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Where Good Ideas Come From


A few years ago, in a chapter published in The Small Cities Book, John Bratton and I considered how smaller communities might become incubators of creativity and innovation. We explored the critical mass of cultural activity necessary to attract and sustain a community of knowledge-based investors and professionals; we wanted to know how the creative capital of small cities measures up against that of their larger neighbours. We concluded that the existence of a critical cluster of artists and cultural activity in a small city not only acts as a magnet for attracting investment in knowledge-based ventures and for recruiting and retaining knowledge workers, but it also increases the capacity for sustained engagement in work-based informal learning and innovation.

If not by definition, then certainly by default, “culture” and (increasingly) “creativity” are associated with big city life: big cities are equated commonly with big culture and heightened creativity; small cities with something less. Smaller places are acknowledged typically for nurturing both community involvement and an enhanced quality of life—qualities we were initially surprised to learn that have been negatively associated with creativity. According to the existing literature on large urban centres, the opportunity to establish strong community ties may actually deter some people (read: the creative class) from moving to small communities: deep community involvement is said to be commonly rejected or avoided by itinerant knowledge-sector workers, who characteristically prize personal flexibility and opportunity over community responsibility and commitment.

In his recent book Steven Johnson asks, “What are the spaces that have historically led to unusual rates of creativity and innovation?” Johnson’s wonderfully engaging and important book once again associates creativity with urban scale, claiming that “as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip.” The indicators of creativity are important here: Johnson—like Richard Florida and so many others—adds up the number of patents and inventions generated per capita, and finds that “despite all the noise and crowding and distraction, the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand.”  Johnson then asks, provocatively, What makes residents of big city environments so much more creative and innovative than residents of smaller places?

The question is a (mis)leading one, however, for it assumes that a tabulation of patents and inventions is the only measure of creativity and innovative potential. As someone who has lived and worked in larger cities, and who now lives in a city of just under a hundred thousand, I noticed no significant diminishment of my personal creative potential or output upon taking up residence in Kamloops. Just the reverse.

There’s not space here to explore how smaller cities narrow the divide between creativity and work, the rural and the urban, the individual and the community—how social proximity affects political realities, including access to productive collaborations, media attention, and active participation in decision making. I remain impressed by the case Johnson and others make for “the city” as a creative space, but after reading Where Good Ideas Come From I’ve come away even more convinced than ever that we need to develop scale-specific indicators of success, including those for quality of life, culture, creativity, and productive innovation.

I’m intrigued, for example, how, on one hand, new technologies are said to make it possible for people to select their work locations based on a variable geometry of geographical, lifestyle, and educational choices; and, on the other hand, many of us seem to cling (at least rhetorically) to the notion that only large urban centres can have a significant purchase on creativity.

P.S.  A recent posting to Wired Magazine talks about how small cities are feeding the knowledge economy.


Arts Faculty Member Receives New SSHRC Grant

Dr. Block, Seated Bottom Centre

Dr. Block, Seated Bottom Centre

Dr. Tina Block, Assistant Professor of History, has received a new research grant to continue her work on the social history of atheism in postwar Canada.

“A Social History of Atheism in English Canada, 1945-1975” builds on her doctoral dissertation, which looked more specifically at irreligion in British Columbia. (Dr. Block notes that BC is “the least religious province in Canada, at least in statistical terms.”) The funding support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada will help her shed light on public debates about atheism, and offer a new angle of vision on how, or whether, Canada became secularized in the postwar era.

This research promises to give fresh insights into the significance of religious belief to postwar Canadian culture, and illuminate an overlooked sector of this country’s population.

Such national recognition for Dr. Block’s research enhances the reputation of our Faculty—and of TRU generally.

Congratulations Tina!

TRU Arts Grad’s TV Series Renewed

creators_dasha_bioAlong with several other TRU faculty members I was honoured to attend the wedding of Dasha Novak and Jason Friesen this weekend.

Dasha graduated from TRU’s BFA program five years ago, and while a student here she distinguished herself as an outstanding artist and research assistant—working with the Small Cities CURA and numerous other research projects: She co-presented at local and international conferences, won a residency scholarship from the Banff Centre of the Arts, and in 2007 her work was included in a national publication edited by TRU faculty.

Dasha’s story is an extraordinary one. Born in Czech Republic, she defected from the communist regime when she was 17. Drawn, she says, “to images of snow and ice,” she moved to Canada, and later studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey, TRU in Kamloops, and most recently at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. She holds a BA with concentration in Psychology, a BFA, and a Masters in Media Arts.

So what does one do with a BFA and a MA?

Since graduating, Dasha has been working as a writer, story editor and producer/executive producer with Chasing Pictures Inc. In 2008, Dasha produced the animated series The Adventures of Artie the Ant (a project that she co-created and co-wrote with husband Jason for APTN).

She and Jason have successfully written and produced two seasons of the half hour tv “dramedy” Health Nutz, and they begin production of season three in October of this year. In addition, Dasha is producing and developing an on-line video game for children and an interactive website for Health Nutz through the Bell New Media Fund.

Dasha and Jason were married at the Sun Peaks chapel, in a traditional Métis ceremony.

Smudging Ceremony, with Kamloops Mayor in Attendance

Smudging Ceremony, with Kamloops Mayor in Attendance


TRU Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Student Wins at Sustainability Summit

I was delighted to read the following story posted on our TRU Newsroom page:

BA Student Bonnie Klohn Embracing TRU's House of Learning

BA Student Bonnie Klohn Embracing TRU's House of Learning

Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies student “Bonnie Klohn was among the 400 post-secondary students from 35 countries who gathered to discuss global energy issues in Vancouver at the International Student Energy Summit (ISES) June 9th to 11th, hosted by UBC. As a member of Team Synergy, one of six teams of students selected by FortisBC and ISES organizers for the FortisBC Community Energy Challenge, she shared a $4000 cash prize for designing the winning community energy system using clean technology and green energy sources.

“Four-person teams simulating companies bidding on a district energy project competed in four challenges, to develop a mock community energy system complete with innovative energy sources such as waste water treatment facilities or pulp mills. The first challenge, a research essay, had to be completed before the conference began. For the second challenge, teams had to decide where they would harness energy, how their energy pipeline would run through the map of a hypothetical town, how much the project would cost and what the payback time was. The third challenge was to create a video explaining the team’s district energy system. For the final challenge, Team Synergy put together a presentation on what sort of renewable fuel they would recommend for a new fleet of city transit buses. Moving on as finalists, Bonnie’s team presented their community energy system to a panel of energy expert judges which included Mike Harcourt and officials from FortisBC, who along with viewers, selected Team Synergy to win the cash prize.

“ISES isorganized by a team of post-secondary students through the University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Initiative. This year’s summit is the second in a series of biennial conferences to take place in different cities around the world.”

Team Synergy, consisting of Thomas Butler, Geoff de Ruiter, Bonnie, and Sunny Yang won $4000 for their energy saving proposal about district energy systems.

Team Synergy, consisting of Thomas Butler, Geoff de Ruiter, Bonnie, and Sunny Yang won $4000 for their energy saving proposal about district energy systems.

One of Our First TRU-Start Students Becomes One of Our First Law Students

During the reception that followed our June Convocation ceremonies, one of my former students told me of her good news: Lisa Scruton was part of the first intake of TRU-Start students, a program that gives high school students a head start on their university education by allowing them to take one or more first-year classes while still enrolled in school. Lisa studied English 1100 as part of the first cohort of TRU-Start students, and after high school graduation she enrolled in TRU’s Arts program. She graduated in June and recently received notice that she’s been accepted into TRU’s new Law program!

Lisa Scruton, Arts, Class of 2011

Lisa Scruton, Arts, Class of 2011

WILL: Lisa, thanks for participating in this interview. You were part of the very first cohort of TRU-Start students, getting a head start on
university by taking a first-year English class while still enrolled in
high school. Would you describe the TRU-Start experience? Would you
recommend it to other students?

LISA: TRU-Start was my first glimpse into university life, and
specifically Thompson Rivers University life. During the first half of
my Grade 12 year I attended TRU twice a week in the evenings to take
English 1110. The program was a wonderful bridge between high school and
university because some of my classmates were high school students like
me, while the others were full-fledged TRU students. The balance of
students in the class and the balance of high school during the day and
university in the evenings made the entire transition to university much
smoother than anticipated. It gave me an understanding of what the new
expectations would be for me to succeed in school and also provided me
with an extra burst of energy to continue my education immediately
rather than take a year off. The program was an ideal introduction to
TRU and I would recommend it to any local high school student.

WILL: What was is like taking high school classes by day and a
university class in the evenings? Did you find a big difference between
the two experiences?

LISA: Yes, I found there was a drastic difference between the two experiences. During the day in high school I was treated as a child and spent most of my time behaving like one: not doing my homework, day-dreaming, and counting down the minutes until the end of class. In the evenings at TRU, however, I was treated like an adult. Schoolwork became my own responsibility, and it was clear that I wouldn’t be missed if I didn’t show up to class or didn’t pay attention because the only person I would hurt would be me. These new standards made me want to be there. I always learned, I always enjoyed class, and I was always treated like an adult, even if initially I struggled to behave like one.

WILL: When you enrolled in university, why did you choose TRU? Why did
you focus on the Arts?

LISA: I chose to attend TRU in part because of location (being in
Kamloops and close to family) and partly because the TRU-Start program
instantly made it my home. The TRU campus is beautiful and the student
body is vibrant and energetic. After seeing that during TRU-Start, I
knew I didn’t want to leave. 
My decision to pursue an Arts degree wasn’t actually what I thought I
would do in university. I always knew I wanted to go to Law School, but
the required Bachelor’s Degree before Law School is, well, unspecific, so I
imagined I would pursue my undergrad in sciences. However, Arts (and
specifically English) chose me. I never enjoyed high school, but there
was one teacher in Grade 9 that I liked and who encouraged me in
English. Her encouragement stretched all the way into my Grade 12 year,
when I became her TA and was selected for TRU-Start. I decided at that
point that English was the route for me and took it on as a major. Later
on in my degree I discovered the Political Science and Economics joint
major and added that to my degree as well, and now I am incredibly happy
with what I consider a well-rounded Arts Degree.

WILL: You mentioned wanting to study Law–and I know that you have some
good news on that front.

LISA: Yes, I most certainly do. I have been accepted to study Law this September at TRU with the brand new Faculty of Law. When I first found out about the new Law School coming to TRU (back in February, 2009) I was ecstatic and wanted to begin writing my statement of interest immediately. When the application was officially made available online in December 2010. I printed it off, filled it out and popped it in the mail before 24 hours had passed. I was a bit of an eager beaver! After that I waited almost six months before I got the incredible news that I had been accepted, but the wait was undoubtedly worth the result. Now I’m counting down the days until I get to step foot on campus as an official Law student, on September 6th!

There are definitely some challenges ahead that can be expected for the first few years of starting a brand new Law School, but personally I look forward to these challenges. While some students may balk at the hurdles ahead for my classmates and I to manoeuvre through while the Law School finds its feet, the Law faculty has chosen an amazing bunch of students, most (if not all) of whom are eager to work hard in helping to establish Canada’s newest Law School!

Lisa and Will GP at Spring Graduation

Lisa and Will GP at Spring Graduation

WILL: Congratulations on your graduation and on your acceptance to TRU’s
new Law School–and thanks again for sharing your academic journey with
us. You were one of our first TRU-Start students, now becoming one of our first Law students.

LISA: Thanks Will. TRU has been such an incredible university to attend over the last few years. I think sometimes it’s easy for local high school students to set their sights on universities farther away simply because they want to get away from family for a little while, and some don’t realize what a gem TRU truly is—and I think programs like TRU-Start can help stop students from overlooking the advantages of studying closer to home. I can’t imagine any other university in the country that could have done what TRU has done for me—allowing me to be a trailblazer for two incredible programs.

The Summer edition of the Venture Kamloops Newsletter provides the following account of the new Law program: “On May 31, 2011 at the University of Calgary Murray Fraser Hall, representatives from University of Calgary (UofC) and Thompson Rivers University (TRU) held a ceremony to sign a official licensing agreement representing a landmark partnership between UofC and TRU. This agreement will result in the creation of Canada’s newest Law School. Among the attendees were Lucas Alan Harrison, UofC provost and vice president; Uli Scheck, TRU provost and vice president; and Chris Axworthy, TRU’s founding dean of law.

“Starting September 2011 TRU’s Law School, the third in B.C., will offer over UofC’s curriculum, which falls under the broad heading of common law. Its focus on areas such as energy and environmental law correspond with the programs TRU wants to offer. TRU will also aim to develop a reputation for expertise in First Nations law, as stated in a story by Janet Steffanhegan of the Vancouver Sun in the May 26, 2011 online issue. The new Law School hopes to alleviate the problem of the shortage of lawyers in smaller communities in hopes that having a law school in the Thompson Nicola Regional District will encourage articling students to stay in the community and possible remain with their articling firm or start their own firm which in turn will increase the community’s ability of serving the legal needs of individuals. For the inaugural year, the new Law students will be attending in the new Learning Centre at TRU, then for 2012/2013 and beyond, students will be educated in the $20 million newly renovated Old Main Building.”

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!


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.

Picture 3

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.

Picture 4

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 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.

Picture 5

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—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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Possible Futures: Blended Learning and Transforming Higher Education

showPicture.phpLast week I participated in an all-day Workshop exploring possibilities for blended learning at TRU. Our Workshop’s keynote speaker was Anya Kamenetz—and as preparation for the event, participants were asked to read her recently published article, “How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education,” a fast-paced overview of education 2.0 and how open educational content, new technologies and new delivery models are creating an exciting mix of anticipation, advocacy, enthusiasm and confusion.

The Kamenetz article offered an enjoyable, even provocative, read—though I confess to being less than convinced by the rhetorical clichés of her conclusion (i.e., the students are already using social networking, twitter, etc., and thus we, as educators, need to as well—or risk being “left behind”). Those students (individuals and focus groups) I’ve talked with over the last few months seem unimpressed by the prospect of their profs “intruding” into their online spaces. One young woman said firmly, “If one of my profs asked to be my Facebook friend, I’d ignore the request. It would feel creepy.” On the other hand, that same student praised her experience with Blackboard and Moodle. Technology can certainly enhance teaching and learning, but, when introduced inappropriately (say, in a manner not tied to the furthering of well-considered learning outcomes), it can also detract from teaching and learning.

Like others, I’m fascinated by talk of high-tech do-it-yourself education, of possible new models of education and the new economics of learning implicated by those models; that said, it seems to me—and I’m certainly no expert in this area—that instead of falling prey to what are essentially scare tactics and false analogies (e.g, if universities don’t act quickly, they will share the fate of “newspaper chains and record stores”), we have a wonderful opportunity to triangulate consideration of audience, desired outcomes, and then the mode or modes of instructional delivery.

The Workshop presentation (and the discussion that followed) raised still more questions, and opened my eyes to a range of possibilities.

Here are some initial thoughts: The first two years or so of university engender enculturation (an introduction to the university, to the work of the disciplines, to advanced literacy development—and to learning the basics of how to learn); and, with these outcomes in mind, first- and second-year students would no doubt benefit most from face-to-face instruction enhanced by classroom-based technology—for it is hard to enter an intellectual community or any ongoing conversation without face-to-face interaction. Blended learning is likely best integrated at this stage as a means of extending the classroom, providing additional examples, and copies of class notes. A possible focus might also involve the reinforcing of what have been identified as “threshold concepts,” those disciplinary ideas that are fundamentally transformative, “akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something . . . it represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing . . . without which the learner cannot progress” (Meyer and Land, 2003).

Senior-level students, however—especially those studying in academic disciplines that might not routinely employ extensive hands-on, practice-led learning experiences—might respond well to even more extensive hybrid instruction (perhaps incorporated via a project approach, or a capstone semester in the final year).

Graduate students (including international grad students) seeking compressed degrees and concentrated learning experiences (and here I’m thinking also of experiences that draw especially on local expertise, history, culture, landscape, etc.) would make strong candidates for an array of innovative approaches—a mix of f2f and web-based instruction.

Convocation 2011

NeloferAt Friday’s Convocation I had the privilege of sharing the stage with our Class of 2011–including the recipient of this year’s Honorary Doctor of Letters, Nelofer Pazira. A Canadian filmmaker, author and journalist, Dr. Pazira grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, before escaping to Pakistan in 1989 and emigrating to Moncton, New Brunswick the following year. In 1996, she attempted to return to Afghanistan to find a childhood friend left behind. A feature film, Kandahar, was inspired by her story and won a 2001 Jury Prize in Cannes; and later that year, as Moses Znaimer’s Idea City reported,”the film had its North American release at the Toronto Film Festival on September 8, three days before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.”

In 2003, Dr. Pazira co-produced and co-directed  Return to Kandahar, which won the Federico Fellini Prize from UNESCO and a Gemini Award for “best political or social documentary.” She has also directed two documentaries about Iran and has published widely, including her 2005 biography A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan. Her most recent film, Act of Dishonour, portrays the complexities of honour killing.

At Friday’s Convocation Dr. Pazira spoke with elegance and eloquence on the value of education, sharing her personal journey and telling the graduates that her honorary doctorate “serves as a protection,” especially to those who are cynical and say ‘it’s not worth it’ to speak the truth about global and individual issues.  To see the full Convocation Ceremony, including Pazira’s address, CLICK HERE.

Study in Humanities Crucial in Digital Age?

In a story from the Telegraph-Journal (published May 30, 2011), Kwame Anthony Appiah notes that we are “drowning in the particulars of humanistic study.” More now than ever, he argues, we need the humanities to help sort out what’s important (what’s valuable and credible) from what’s not. The implications of Appiah’s position probably go beyond the now commonplace critique of  all things digital: the challenge for humanists is to fully engage the digital age, to move from critique to action?

Professor Appiah

Professor Appiah

FREDERICTON – At a week-long conference celebrating the humanities, it’s a natural question to ask: why do they still matter? Should we really study the works of philosophers long dead? Well, yes, according to one leading academic.

Kwame Anthony Appiah argued we need the humanities, perhaps now more than ever.

Appiah delivered the first “Big Thinking” lecture at St. Thomas University on Saturday, launching the 2011 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Described as “one of the most distinguished and courageous writers of our time” by Barry Craig, St. Thomas University’s vice-president of academics, Appiah is chair of the board of the American Council of Learned Societies and teaches philosophy at Princeton University.

“Shakespeare would be an unreliable guide to contemporary politics. Aristotle is an obstacle to our understanding of biology,” said Appiah. “So why do humanists turn to the past if what we seek is the truth?”

In short, because understanding our past and how we fit into that vast human puzzle, “enriches us now.”

An education in the liberal arts, said Appiah, is not a luxury for the out of touch. The keynote speaker dismissed French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu’s claim that such an education served only “to mark us off from the vulgar.”

Yes, admitted Appiah, a degree in the humanities does “permit one to show off. So can long practice in golf, but that is hardly the best argument against golfing,” he said.

The importance of the humanities, said Appiah, is to understand where we fit into our “human heritage,” even if you “can’t make a buck” from your discoveries.

Liberal arts prepare people to live their lives, not their work, he said.

Now more than ever, argued Appiah, a focus on education in the humanities is important.

In our digital age, said Appiah, we produce more information in a single day than could have been conceived of even a century ago. We are “drowning” in the particulars of humanist study, said the academic. We need the humanities to help understand what is worth paying attention to in the mountainous pile of information, Appiah said.

“We help people find, in the great flood, things they can use.”

Although a foundation in the humanities is best gained through formal education, it benefits everyone, said Appiah. Not engaging in the arts, be it reading the great novels of your time or watching the best movies of your age, is a mistake, he said.

“You’re missing out on something from your life and I believe we (humanists) can help with that.”

Liberal arts will always be relevant, he said. It is a study specific to human purposes. What we do and how we think, he pointed out, are always evolving.

Most importantly, said Appiah, the humanities help us explore what exactly is wrong with not being free, a question everyone should think about, regardless of whether they have a degree.

Artists and Interdisciplinary Research

IMG_0100Earlier this month I presented a new paper, “Making Interdisciplinary Inquiry Visible: The Role of Artist-Researchers in a Ten-Year Community-University Research Alliance,” at The Sixth International Conference on the Arts in Society (May 9 – 11, 2011, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities). In the paper Rachel Nash and I reported on ten years of research on forms of artistic inquiry and how the presence of artist-researchers is changing the methods used, the questions asked, and the results achieved by interdisciplinary research teams. We also positioned university-based artistic research in relation to the public art models of community engagement that gained currency in the 1980s – 1990s (for example, what Suzanne Lacy dubbed “new genre public art,” with its emphasis on community engagement, on social and political action).

Our paper concludes with the following:

We are struck by how ubiquitous and entrenched is the notion that “art speaks for itself”; this belief, likely informed by artists’ adherence to unstated contributions, continues to characterize and configure image/text relations among those working and researching in the visual arts community. Such a belief should be acknowledged and considered by those of us wishing to engage communities in collaborative and interdisciplinary work involving artists. We need to consider what’s at stake in including visual strategies, conventions, and elements—for we can do so casually, emphasizing the visual as mere illustration; or we can do so carefully, respectfully, creating space in writing where the visual might indeed speak for itself. Our recent work suggests the importance of respecting the integrity of modes of communication, both the visual and the verbal, their irreducibility as well as their complementarity, as we acknowledge too that the verbal is not replaceable by the visual. The modes can speak with and to, but not for each other.

Whereas conspicuous citation plays a central role in the creation of new knowledge in other (academic) disciplines, it is downplayed in artistic inquiry. We need to explore whether different expectations about the treatment of sources in turn create a source of positive or negative tension in interdisciplinary teams, teams often including community partners. Are artist-researchers, for example, punished for this disciplinary feature when working with those outside of the discipline (e.g., when judged by granting agencies)? Is the artistic practice more subtle and truly more accurate in that the influences on all forms of scholarship cannot all be documented—calling out, that is, the supposed practice of exhaustive documentation as more of an illusion than a truly full picture. To what extent might citation in the visual arts be regarded as more idiosyncratic, and therefore “mean” differently when it occurs? In terms of audience, does the artist-researcher assume a more sophisticated audience than the traditional scholar does, therefore eschewing the need for documentation? Or is the audience assumed to be interested in other aspects of the work rather than its provenance, with influence or stated contributions being less important? Finally, for now, we want to worry the issue of originality: is originality less important among artist-researchers, leaving a list of contributions assumed? Or is originality seen to be more important, a motivation for leaving contributions and influences downplayed, unstated, or at least understated?