UCSC offers new M.F.A. degree program in Environmental Art and Social Practice

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The UC Santa Cruz Art Department is now accepting applications for a new M.F.A. degree program in Environmental Art and Social Practice (EASP), set to begin in fall quarter of 2021.

The two-year program is designed for students who want to develop their artwork in relation to social and environmental justice questions, contexts, and communities.

Working individually and collaboratively, in the studio and in the field, students will have the opportunity to experiment with different approaches in order to build their art practices conceptually and practically, while critically and creatively exploring art’s role as a catalyst for change.

“Environmental Art and Social Practice is a unique transdisciplinary studio art M.F.A. program in that it is thematically focused, offering students the opportunity to channel their concerns and engagements with environmental and social justice into creative art practice,” noted UCSC art professor and director of graduate studies Laurie Palmer.

“Unlike more traditional, open-ended M.F.A. programs, EASP focuses on making and locating art in direct relation with issues and problems, and with diverse communities —human and non-human—while remaining grounded in individual and collective commitments, rigorous research, formal pleasures, and aesthetic visions.” 

“There are several programs in the U.S. that focus on social practice, but not also on its links with environmental art and justice, and there are a few that focus on ecology, but do not highlight social justice,” she added. “Abroad, there are several graduate programs that have similar shared concerns but approach them through design-oriented approaches rather than through studio art.”

Palmer described how the program came about. 

The idea for this program has been gestating for a very long time, growing out of the creative practices of Art Department faculty, with additional inspiration from artists Helen and Newton Harrison, who joined UCSC as emeriti faculty in the early 2000s. But it also arises organically from UCSC's reputation for and ongoing commitments to social justice and environmental concerns, and it is fed by the growing urgencies of our time surrounding these issues,” said Palmer.

The Art Department expects that eight students will make up the first EASP cohort in Fall 2021, with another eight students joining in the Fall of 2022. As EASP students will be encouraged to take interdisciplinary approaches to their work, prospective applicants are encouraged to explore the work of individual faculty members in different departments across the university, as well as in the Art Department.

Palmer noted that the aim of the program is to attract students with diverse practices, backgrounds, and interests who can learn from each other, as well as with faculty. Whether they come with traditional fine art skills or with experience and skills in other disciplines, the key requirement is that they have an interest in art’s potential for effecting change, along with ideas for how and why they want to be doing this type of creative work.


Note: The UCSC Art Department is hosting a virtual Open House for students interested in the new Environmental Art and Social Practice M.F.A. degree program on Friday, December 11, from 12 noon - 2 pm, PST. For an invitation to the zoom session and more information about the program, contact the graduate director at: artmfa@ucsc.edu. or visit the EASP  website at art.ucsc.edu/mfa.