The A+D Parkour: Creativity and Its Prototypes 


We hear a great deal these days about the importance of “creativity.” City planners tout the importance of attracting it; education leaders try to figure out how to cultivate it, and industry employers lament the dearth of employees who have it.  Meanwhile, those of us with long-term allegiances to the arts and design keep making, playing, fabricating, composing, and re-composing available materials into new combinations, ready to welcome new friends and new fields to the process.

Indeed, the first year of our Arts and Design Initiative at UC Berkeley has meant featuring our campus’s powers of creative recombination–even as we do the work of recombination ourselves.  It has meant collecting information and assessing needs across dozens of departments, centers, student groups, and presenting organizations that represent thousands of campus constituents, and it has meant assembling the goals and resources of those organizations onto a shared platform.

I often felt that I was running a parkour, traveling from one creative site to the next, encountering unexpected opportunities, and taking a leap in the absence of an established path of travel. The risk turned up wonders, including new ideas about what “creativity” means on a campus as intellectually bold and as publicly engaged as ours. So too it turned up new ideas about how our creative fields might re-invent the nature and structure of the university itself.

To fully understand the scope of our community’s ambitions, our A+D Parkour included hundreds of constituent meetings, site-visits, departmental gatherings, and focus-groups and convened with students, faculty, staff, and campus leadership. Alumni from across the country—and the world—shared a deep and passionate commitment to the arts. Our Central Coast alums recalled the role of the arts in early student activism; our Paris Cal alumni group celebrated the work of environmental artists at COP21.  At every gathering, new arts-friendly supporters came out of the woodwork, from lawyers who are ceramicists to scientists who love opera. Whether I was speaking with faculty or students, finance or development staff, everyone had a story to tell about the role of creative expression in their lives.  Indeed, you can see just a sample of those stories here.

Of course, to run the A+D Parkour is to encounter creative spaces, as well as people, and this year UC Berkeley saw some thrilling new additions to its creative infrastructure. We welcomed the Jacob’s Institute for Design Innovation in August, as well the addition of the Reva and David Logan Galleries in both the Bancroft Library and the School of Journalism.  In January, our campus and the Bay Area received an incredible gift with the grand re-opening of the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Still more renovations are on the horizon for UC Berkeley. The faculty and administrative staff of the department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) are moving into fresh new digs inside Dwinelle Hall.  The Hearst Museum of Anthropology is reopening with a glorious new gallery, and we await a new plaza in the College of Environmental Design (CED), which will include a new restaurant from Slanted Door’s Charles Phan.  Meanwhile, the Music Department’s Hertz Hall will receive a substantial upgrade thanks to donations from Meyer Sound and generous campus supporters.

I believe that it is key to A+D’s role to link these creative spaces and to share our experience of the parkour. That desire inspired our intervention at Cal Day; there we hosted the first campus-wide architectural tour of our arts and design spaces, which featured buildings, programs, and events illustrating Berkeley’s deep artistic history and its creative offerings.  The tour functioned as both a propeller and prototype for what I hope will be a recurring Cal Day celebration of Berkeley’s creativity.

The concept of the prototype is of course key in so many creative fields—dance, sculpture, design, engineering.  If A+D’s job is to re-think and strengthen the connections amongst many campus organizations, that process sometimes needs to be slow, patient, and willing to tread and re-tread old ground until a shared vision evolves.

Sometimes, however, that process needs a catalyst and a more rapid re-visioning—indeed a rapid prototyping—of what a shared future might be. We thus searched constantly for opportunities to share a multi-organizational vision of our campus’ creative culture.  On Cal Day we asked, what might it look like to have all of our arts and design spaces on one pamphlet, and on one map?  On Big Give Day, we asked, what might happen if we encouraged giving to multiple arts and design units on the same platform (and by the way, total giving to the arts and design units increased by almost 500%; we hope we played a part in that.)  We found ourselves proto-typing new forms of multi-unit collaboration on other fronts as well.  When LinkedIn’s User Experience Design team of 130 came to us for an offsite retreat on the Berkeley campus, we found ourselves building new forms of multi-unit collaboration through creativity workshops conducted by faculty and staff in the arts, architecture, engineering, and business—from story-telling to architectural design, from fabrication to, yes, rapid prototyping.

These and other prototypes shared Berkeley’s creative culture with our wider community and, in the process, inspired new ideas of what Berkeley can be.  Amongst the staff at A+D, we carry these proto-experiences with us as we ask bigger questions about multi-unit collaboration:

• What if all of our arts and design departments, centers, student clubs, and presenting organizations could be assembled on a shared online platform?  The answer is being developed with our website Creative Director and alumna, Gina Pell, as we work with the design firm of Project6 to create a master site.

• What if Cal students had knowledge of and subsidized access to all of the museums, theaters, galleries, cinemas, and labs available to them on campus?  The answer to a Cal Arts Pass is being developed this summer with a team of devoted staff and alumni.

• What if Berkeley had a building that welcomed collaboration across all of the arts and design forms represented in the A+D Parkour?  The answer has already been scoped by Cal alum Mark Cavagnero; his renovation concept for the Dwinelle Annex would transform this historic John Galen Howard building into a creative hub for music, art, dance, film, theater, and new media. The answer allows the parkour to come to rest in one place.

I am particularly proud of the prototypes that evolved in the curricular realm this year.  Thanks to the collaborative leadership of deans in the College of Environmental Design, the Arts and Humanities, the Haas School of Business, and the College of Engineering, we established a new certificate program in design education, one whose multi-disciplinary advisory model will guide future curricular planning across design fields.

Another curricular prototype took place in BAMPFA’s new Barbro Osher Theater this spring where I was privileged to create and teach a new Big Ideas course entitled “Thinking Through the Arts and Design at Berkeley.” Co-taught with my colleague, Nicholas de Monchaux (CED), this course used BAMPFA’s exhibition theme “The Architecture of Life,” as a vehicle for introducing students of all majors to the visual arts as well as to other arts forms and campus venues—Cal Performances, Music, Hearst Museum, Film, CED, and TDPS. It also included an embedded lecture series that was open to the public once a week, creating an inter-generational community of learners who together investigated the breadth and depth of our creative culture.  I am very pleased that campus deans and arts leaders are now working together with us to ‘scale’ this course, placing it as an essential gateway experience for building “creative competency” within our Chancellor’s new undergraduate initiative.

All this activity would not have been possible without A+D’s partnership of the Arts Research Center (ARC), which served as the launch pad for the Initiative and continued to produce with us cutting-edge programming.  With ARC’s help, we continued to explore cross-arts collaboration, whether in the Architecture of Life lecture series, in November’s “Revisions in Time”, or in our support of “Rondo Variation,” a residency between sculptor Bruce Beasley and choreographer, Lisa Wymore (TDPS). The fruits of ARC’s public research on time-based art in global contexts will appear in two new venues soon, including a special issue of the journal Representations, co-edited by myself and Julia Bryan-Wilson (History of Art).  Meanwhile, we will unveil this summer our major collaboration with the Pew Center for Art and Heritage in the form of a new website. “In Terms of Performance” offers a collection of 90 commissioned reflections on 30 keywords in contemporary art and performance, along with sample artwork and essays from leading artists, curators, and critics from around the world.

Of course, ARC continued to create opportunities for cross-pollination amongst the arts and S.T.E.M. fields, whether by supporting the Art, Technology and Culture colloquium or by featuring “made@berkeley” experiments such as Tsar Bell, conceived by artists and technologists Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ed Campion (Music).  Finally, Berkeley’s commitment to equity and public engagement was very much in evidence throughout ARC’s programming.  Our partnership with Open Engagement at the Oakland Museum of California included our own pre-conference on Cross-Sector collaboration in the arts featuring, amongst others, Andy and Deborah Rappaport, founders of The Minnesota Street Project, the Bay Area’s latest cross sector arts venture in social entrepreneurship.

Berkeley’s arts-based public engagement takes other forms as well – in our internship programs with the Berkeley Cultural Trust, and in the commitment of students in Bridging the Arts and in C.R.E.A.T.E., a program that teaches the arts to under-served public schools in our community. At UC Berkeley, we cherish our partnerships in the Bay Area arts and design ecology and appreciate all that they offer us in return. Whether we are taking our students to Forty Part Motet at Fort Mason Art Center (an event made possible by Cal alumna Pamela Kramlich and her husband Dick), or to see the latest design innovations at 3DRobotics (a field trip made possible by Cal alum Chris Anderson), or nurturing our many collaborations with SFMOMA, our creative connections give UC Berkeley students vital opportunities to experience the wider world as engaged citizens.

At A+D we are a small team with a big charge. Indeed, the incredible competence of our staff makes us look bigger than we are. At the center of this productive year stood Lauren Pearson, ARC’s Associate Director who took on a variety of A+D duties for our first year. We also received an incredible gift from University Development and Alumni Relations who let us “borrow” the amazing Kasia Allen, an experienced development officer who established new systems and relationships amongst collaborators. In November, we welcomed the incredible Executive Assistant Amber Fogarty (wooed away from the Provost’s office); by late February, we hired A+D’s Director of Organizational Strategy Susan Miller, who has assumed leadership of new parkours and new prototypes.  Susan, Lauren, Kasia, Amber, and I have relied throughout on the incredible work of our student staff: Graduate Student Researchers Kate Mattingly, Lyndsey Ogle, and Evan Bissell, Work-study students Kate Masancay and Kyle Ludowitz, Media Fellow Nikki Duong, Berkeley Arts Connect Student Coordinator Kristine Nodalo, and our Interns Sophia Fish and Paris Cotz.  All of these students have been key in creating and communicating every element of A+D activity and have accompanied us at every stage of the parkour.

It has been just over a year since my appointment, and only nine months since the Arts and Design Initiative officially launched on campus.  The experience has indeed been wondrous, full of promise, puzzles, and prototypes.  At a time when so many tout the importance of creativity, UC Berkeley offers a bracing context for creative experiment across all art forms, one enriched by the scientific and cultural wealth of a world-class research university and propelled by its historic commitment to public life. At a public research university like ours, the challenge of cultivating creativity turns out to be our richest opportunity.

We thank our readers for your ideas, for your collaboration, and your ongoing support of our efforts.  We will keep making, playing, fabricating, composing, and re-composing available materials into new combinations. And we are always ready to welcome new friends and new fields to the process.

Should you find yourself inspired to bring a little more Berkeley creativity into the world, please consider a charitable gift to the Arts + Design Initiative Fund. Proceeds support arts and design units across the Berkeley campus. We thank you in advance for your generosity and commitment to innovation!

Fiat Lux


Shannon Jackson
Director, Arts Research Center
Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design