Isla Vista is a volatile cocktail. Some of the explosions that pop in this melting pot are shameful — rapes and “riots,” stabbings and pollution — and unfortunately, these are the headline-grabbers. When friends and relatives from around the globe are worrying about whether or not we survived Deltopia, a reputation builds.

It’s easy to interpret these events as evidence that Isla Vista is an economic drain on the county and a vapid cultural black hole, but this zoomed-out viewpoint that the media latches onto is not an accurate reflection of our square mile. There’s so much going on that slides under the surface and gets swallowed by the noise. The energy here is always palpable, and when it’s channeled in the right direction, a truly unique culture emerges.

I.V. has always been a mysterious misfit, a jagged appendage that surrounding cities would love to hack off and send adrift in the Pacific Ocean. But despite the inherent sense of uncertainty and transience, there is an abundance of culture in this pressure cooker. Spring quarter alone features the park concerts Earth Day, Chilla Vista, Surfrider and Wordstock; there’s the Reel Loud film festival, Shakespeare in the Park, Theater and Dance productions and constant exhibitions of students’ visual art. Each Wednesday music echoes from Storke Plaza and the Music bowl; every weekend live bands rock house parties while comedy lights up Embarcadero Hall. Open Mics are an institution at the Coffee Collab and Gio’s. Arts & Lectures, Program Board, OSL and the MCC consistently offer diverse, rich and affordable events, lectures and films to our campus and community; The Catalyst and WORD magazines bring a definitive flair in both visual-literary arts and journalism, respectively. The various Co-Ops provide their own distinct art and flavor, and undocumented work is being done by thousands of residents every day.

The obvious truth is that Isla Vista is far more complex and sophisticated than the papers, periodicals and primetime newsbreaks portray. The obvious truth is that something is wrong with Isla Vista. But the even more obvious truth, under our very noses, is that there is a vital and lively culture in Isla Vista that thrives and somehow puts all this madness in context. It’s only a matter of finding it amidst the chaos.

This neighborhood is too strange and vibrant to simply abandon to the rising tides of an amnesiac party culture which, now more than ever, threatens to drown our voices. It’s true that most of us are only here for a few years, but that shouldn’t dampen or misdirect our enthusiasm. These are still four years in our very limited lives, and we are lucky enough to be in a place that offers as much room for creativity, freedom and experimentation as it does for drunken shenanigans. College is not just a throwaway time before “real life.” We’re all at critical points of transition, establishing habits and values that we’ll carry far away from this corner of the coast.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that I.V. is unincorporated. We can define our town and ourselves for the future, but nobody’s going to twist our wrists. We have the opportunity to determine our own fate, which means that we get both the excitement and responsibility that go along with it. The current student body and greater citizens of this town will make a decision: either feed into the stereotypes being foisted upon us by the media, police, politicians and ourselves or prove that Isla Vista is a visceral, real, strangely creative and subversive place that deserves more than just generalization and rhetoric. If we hope to actually make a lasting change here then taking a look at our environment from an analytic and artistic angle is the crucial first step.

Art is more than social lubricant: It can be a rallying cry or a fiery critique, it can incite dialogue and inspire more creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Art is the exploration for meaning in an excessively chaotic and complex society that grows more convoluted with every passing day. People here often complain how they can hardly wait to leave, yet these are the same people who dedicate themselves to the gamut of creative social work, just by being students and residents here. It’s time we see our own individual pursuits as a vivid and important part of our town as a whole, something to be illuminated and celebrated, something more powerful than the sensational violence and senseless stereotypes that we tend to give legitimacy to in our everyday gossip.

Everyone here is passionate about something, and it’s up to us as a community to showcase and spread the flames. That’s what culture is — it’s not some exclusive aristocratic pastime, it’s the aspects of life we care about and give meaning to. And it’s everywhere here. We just need to shine a brighter light and turn up the amps. We’re only at about seven right now, and this one goes to 11.

Adrian Gronseth and Sean Nolan are both fourth-year English Majors.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 1, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.