New UC San Diego Craft Center invites everyone to get creative
Years ago I remember loving the original Craft Center at UC San Diego, which closed down due to financial and structural issues in 2012. Now it’s back, bigger and better than ever, inviting everyone interested in getting creative to its 11,000 square feet of possibilities.
Helmed by Annika Nelson, an Encinitas artist/educator who recently won an award for “Excellence in Stewardship,” it offers hands-on workshops and classes in such things as ceramics, glass art, jewelry-making and woodworking, along with more unexpected ones like culinary arts and surfboard shaping.
The new Center opened in the fall of 2021, in mid-pandemic, so I waited until now to see what the place was like. And I couldn’t resist checking out the Earth Day Found Object Sculpture Workshop with Max Roehmer, an Encinitas artist whose whimsical sculptures made from palm fronds, driftwood, and bits of old shoes, fabrics and tires, I’d seen and enjoyed.
My Craft Center experience was more than I had hoped for. It’s a bright, open space in a whole new section of the campus, and Max is a friendly, encouraging instructor whose own work can be seen indoors and out. “You can’t do anything wrong,” he said. So while other workshop participants were turning large-size palm fronds into pink flamingos to be displayed in the garden outside, I did my own thing, splash-painting a kid-size frond and then taking a tour of the Center with Annika, a genuinely welcoming person whose spirit infuses the space.
There were five other workshops going on at the same time, and in each one, participants and instructors seemed contentedly involved.
“We make it a joy for our teaching artists to teach here, so many of them come, and they stay,” Annika said. “We’re building on the shoulders of the old Craft Center, and we want to be a resource for everyone—students, staff, faculty, and the multigenerational community beyond the campus.”
How did they get to open their doors in prime Covid-time?
“It’s interesting,” she said. “Before I accepted this position, I was director of Arts, Humanities, Languages and Digital Arts at UCSD Extension, and we were seen as ‘personal enrichment’ rather than essential studies. But during the pandemic, Chancellor Khosla realized how necessary the arts were for building community, de-stressing people, and improving our mental health. When he asked me what I thought the Craft Center could do, I called on my friend Max, who helped me come up with ideas for activities that would work well outdoors. And the Chancellor has been very supportive ever since.”
Any last words to share about the Craft Center? I asked.
“We welcome everyone here!” she said, spreading her arms wide. “Come play with us!”
Now is a fine time to see what’s up at the Center, since their Spring Craft Fair is coming May 5 and 6, and you can chat with the artists, buy some of their work, try your hand at free crafts projects and, for only $5, get yourself a ceramic mug to fill with soup from the Craft Center kitchen. You’ll be doing something for those less fortunate too, since all proceeds go to community food programs. Visit craftcenter.ucsd.edu for more information.
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