UCSB's "A Call to Action" curators Paige Sundstrom (left), Calli Force, and Des Alaniz | Credit: Madison Smoak

Since October 2021, UC Santa Barbara’s library has been showcasing artistic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Movement in an exhibit called A Call To Action. The exhibit is a collection of photography, writing, audio, and digital graphics that were submitted to the community archives by students, staff, faculty, and the larger Santa Barbara community. 

Credit: Madison Smoak

The responses to a time of protest and quarantine are both collective and individual, which the exhibit seeks to portray through the different artistic mediums and diverse voices.

Teaching and Learning Librarian Paige Sundstrom said, “For me personally, it is important to know how we are telling a story, who is telling the story, as well as having physical artifacts to represent this time uniquely and well.”

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests have marked the past three years, and the curators of the exhibit — Sundstrom, Calli Force, and Des Alaniz — wanted the exhibit to be interactive and guide visitors through the experience and inspire them to reflect or submit their own work.

Their ideas and creation of the exhibit was completely remote, but their work came to life in the physical space. The exhibit is unique in that it captures an ongoing conversation about the pandemic and anti-racism protests, since these experiences are a part of history as much as they are still occurring.

Credit: Madison Smoak

The exhibit engages all visitors immediately, as participants are encouraged to grab a white baggie full of different colored beads, each matched with a specific emotional response: optimistic, confused, inspired, angry, or empathetic. At the end of every exhibit component, visitors are welcomed to drop a bead in a clear container to indicate the way the experience made them feel. It invites visitors to be active participants and will also give curators data to tally.

More interactive pieces include DJ Philo Beto on an MP3 recording, projections from video games, and a Polaroid camera for visitors to leave a photo behind: an alternative take on a guest book. Chalk images, entire journal collections from classrooms, and vinyl quotes fill the room. “You can feel nervous, sad, curious, inspired all at once,” Sundstrom said.

The exhibit has reopened to the public this month after the library was closed during the pandemic. Visitors are asked to complete an online form for a green badge located on the website and can also experience the exhibit remotely on a digital online platform. The hope is that the exhibit itself will inspire others to submit their work. Submissions remain open indefinitely to the official UCSB University Archives. 

The A Call To Action exhibit will be open until the end of the academic year in June 2022 with a special reception on April 5 where the public can meet the curators and some of the artists themselves.

Credit: Madison Smoak

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