Our Own Artsy California System: A Few of the Many Visual and Performing Arts Programs in the UC System

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

You don’t need to leave California to get a great education in the arts—and you don’t need to spend big bucks to become noticed for your art. The University of California system offers many options in the visual and performing arts. I have a few to share, information courtesy of each school, so read on!

The Art Practice major at UC-Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science combines studio art courses in traditional media such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture photography, installation, performance art, video, animation, sound with instruction in the emerging fields of programming, interactivity, and game design. Upper-division studio courses involve exhibitions in several gallery spaces, among them the Worth Ryder Art Gallery, which has served the university and the Bay Area arts community for more than 40 years.

Technocultural Studies, offered at UC-Davis, is an interdisciplinary program that combines arts, humanities, technology and science. Students explore intersections between performance, music, visual arts, writing, media arts, and community media with science and technology. UC-Davis also offers the only BA program in Design in the UC System with studios in exhibition, fashion, information, interior architecture, textiles, visual communications and sustainable design. The major offers study abroad opportunities in England, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.

UC-Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts offers one of the most robust university dance programs in the country. Annual productions give students the opportunity to choreograph and perform with faculty and other students. The Drama department manages the NYC Satellite Program – a four-week intensive residency in Manhattan with instruction by working theatre professionals. UC-Irvine also offers minors in Digital Arts and Digital Filmmaking that can be combined with any major.

With 45 different performance ensembles, UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music hosts over 350 concerts and recitals each year. The faculty includes winners of Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, among other awards. For students interested in music as an art form, the Ethnomusicology major combines the art and practice of music with culture, society, politics and economics. UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television has many signature programs and alliances with theaters, movie and television studios.

The Global Arts Studies Program at UC-Merced combines visual arts and music with sight and sound in film, television, dance, theater, video games, and other multimedia. This is a unique cross-disciplinary major within the UC system and is also offered in the minor. Studies in the visual arts and music are required to complete either program.

UC-Riverside offers the only B.A. in Creative Writing in the UC system. Students develop creative writing skills in fiction, poetry, play writing, screenwriting, and non-fiction. Undergraduates can be nominated or compete for 5 awards offered by the department, including the Chancellor’s Performance Award which grants $12,000 to an exceptional first-year student. The annual Writers Week conference, the longest running free literary event in California, gives students the opportunity to learn from internationally recognized authors.

UC-San Diego is home to the Tony award-winning La Jolla Playhouse. As part of the Theater District on campus, it is one of four production stages where current students can audition to showcase their talent on and behind the stage. The university also offers a unique major in Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts that combines coursework in computer programming and software with further training in either visual arts or music.

UC-Santa Barbara has over 500 undergraduates in Film and Media Studies, more than many large schools have enrolled in Business or Engineering. The major offers a deep dive into film and media history, theory, and production with more options in screenwriting, animation, documentary, genre studies, directing, and national and transnational media. The department also supports several student filmmaking and screenwriting clubs, as well as local and industry-based internships, including participation in the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

UC-Santa Cruz’s major in Art & Design: Games + Playable Media, among the top 25 undergraduate game design programs in the US, is an interdisciplinary program in art and technology. The university’s Expressive Intelligence Studio, explores the intersection of artificial intelligence, art and design. Students work towards a BA that focuses on the art and design of games, teaming up on projects with students who are pursuing a BS in Computer Game Design that emphasizes computer science and programming.

Whatever your passion in the arts there is an opportunity to pursue it at a UC campus. Admissions to some programs will be quite selective. Some will require a portfolio or work or audition. Make sure that you learn as much as you can about the programs that pique your curiosity before you apply.