and a permanent collection. The estimated cost is approximately $10 million.

"A museum is a critical part of a research university," notes Norman Locks, chair of the UCSC Art Department. "An important part of creating art is showcasing that work. It enables the artist to connect with other people, and to see how others react to what's been created. What a museum will do is put contemporary art research in a visible place in the university, and the campus has never had that before."

It will take many years and a combination of state and donor funds to bring this ambitious arts area plan into full fruition. At this point, it remains a work-in-progress, and no timetable has been set for its ultimate build-out. But Houghton stresses that now is the time to develop a vision to shape the future of this special area of the campus.

"A significant contribution we can make to tomorrow's students is to develop an exceptionally good plan today," he says.

For more information about the arts area plan, see arts.ucsc.edu/dean/areastudy/

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