“At first I was in disbelief when I found out through email about the closure … I didn’t hear from the Crafts Center directly, so I didn’t believe the news at first,” Magboo said. “I was in the midst of preparing for classes when I found out this information. I found out two days before teaching that my extension class was cancelled, in addition to the non-credit adult enrichment jewelry courses. Our catalog of classes was printed and mailed out. Our online registration was live and we had already started registering students for classes. The information completely caught everyone by surprise.”
Interim center director Joyce Rooks, who had only found out about the closure earlier that same day, said the news came as more than a bit of a shock.
“There had always been funding issues, but the thing that was a surprise was how this happened so quickly,” she said. “We were preparing for the fall quarter, had already printed up our brochures, were planning all our events, and it just took us by surprise. That’s what hurts the most.”
The Crafts Center, which has offered non-credit courses in disciplines like ceramics, jewelry making, glass blowing, metal works, silk screening, photography, weaving and more for 40 years, had been the potential target of budget woes for several years, Rooks said. Most notably, the building, which Rooks said has been “cobbled together over the years,” was not quite up to current building standards, and would need substantial renovations.
“[The center] started with a couple of old guard shacks, and it’s become a patchwork of artist spaces,” she said. “Everyone loves the funky nature of it, but when it comes to 21st-century standards, it’s not quite there.”
Packaged under the purview of the University Centers — under which the Price Center and Student Center facilities also operate — the Crafts Center was opened in 1972 with the idea that students, under constant pressure from their regular academic pursuits, could come and relax among the kilns, metal-working machines and wheels, perhaps learning an artistic craft in the process. The center was open to students, faculty and staff, and members of the community — some traveling from as far away as Los Angeles and Orange County to attend its highly acclaimed courses, which are offered on a sliding scale basis, with UCSD students paying the least.
“This place was developed as a place for students to come blow off steam,” said Rooks, who started taking courses — then eventually teaching them — at the center in 1975. “It’s a social outlet, a great place to meet friends, to learn and to have a good time. There’s no pressure of getting a grade. You can just learn to make something and take it as far as you want. And we’ve actually had a lot of great artists come out of the Crafts Center.”
Apart from the budding artists who won’t be able to fire pottery or blow glass this year, the closure of the center also affects the more than 35 instructors who taught there.
Magboo, a jewelry-making instructor at the center for nearly five years (she spent seven years before that taking courses there) said the void left by the center’s closure has been taken up by efforts to save it. An online petition has been created to help save the center, and community members have been urged to write letters to administrators protesting the decision. Magboo has even been in the process of creating a short film in support of the center.
“The university’s decision has been devastating to this entire community … Instructors lost their teaching positions and hundreds of students lost their ability to learn in this wonderful facility,” she said.
The administration hasn’t said why it’s decision to shutter the center came so abruptly before the start of the quarter. On Sept. 25, those visiting the center’s website were greeted by a letter, signed by Gary Ratcliff, assistant vice chancellor of student life, outlining the bare details surrounding the closure:
“The UCSD Crafts Center will be closed during the 2012-13 academic year pending resolution of budget shortfalls and renovations needed to the Crafts Center facility. Workshops, non-credit classes and art exhibits through the Crafts Center will not be offered this academic year.
The Crafts Center is funded by the University Centers, which operates the Price Center and Student Center facilities. Risings costs have triggered the need for budget reductions in the University Centers, which is funded primarily by the University Centers student fee. Decisions about reductions were based on students’ priorities and their usage of University Centers programs, service and facilities.
Anticipated expenses related to facility renovations were factored into the decision. A recent facility condition analysis of the Crafts Center identified $1.5 million in needed renovation work.
This year, the University Centers will work with student leaders in the University Centers Advisory Board, Associated Students and Graduate Student Association to explore options for funding, renovating and reopening the Crafts Center.”
The university’s explanation didn’t satisfy Magboo, her colleagues or students.
“Both students and instructors are angry, shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of the Crafts Center,” Magboo said. “The university was not transparent in communicating the closure of the Crafts Center. We were not notified prior to the closing that this was going to take place. The way the university handled the situation was both cold and inhumane. Many instructors have been working here since the creation of the crafts center … We were thrown out without having any time to make preparations for our own livelihoods.”
At press time, university administrators declined to elaborate on the online announcement.
The one glimmer of hope for members of the Crafts Center’s community, meanwhile, is the possibility that, as indicated in Ratcliff’s letter, the center could be reopened next year. For that to happen, Rooks said, she believes the issue would have to stay at the forefront of university affairs.
“We hope it will be reopened next year. We would like to see [the administration] held to their ‘academic year’ promise,” she said. “We’d like people to send letters to the administrators and let their opinion about the arts be known. [The arts] are being cut everywhere, this has been a great place for people who never had them, and I honestly think it’s detrimental to our society. We’re seeking positive solutions. If it’s really important to people, we have to make sure it stays up front.”
Rooks urged community members to send letters in support of the center to UCSD chancellor Pradeep Khosla, vice chancellor of student life Penny Rue and Ratcliff. Contact information for all three is available on the group's Facebook page.
Supporters of the center have also drafted petitions, which can be signed here (for Facebook users) and here (for non-Facebook users).