Photo by Melissa Abel
Photo by Melissa Abel

Toiling away under the harsh sun, with bandanna and welding gun in hand, Dana Ashton has spent most of her recent weekends in UC Santa Cruz’s metal shop. Tucked away at the Elena Baskin Arts Center, Ashton is welding together the mounting for her latest project, entitled “Unclothed.” 


Of late, budget cuts have seriously put Ashton’s workspace, and many other unique campus facilities frequently used by students but largely hidden from the rest of the student population, in danger.

A fourth-year Cowell student and art major focusing on sculpture, Ashton said that this quarter in particular, the space is at risk of “closing shop.” 

“We were able to keep the metal shop open last quarter when we thought it was going to be closed,” Ashton explained. 

The metal shop was saved this quarter thanks to a grant funded by sponsors of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California that paid for UCSC students to create a metal sculpture for the bike race. This piece was presented at the art department’s winter quarter Open Studios. 

Ashton estimates that the same shop won’t be accessible five years from now, however. 

This quarter, the university has supplied the art department with necessary safety equipment, but since it cannot afford to supply students with materials, art majors usually pay a materials fee to cover those costs and the cost of accessing the studios.

Since the budget crunch has been hitting students and their families as much as it has been hitting the university, many students have had to find alternative means of obtaining supplies.  Ashton said that metal can cost hundreds of dollars for several bars, a sum she just can’t afford, so she finds most of her materials in junkyards and then transforms them into suitable conditions for creating her artwork. 

Whatever she cannot find at the junkyards, Ashton pays for with money from three jobs she holds in between classes. She delivers pizzas on weekends, sometimes until 4 a.m., and works as a monitor in the metal shop and digital imaging lab, which earns her materials reimbursements. 

In addition to scarce supplies, professors may soon become rare jewels in the art department as well. 

Julie Harper, a second-year Merrill student and art major focusing on painting and drawing, was told by her professor, Tim Craighead, that all part-time teachers will likely be laid off this July due to the department’s inability to pay part-time salaries in addition to full-time salaries with benefits. 

“In the past, my professor mentioned, he would have had to worry about the school checking in on him. But now he doesn’t have to necessarily worry about that and has free range,” Harper said. “But I know we’ll still have to work for our grade.” 

Since earning his graduate degree, Craighead has been a part-time lecturer at UCSC and said that while he understands the university’s decision to make cuts based on seniority rather than merit, he is impressed with the skill of all professors at UCSC. 

“The department is staffed by top-notch teachers,” Craighead said. “[The department] tries to do everything it can and not make it hard on everyone.”

Craighead said that he is saddened to see the budget getting in the way of the university providing students with the education they deserve. Students’ primary complaints echo many of Craighead’s own sentiments, he said, many of them expressing disappointment with the overall unavailability of art classes. 

“The department just can’t accommodate all the students in the major and others who are interested in taking some of these classes,” Craighead said. “There’s plenty of stuff to be disappointed [about] in education. The costs for students are high and that’s what’s not working.”