Starting in November 2021, the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library presented a brand-new exhibit for campus visitors. Curated by Calli Force, Paige Sundstrom, and Des Alaniz, “A Call to Action: Documenting Santa Barbara’s Art & Activism” is a timely response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
This exhibit, located in the Special Research Collections (SRC), is a collection of works, from photographs, audio recordings, and journal entries from the voices of the Santa Barbara community. Starting in fall 2019, Sundstrom and Alaniz joined forces to create an exhibit that combined art and activism. When Force joined in spring 2020, the group began clearly visualizing the exhibit, an open space focused on the BLM movement and ongoing pandemic. The exhibit “just happened to be a perfect symbiosis of individual efforts coming together to form the final idea,” Force stated in an interview with The Bottom Line.
Over 200 submissions had been collected by the community since April 2020 through the UCSB COVID-19 Community Archives Project and the Santa Barbara Black Lives Matter Community Archives Project. These current projects, led by Force, were intended to create an environment where art can be celebrated in the most difficult times. Attention to COVID-19 and police brutality has continued to rise all over the world over the past few years, creating increased stress and anger for the UCSB community. As a result, “A Call to Action” seeks to unite individuals through the power of learning about the injustices faced by the Santa Barbara community.
It was important to Sundstrom and her team that the visitor felt like they were taking part in these important events. When I toured the exhibit, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the curators were able to lay out the space to be interactive. One of my favorite moments of “A Call to Action” was the introductory bead activity I saw upon entering: visitors were able to pick up a bag filled with multi-colored beads, each bead representing a different emotion, such as anger, optimism, or confusion. They are encouraged to walk around the exhibit and place a bead next to any piece that provokes a strong emotional response. This was a clever way to get visitors involved with the exhibit — not only to offer an interactive element, but to give each person an opportunity to learn more and express how they felt about the art submissions.
Seeing the variety of submissions showcased the talent within Santa Barbara. A highlight of the exhibit was a piece of music submitted by Fuzzy Rogers, with vocals and instrumentation by Raphaele Clement, Tom Schultz, and Benjamin Cipriano. Featuring UCSB faculty, the music demonstrated how something beautiful can come out of a tragic situation. It was also great to see the curators include various forms of mixed media throughout the exhibit. Utilizing audio recording and projections made the space feel more alive and engaged me to see more pieces.
As I walked around “A Call to Action,” I saw how each individual was impacted in a different way from COVID-19 or the BLM movement. It was incredible to hear from so many perspectives, yet sad to see that our society continues to do so much damage. I felt a mixture of emotions when I left the exhibit. Happy. Frustrated. Nervous. Yet, the curation team succeeds in making any visitor leave with a profound sense of knowledge and empathy.
“A Call to Action” will make anyone appreciative of the ways art can act as a tool for healing. For those who are unable to attend in-person, the exhibit is available online and is continually accepting submissions, which can be sent via the UCSB Library Community Project Archives.