Arts Division to break ground on new state-of-the-art Social Documentation Lab

When it opens in 2024, the new 4,000 square foot Social Documentation Lab will provide a new, state-of-the-art, creative home for graduate students in the Department of Film and Digital Media’s SocDoc MFA and PhD programs. 

The Social Documentation M.F.A program is one-of-a-kind, designed for future documentarians committed to social change and to documenting communities, cultures, issues, and individuals who are marginalized in our current landscape of representation. This film still is from Adi | At The Confluence by SocDoc alumnus Joor Baruah. 

UC Santa Cruz’s Division of the Arts will soon begin construction of a world-class production and post-production facility in support of its Social Documentation (SocDoc) MFA program. When it opens in 2024, the new 4,000 square foot Social Documentation Lab will provide a new, state-of-the-art, creative home for graduate students in the Department of Film and Digital Media’s SocDoc MFA and PhD programs. 

The two-year SocDoc degree is the UC system’s only MFA program designed for media makers committed to exploring the expressive, connective, and disruptive potential of socially engaged documentary production. The SocDoc MFA, now in its 15th year, emphasizes ethical practices and community involvement and accountability – highlighting underserved voices and urgent issues through socially engaged documentary practices in film, audio, photography, and/or web-based and interactive platforms. Alumni have gone on to establish careers as award-winning filmmakers, producers, academics, archivists, and curators.

The new SocDoc Lab in the Westside Research Park will feature open areas for collaboration; a studio/gallery for immersive media and installations; a seminar room; an audio mixing room; a state-of-the-art audio recording studio; editing and work stations; and an enclosed quiet editing and color grading room.

“We’re so proud of our graduate students and alumni who have been doing groundbreaking visual and sound-based work even while lacking real lab space to develop and nurture their projects,” says Peter Limbrick, Professor and Chair of Film and Digital Media. “The Social Documentation Lab will soon offer an environment where both MFA and PhD students can continue to develop their creative commitment to social justice, using the best tools possible in an expansive space that allows for experimentation and ideas to flourish.”  

Since 2019, the project has been led by Professor of Film and Digital Media and Director of Graduate Studies for SocDoc Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, with the strong support of Dean of the Arts Celine Parreñas Shimizu and prior Interim Dean Ted Warburton. In 2022, the SocDoc and Arts Division team completed a collaborative design and planning process with Gensler Architects.

"The Arts Division is excited for the SocDoc Lab to be in proximity to the Environmental Art and Social Practice MFA spaces as well as Science and Engineering Labs in the Westside Research Park. This cross-disciplinary space is part of a larger university tradition of collaboration across the disciplines," says Parreñas Shimizu. “This new space will provide crucial support for this important program that is composed of the most dazzling diversity, giving our current students and those that come after them opportunities that enable their rise to the highest levels of creativity and social impact.”

Professor Taylor as Faculty Director of the Social Documentation Lab, working closely with Arts Assistant Dean Stephanie Moore and UCSC staff architect Andrea Hilderman, will help lead the next phases of work in the creation and realization of the new space. The team has placed a major emphasis on universal design and access throughout the planning and design process.

“We have developed a space plan that will allow us to make the lab accessible and welcoming for broad and diverse community engagement, while also creating a variety of work spaces and experiences for Film and Digital Media graduate students,” says Taylor. “We are building on the vision of creating a world-class facility that will serve stakeholders and partners in the Santa Cruz community as well as our diverse students and the larger field of independent documentary media makers. The SocDoc Lab will be the site for co-creation and learning not only during the academic year, but also for potential summer labs and convenings in partnership with independent documentary organizations and alliances with whom our faculty and students regularly collaborate.”

Funding for this project was made possible through private donations.