The University of California San Diego (UCSD) is going to close its art gallery, making it the only UC campus without one. As this story from the UCSD Guardian reports, the announcement came rather quickly and gave gallery staff little time to make arrangements. The gallery will be closed this summer, and the space converted into a classroom. As there is no upside to such a story, I’ll write about some of the issues involved.
UCSD is experiencing strong growth in its student population. Okay, that’s a good thing in general. The need for more classroom space is obvious. But there is a perception, based on a great many instances, that the arts are the poor cousin when it comes to university funding. Unless you have a museum on your campus, and sometimes even then, the arts are considered less than serious – certainly less vital than other aspects of college life. Does the baseball team need a new stadium? Raise the funds; donors are more likely to give to a project like that than an art gallery. In fact, UCSD just opened its brand-new baseball facility in April. I’m not begrudging the UCSD Tritons their park: judging from this story, the upgrade was long overdue.
The sciences are also prime attractions for donor money. UCSD is part of a new initiative to build a 40-million dollar observatory to explore the cosmic background radiation left from the Big Bang. Much of the money for this project is coming from private foundations, but UCSD is justifiably proud of being involved. It sounds like a fascinating project, which could gather invaluable information about the creation of our universe.
So, why can’t museum administrators take equal pride in their arts program? Space is needed, sure, but space is made for other things while the arts get shoved aside. Last year UCSD opened the Alex G. Spanos Athletic Performance Center, an enlarged and improvement on the already existing athletic training facility. 6,700 square feet of new space was added, according to this story, at a cost of $4.3 million. Not one classroom was added, so far as I can see from the article.
Museum administrators know how easy it is to get money for high-profile buildings; that is, not super-easy, but easier than trying to convince people to build classrooms. So it is the arts that get the short end of the stick. I’m happy for UCSD that their athletic facilities are up-to-date, and fascinated by the possibilities of the new observatory. But when was the last time they made a major effort to make their arts program on a par with these others?