Finding My Experts in Isla Vista

Blog Home    |     05.04.2016 by     |    

Maggie Bell

Across the readings that we have been doing over the last five weeks for the Public Scholars seminar, my marginal notes have been full of questions, which, I believe, indicates that these texts and our resulting discussions have offered fertile ground for the development of my project. My questions are different from those that I encounter in my dissertation research. I’ve become increasingly interested in my position within my immediate learning and teaching environments, and my inquiry is now directed more pointedly towards the relationships among my roles as an academic and a researcher, as a teacher, as member of the university community, and as a resident on the fringe of Isla Vista—a remarkably complicated and compact beachside community primarily inhabited by undergraduates at UC Santa Barbara, but shared with a diverse group of permanent residents. Among the numerous questions that are generated by this kind of investigation, I want to focus on one that is at core of my current thoughts about my project: what does it mean for me to be an engaged scholar, and what is at stake when I do whatever that is?


Working as the Art History Education Outreach Program supervisor I had always considered myself an “engaged” person. But what does that mean in my case? Dwight E. Giles (2008), in an effort to move towards a definition of engaged or public scholarship suggests that “engagement is used inclusively to mean forms of service-learning, professional service, community-based research, and applied research that engage professional or academic expertise in partnership with local expertise to address real-world issues.” My current project seems to meet this criteria on a few fronts: I want to conduct interviews with Isla Vista Elementary School students to discuss their perceptions of art education and art, whatever that may be, in their own communities (“community-based research”). I want to take what I’ve learned and develop lesson plans that will be grounded in student experiences (“professional service”). And I want my current undergraduate interns to participate in this process (“service-learning”).

While I understand that engaged scholarship does not need to be all things to all people, I see now that I am missing what I believe to be a critical component–“partnership with local expertise” (and here is where it becomes very apparent that I am new to all of this!). Until recently, I perceived my Public Scholar project as an attempt to observe and assess a need, and then make something available that hadn’t been before. I had not yet considered how I would work with experts outside of or adjacent to the university, nor had I asked, “where is knowledge already produced in art education, or arts-engagement in Isla Vista?” In the last couple of weeks I have revisited my project with an eye towards learning from existing resources, and have found many. Not only are there numerous arts educators already teaching elementary schools and after school programs (of course!), but there is also a hunger for community-based arts projects in Isla Vista, such as the IV Mural Project, managed by residents who have lived and worked in IV for decades, and the upcoming LightWorks: Isla Vista, sponsored by the UCSB Art Department and Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, and done in commemoration of the 2014 shootings. I’ve reimagined the outcome of my project not only as a packet of lesson plans, but also a creative community project made in partnership with one of these organizations, and grounded in my research. In the next few months, I hope to play within the spaces between research, teaching and making, with the hope of facilitating new ways for students and teachers in Isla Vista to encounter and interpret their environment. Additionally, a summertime group art project just sounds like a lot of fun.

Mural inspired by Chumash petroglyphs, Anisq'Oyo Park, Isla Vista. Photo by author.

Mural inspired by Chumash petroglyphs, Anisq’Oyo Park, Isla Vista. Photo by author.