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Mutants and Macrophages

Painting outside the lines: Cal’s creative culture

It’s 5:30 on a Monday night, and 10 graduate students and postdocs in bioengineering are crawling around on the basement floor of Stanley Hall. The activity has nothing to do with cellular behavior or biomedical instruments, two priorities of their lab. Instead, they are developing a dance theater piece, liberally based on how white blood cells engulf cancer cells, for their department’s annual art show. Mutants and Macrophages: The Musical — think Thriller meets West Side Story — is as much an exercise in creativity and delight as it is an opportunity to escape, for a few hours each week, the demands of a high-pressure research lab.

This is just one example of how Berkeley buzzes nonstop with creative life. There are the obvious places: A capella singers luring passersby on Sproul Plaza with catchy pop remakes. Students studying photojournalism, dance, architecture, writing, or dozens of other disciplines in the art or design fields. Over 70 official clubs connecting students to their artistic pursuits. Rock concerts at the Greek Theatre and ballets at Cal Performances.

And yet, true to form, our creative culture goes far beyond the obvious. “Berkeley truly knows what it means to elevate creativity for the greater good,” says Shannon Jackson, associate vice chancellor of arts and design.

The following stories share examples of how the arts can give voice to people on the edge of mainstream society. We learn about efforts to widen the circle of creators and viewers. We see how traditional crafts can reshape long-held perceptions, and how new technologies can bring a fresh perspective to common problems. And we witness the arts as a transmogrifier of challenging or painful experiences into something beautiful.

Rather than confining the art and design fields within their strict disciplines, Cal is blurring the lines to form a landscape where even bioengineers can dance.

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