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UCSB Art Professor Kim Yasuda Gets Creative in Encouraging Isla Vista Engagement

The decade-long resident spearheads projects to address the demographics and challenges of the campus-adjacent community

Spending six months away from UC Santa Barbara on sabbatical in Mexico — researching the part art plays in community development — got Kim Yasuda thinking about why she chose to live in Santa Barbara instead of Isla Vista.

After all, the unincorporated area adjacent to UCSB did speak to her curious nature as an artist and as a university professor of spatial studies.

Young college students, poor people and longtime residents made Isla Vista an interesting laboratory where Yasuda could learn and help effect change.

Engagement before enforcement is sort of her mantra.

So in 2004, after serving as a UCSB faculty member since 1992, Yasuda moved to Isla Vista with her young daughter and tried to convince her colleagues to do the same.

A decade later and Yasuda says she’s still among a mere handful of faculty who call Isla Vista home, unless you count West Campus housing on the outskirts, where she said many faculty don’t go into Isla Vista regularly.

“I am advocating for a mixed population,” Yasuda said on a recent morning while sitting at Crush Cakes near the Loop in the heart of Isla Vista. “One of the big missing pieces in Isla Vista has been faculty.”

Yasuda isn’t alone in that assessment. A recent report of the UCSB Foundation Trustee’s Advisory Committee on Isla Vista Strategies encouraged more faculty to live within the area plagued last year by riots, an alleged gang rape and a mass shooting.

The report also suggested options for self-governance and community policing, routes Yasuda thinks are helpful but not immediately attainable.

“What do you do in the meantime?” she said.

Yasuda, 54, has a laptop PowerPoint presentation on the ready, explaining the lack of community space in Isla Vista and efforts thus far to understand the area’s demographics and challenges.

The Bay Area native has for years encouraged faculty to study Isla Vista instead of taking sabbaticals to foreign countries.

In 2005, Yasuda started a Friday Academy for arts students who worked to create artist housing from two donated shipping containers. She organized banner projects for downtown Isla Vista and spearheaded the redesign of a local bakery at 6558 Pardall Road that has since closed and become Hana Kitchen.

Yasuda was part of an Isla Vista commission in 2008 and received grant funding to hire an urban planner to study the area. She’s persuaded a geography class to examine Isla Vista, too.

Over the course of summer, she helped gather more than 80 faculty members to Sorriso Italian on Embarcadero del Mar for a wine-tasting on Thursday nights, and even UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and his wife showed up for the discussions.

Yasuda will help with an art installation for the victims of May’s shooting and stabbing rampage as part of Project IV Love, which was started by former art student Jordan Killebrew, who had nothing but kind things to say about his former teacher.

Most recently last fall, Yasuda has come up with “First Friday” events, similar to First Thursdays in Santa Barbara but hosted in Isla Vista’s Loop and organized by students getting credit for enrolling in IV Open Lab.

“I think that after last year, we needed to hit the ground in the fall,” she said. “Students here have a knowledge about Isla Vista that I don’t.”

The key gathering component: light.

Just a few strands of white Christmas-like lights seem to make all the difference, as UCSB students partner with the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District, the Isla Vista Food Co-op and more to present a night of live music, food trucks, couches Yasuda brings out for coffee-drinking and even “silent disco” — students wear headphones and listen and dance to music that way after midnight.

“Where there’s light, people will go,” Yasuda said. “In three months they created something very, very important, and they want to keep it that way. By planning, you take ownership.”

The next First Friday is Jan. 9, and Yasuda is hoping to persuade faculty to pitch in more LED lighting and to start the event earlier so families could also join in.

In the meantime, she’s still pitching the idea of faculty living alongside her and her now 16-year-old daughter in Isla Vista, a place she has come to call home.

“People immediately wanted to do something,” Yasuda said of the reaction after May’s mass murder rampage. “I think it is Isla Vista that’s going to change all of us.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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