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CURA Research Assistant Designs New Website

The Small Cities Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) and the Faculty of Arts are delighted to announce the launch of the newly-designed CURA website (created by Emily Hope, an undergraduate RA and Visual Arts student at TRU). In a recent review of CURA websites, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada praised Emily’s work as exemplary, and the Small Cities site was singled out as an outstanding example for other universities to follow. Emily has presented her work at three academic conferences–and she’ll be helping organize and present a workshop on community mapping at Animation of Public Space Through the Arts, an International Symposium being held at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, in September.

In the following short interview, Emily describes her work as a research assistant. Significantly, she aligns that work with the artist-researcher initiative championed by the CURA, for the design choices now embedded in the website reflect those of someone deeply engaged in, and informed by, research. Where the original CURA website was guided by a logic of archiving and display (basically providing a static representation of accumulated research results, progress reports, and research links), the current site both references past versions and situates the CURA within a network of platforms (Vimeo, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, Digg, iTunes, an electronic journal, and an online LearningTimes community). Instead of simply displaying the research, the new site reaches out by sharing and performing research. In effect, Emily’s work shows how design can take on a research role, for the choices made in organization, layout, and tone emerged from her ongoing and deepening understanding of the CURA’s overall research purpose. In the past, a website like the CURA’s might have been created (using a template) by someone at arm’s length from the research activity; in contrast, development of the current site (a project initiated by Emily as a vehicle for practice) has emerged as both a remarkable student training opportunity and an organic expression of the research principles informing the community-university alliance. Making research visible involves dialogue, experimentation, play, collaboration, hard work–and considerable talent!

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Will: Emily, you are a 4th-year Visual Arts student and a research assistant for the Small Cities CURA?

Emily: I am, and over the years, the two have become increasingly interwoven. My role as a research assistant has been primarily to make research visible through audio/video presentations, websites, posters, and other digital and print media. I have had the opportunity to become involved in various projects, all of which are interdisciplinary collaborations between community and university researchers. This environment has fostered a keen interest in community art practices and has led me to facilitate workshops and exhibitions that encourage collaborative art-making and storytelling in the gallery space. The CURA has also taught me about the role of artists-as-researchers, which has been incredibly influential in my studies.

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Will: Tell me about the new website. First of all, who do you think accesses the site? And why are websites like this important?

Emily: The Small Cities CURA links community and university researchers locally, nationally and internationally. I think that our users are primarily made up of this varied and diverse group of researchers, as well as individuals who are interested in the culture of small cities. Websites such as ours provide a space to unify the various projects and to document and display research in progress. A key aspect of the Small Cities CURA is artistic research, which in my role includes making research visible and accessible to as wide an audience as possible. It is my hope that this website serves that purpose.

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Will: What tools did you use to design and construct the site?

Emily: I used Photoshop for the layout and Flash for the construction. I used Lynda.com to learn how to do both.

Will: Talk about its design, if you would: What was your vision for the site in terms of form and function?

Emily: I think websites should act as frames for their content: they should be clean and organized, and not get in the way of what you’re trying to deliver. Our site has a lot of content, and it was important to me to create one that could deliver all of that information without becoming overwhelming.

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Will: It’s my understanding that, as a web designer, you are largely self-taught. What does such a learning process involve? What resources did you access, and how does your work as a CURA Research Assistant relate to your studies in Visual Arts?

Emily: When I started work with the Small Cities CURA in 2008, I knew very little about digital design. Through my work here, I have had access to numerous learning resources—skilled professionals, technical manuals and online tutorials such as those at Lynda.com—to a space equipped with computers and professional-grade software, and, more importantly, have been encouraged to explore and learn as much with these tools as I can. As with any artistic endeavour, you learn through demonstration and experimentation. Over my time here, I have had ample opportunity to work with talented people eager to share their knowledge and have been given unlimited space to experiment and find my own style. Digital design is a vital skill for visual artists, but it isn’t taught within our program. Being employed as a CURA Research Assistant has enabled me to develop these skills in tandem with my studies, and the two have fed each other. I don’t think that either experience would have been as rich on its own.

Will: Would you like to say anything further about the new website?  It’s quite beautiful!

Emily: Thank you!

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