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Alumni Spotlight // Arts




Renaissance Man
Ariel Bournes, `12, uses art to connect community and law enforcement at UCSB

As the UC Santa Barbara Police Department’s Public Relations Specialist, Ariel Bournes, `12, uses art to kick-start community conversations about difficult topics like alcohol use, consent and public safety. A graduate of UCSB’s art program, Bournes directs and often writes the UCSB Public Safety videos and creates images for various police department outreach projects. “At my job I get to do art, racial reconciliation, cross-cultural and departmental collaboration and community outreach,” he said.

In this Alumni Spotlight Q&A, find out how Legos, faith and a desire to serve his campus community took Bournes from the art department to the UCSB police force.

What was your student experience at UC Santa Barbara like? And what drew you to your major?

When I came to college I had no idea what I wanted to major in. I knew there were a lot of majors that could lead to high salaries -- but as someone who paid for college out of pocket, I wanted to make sure I was doing something I was passionate about. Paying money to take classes for things I wasn’t interested in, only to get a job in a field that didn’t make me happy seemed absurd to me.

Prior to college, I never associated art with academia -- I saw it more as a hobby. I remember rushing through my schoolwork so I could get to my art homework, in the same way some kids rushed through their schoolwork so they can get to their video games.

After identifying my affection for art, and realizing that I could study it in college with the same passion and discipline that many study history, science, or engineering, I became an art major.

Art can be monstrously time consuming, especially if you’re not used to setting and honoring boundaries in life, so college ended up being an endless cycle of “school- work- sleep-repeat” -- but it was totally worth it. I graduated in 2012 from the Honors program, with a Bachelors in Studio Art, and an emphasis in sculpture.

How did you get your job at the UCSB Police Department?

In my freshmen year, I got a job as a community service officer at the University police department as a way to invest in my community while paying for school. In my junior year, I started doing public relations for them, primarily through writing, acting and directing for their YouTube page.

The joy, fulfillment, and success of doing that line of work until graduation led to my current position as the UCSB police department’s public relations specialist.

I have a unique opportunity and responsibility to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. The Bible says “blessed are the peace makers” -- that’s exactly what I want to do, to be a peace maker. For me to go into a conversation with someone who has been hurt, confused, and angered …and to have them leave that conversation feeling heard, understood, represented and optimistic is a feeling rarely paralleled.

I often speak to members of law enforcement who put their lives on the line for their community every day…In those conversations, I try to give them a better understanding of their communities’ expectations, desires and needs, while still emphasizing the overwhelming gratitude the public has for them, especially during emergencies.

My job is so much more than just word tennis, I am honored to say that I work for a police department that is constantly working, changing, and adapting, to best serve its community. It is truly “Service Before Self.” It’s pretty awesome.

I would like to thank Dustin Olson, UCSB’s chief of police, for supporting my art in almost every way imaginable. In college, he came to my shows. When I graduated, he gave me a job. When I ping-pong between graphic design, video work, and painting, he finds -- and allows -- creative ways to incorporate art into my work life.

Can you remember when you first started being interested in art?

The first time I can remember being interested in art was playing with Legos as a kid. I remember tossing aside the instructions and just tinkering with the blocks for hours. I was like, “Forget what they made, I want to make my own thing!” They weren’t just blocks for me -- they were spaceships, galaxies, new realities, untouched by gravity, time or space, limited only by my imagination. Now that I think about it, that was probably the reason I was drawn to sculpture in college -- sculpture was like adult Legos.

What is your preferred medium as an artist?

The honors art program at UCSB gives their students access to generous studio space, so the work I was doing in college was often big and messy. I worked with any material, charcoal, wood, paint, ink, plaster, you name it. I just really wanted to take advantage of having a studio. Post-graduation, and now without an art studio, I have taken a break from sculpture, as my roommates do not enjoy breathing in art supplies and saw dust in the living room. I miss it, so when I get my own place, I will probably get back into mixed-media sculpture.

Currently, I do watercolor paintings. Watercolors are odorless, don’t stain, and are free-flowing, and whimsical. I pair the watercolors with dark sharpie outlines because I’m a sucker for bringing harmony to seemingly opposite things. I’m excited about maximizing their potential.

What advice can you share with students who are looking to work in the creative field?

As an artist, there will be plenty of opportunities to complain about friends not supporting your projects, people consuming your work but never expressing thanks, people with the power to open doors only supporting your work with lip service…and everyone’s favorite, getting paid with “exposure” instead of money.

I come from a generation where your “selfie” gets 100 likes but your painting gets 30. All of that can drive you crazy -- if you let it -- but constantly complaining about those things is an ineffective way to change them and can lead down a depressing road.

If you find that your artwork is not receiving the amount or type of support you feel it deserves, resist the urge to blame your audience. Sometimes you just need to grow in the way you are promoting or presenting your work. Sometimes you just need to have patience as you build and reward your fan base.

And, sometimes, you just need to make better work.

Check out Ariel Bournes’ digital project “Calendar: Every Story Needs an Author,” an interactive art narrative on Facebook.

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