The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

UCIRA Artist jesikah maria ross Discusses Collaboration

from the The CHCI Initiative Humanities for the Environment website

We recently posted about the Restore/Restory project that is taking place with the help of UC Davis through the Art of Regional Change (ARC) initiative. I recently had the chance to interview jesikah maria ross, Project Director of ARC, and discuss her experiences in conducting the highly collaborative Restore/Restory project.

If you haven’t heard about this project, it is a collaborative and multimedia effort to tell the history of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve through the voices of many residents with different perspectives. The project will include a public history website and an audio tour that can be taken at the preserve and online. The collaborative process for completing this project has been quite complex, with over 200 individuals involved. Artists, educators, students and a variety of community members have participated in the process, bringing different perspectives and knowledge to the project.

When asked what the most important realizations her involvement in Restore/Restory brought about, ross made two distinct points that are relevant to any humanities program hoping to carry out a large, collaborative project:

1. Scale Back; Emphasize Process

I think that one of the things that comes up in any university/community project is that it’s very, very difficult to balance the diverse needs of the people involved in the project. You know, what students want, and what they’re able to do. . . what faculty and researchers want, what they’re able to do in a system that doesn’t reward them for this kind of work; what community members can do given that they’re volunteering their time; and what organizational partners want, which is generally something that is on the more educational, promotional side; and what universities ultimately want which is to illustrate larger trends, themes and issues in a way that makes the institution look good.

In this kind of scenario, you have an incredible amount of moving parts, and so what has been affirmed for me in working on this project are a few things: one is to always try and scale back. Because there’s always more to do that can get done at the level that people would like it to be done; and two, to make sure everybody understands that the process is as important as the product, and make sure everybody’s on board for that because process and group work isn’t tremendously supported in the university culture, or necessarily in the organizational culture or our community partners.

2. Tangible Results

No matter how great an idea you have, or how much passion you have for it, in the humanities, that it’s very difficult if your idea isn’t anchored to some concrete transformation that people want to get behind. I think that’s one of the issues in the humanities even though a lot of what we study and create has to do with ethics and justice and truth and beauty. Those are abstract, and in the university/community project, people want tangible outcomes that they can measure, and so do funders . . .

One big challenge I see for all of us in continuing down this road is to, you know, take the big, abstract, important ideas that we need to always engage in—like justice, and culture, and equity—and link it in some way to a local issue where we can actually make some kind of difference by bringing students and community members together, and at the same time really keep our administrators in the loop, and maybe in the project, in some way, so that it can be supported to the level it needs to be for success.

To hear some of the stories from the Restore/Restory project, visit the Story Map on the Art of Regional Change Website.

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