Artistic Expression at UCSD

UC San Diego is often preceded by its reputation as a STEM-oriented university. In 2016, only four percent of undergraduates enrolled as arts or humanities majors while 57 percent enrolled as STEM majors. However, there are still small communities of extremely dedicated and passionate artists on campus who are seeking outlets for their creative expression. Some of these students feel that the university has exhibited a general ambivalence toward fostering the arts. Many spaces for artistic expression are being underfunded or ignored by the administration and campus at large.

Marshall Second year Ray Stachowiak and Revelle Second year Emmet Webster found that they could express themselves through UCSD’s KSDT radio station, located near the Old Student Center. The station contains a DJ booth surrounded by a library of vinyl records comprised of all different genres, spanning the past century. Next door to the booth is a practice room and recording studio. The common area functions as a hangout space for DJs, musicians, or anyone who’s looking for an interesting conversation.

“The radio is a great space to hangout where school is not the center of conversation. People are talking about new albums coming out and things like that … It’s a space where you’re not constantly thinking about the stresses that are on the forefront of everyone else’s mind,” says Stachowiak. Both he and Webster are extremely passionate about music and art. They could talk endlessly about their favorite records, all the shows they’ve been to or the best places to find good vinyls.

Webster is the station’s music director as well as co-host to Stachowiak in their show ‘Soul Universe,’ on from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays. The duo plays soul and funk tracks in an effort to introduce people to new styles of music.

Unfortunately, the listenership for any given show at KSDT rarely exceeds single digits. When asked why they chose to get into radio, Webster promptly replied, “It keeps us sane.” Stachowiak continued, “We both love music … I also love being able to hang out in this space. I feel comfortable here, and there’s a lot of great resources that are underutilized that I’m taking advantage of.”

The station hosts an eclectic array of student-run shows. In a time in when the popularity of radio is rapidly decreasing at the hands of online music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, Stachowiak and Webster maintain that the importance and need for radio still exists due to its unique nature.

“I think radio is important and relevant today because it’s a different experience than listening to music on Spotify. The experience of sitting down and listening to music is greatly reduced by the fact that you can just click through songs, allowing for a very immediate response,” says Stachowiak. He also recognizes the intimate connection that forms between a radio show host and the listener that doesn’t exist with online music.

Webster views radio as therapeutic and conducive to a healthy mind. “Coming from Los Angeles, I feel like the standards for treating yourself well was much higher back there. We’re a service, and I wanted to be a part of a service that helps people treat themselves a little bit better. Which I feel like radio should do.”

Marshall second year Nariman Piri hosts a show called ‘Mooky island’ from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Piri’s show is largely satirical and “highly inappropriate.” A “Guidelines of Community” document had to be drafted in response to the edginess of his commentary. He plays underground rap mainly sourced from Soundcloud. Piri commented on the decline of radio stating bluntly, “Radio is a dying medium. You really have to sell yourself and sell your show, otherwise it lacks any relevance at all.” Unfortunately, at a school like UCSD, selling a radio show or even drawing interest in the performing arts can be difficult.

“This is just my opinion, but if you look at the distribution of what people are studying here, it’s pretty apparent that not a lot of people are interested in the humanities or the arts,” observed Stachowiak. “I don’t think there is as high of a demand for radio.”

He and Webster are both of the opinion that the general student culture at UCSD, which often shies away from the arts, is at least partly attributable to the university administration’s ambivalence toward encouraging artistic expression. In fact, other colleges seem to be achieving great success through platforms like radio despite the rise of internet music.

Shanee Dinay is the music director and show host at KZSC at UC Santa Cruz. The station is regarded as one of the top college stations in the country, being broadcast both online and over an FM signal. Every month, 30,000 to 50,000 people tune in to listen online. “We have a lot of dedicated listeners who call in during our pledge drives. Certain people call in consistently every single time,” says Dinay. She attributes the listener commitment to the intimate relationships the DJs are able to form with the audience. The student-run station also throws an annual music festival largely consisting of student musicians. Despite having a smaller population than UCSD, UCSC also has two recording studios, which Dinay observes are often in use. “Santa Cruz has a lot of artsy people; people are always doing things out on the lawn or getting involved in music.” Obviously, success in marketing the arts is possible in the right social climate.

While UCSC has the KZSC festival where student musicians can gain exposure, UCSD has the C.H.E. Cafe. The C.H.E. Cafe is a social collective, a live music venue, a hub for artistic expression and vital for up-and-coming student bands. The wooden structure is covered in student-painted murals of revolutionary figures like Cesar Chavez, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, Karl Marx and Malcolm X, demonstrating its founders’ beliefs in originalism and freedom. Stachowiak and Webster often play at the Cafe in their soul and funk band Good Neighbor. The group is comprised of seven members, including a saxophonist, guitarist, keyboard player and trumpet player. Its all-original tunes are fueled by grooving bass lines and hard, steady drum beats. The horns add a unique and soulful flavor to the funk rhythms, underneath the smooth and dynamic vocals of Warren Third year  Adam Abadilla, the band’s singer. Abadilla really puts on a show, absorbing himself in the melodies and using the entirety on the stage.

The Cafe has been a home for countless bands, but in the past couple of years the university has threatened foreclosure, citing building code violations.

Because the venue is student-run and not under direct supervision or control of the university, Stachowiak and Webster think the attempts at closure were motivated mainly out of fear. Webster commented, “They don’t have control over it … The C.H.E. is the most prominent example of student organized performance on campus that the university has close to no control over.”

He continued, “While the C.H.E. and the radio are both really good outlets for musicians it’s hard to tell how much of that you can actually attribute to the university. What we achieved is fairly do-it-yourself in spirit, but if you saw the bureaucratic process we had to go through to make it happen, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The Crafts Center of campus also saw closure in 2012–13 due to lack of funding. Stachowiak admits that the university cannot be fully blamed for events like this.

“It was torn down because it wasn’t used enough. It’s evident that because it wasn’t so popular [UCSD] see it as dismissible,” Stachowiak concluded.

The physical layout of UCSD also poses problems. The structure of the school and lack of any sort of main quad discourages student gatherings. “It seems to me that the six college system and general layout of the school causes divisiveness and counters the artistic objective,” says Stachowiak.


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In the face of a college environment in which student artists might not have an easy path to representation, some students are making efforts to promote local artists. Last year, Eleanor Roosevelt College fourth year Peter McInnis, a show host at KSDT, created and hosted what he calls “Pocket Office Concerts.” The shows take place in the UCSD Guardian’s main office. Being a musician himself, McInnis opened the first couple shows playing guitar while his girlfriend sang. He then featured several student musicians and groups.

“We had the space, and I wanted to fill it with a small scale intimate show based off the NPR Tiny Desk series,” says McInnis. In addition to featuring acts like ‘Graham Elliot Richardson, Rachel Lahr, and Spent Penny, McInnis also gave Stachowiak and Webster’s band, Good Neighbor, its first official gig.

“I met Ray (Stachowiak) and Emmet (Webster) through KSDT because I saw Good Neighbor perform and just thought, ‘This band is awesome, I want to get them on my show.’”

McInnis actually finds UCSD to be reasonably accommodating to student artists, citing the radio station as a place where one can go and easily find like-minded artists to collaborate with. “I would also say Musician’s Club is welcoming, and it puts on one show a quarter. I had the opportunity to play a show which is something I didn’t think I’d be able to do in college,” he recalls.

However, McInnis admits that the school’s artistic outlets aren’t perfect.“The studio is small. There’s one studio. I’m a drummer, and I came to campus prepared to learn guitar because there aren’t any drum sets on campus. Conrad Prebys Music Center isn’t great at giving out practice space to up-and-coming musicians.”

From the outside, the culture at UCSD may appear less than inviting for student artists. However there’s no doubt that groups of passionate and talented artists exist here. With more representation and performance outlets like the KSDT radio station, the C.H.E. Cafe and Pocket Office Concerts, these talented individuals will be able to more easily expressive themselves in the capacity they deserve.

Webster concluded with some thoughts on the importance of art in the college environment.

“The university benefits from making this intense atmosphere where students just work and work and work … and when I came here it freaked me out how many people didn’t do things for themselves … art helps people relax and treat themselves better. It keeps us sane.”


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