On Monday evening I attended the Creative Conversations discussion at the University of Regina. It was an interesting night with a lot of ideas. So many ideas that I do not feel a single post can properly cover the meeting.
With that in mind, this will be the first installment regarding the presentations over the next few days. This post concerns, of the many issues addressed that evening, the discussion around bring communities and academia generally, the University of Regina particularly, closer together.
There were four speakers who’ve each undertaken projects in Regina that bridge their research interests with practical community involvement. In this post I will focus on two of them, Dr. Charity Marsh and Dr. Marc Spooner both professors at the University of Regina
First to speak was Dr. Charity Marsh who runs the Interactive Media and Performance (IMP) Labs at the University of Regina. The IMP labs include beat making, and DJ equipment along with microphones so people can create and record their own music.
What the IMP Labs have provided is infrastructure; a resource for people in Regina and area to create music, specifically in Hip Hop and electronic styles. Some projects these labs have been key tools working with include a Hip Hop class with students at Scott Collegiate, taking the IMP north to Beauval Saskatchewan for a workshop series and the CBC News Day project in Fort Qu’Appelle. Generally, the IMP labs offer a resource to the faculty of Fine Arts which is open to the public.
Dr. Marsh emphasized that the IMP labs allow active community engagement with the University of Regina, by bringing teens and young people into the Riddell Centre to use the equipment. Young people desire these labs, they want to work with them. Dr. Marsh stressed the difference between active and reactive projects. An active project is informed from the people, who bring the energy and will to the researcher. The reactive comes from above and is prescribed to people in order to “fix” a perceived lack of cultural opportunities or culture.
Dr. Marsh described how when she was brought to Regina to work on hip hop culture, she was just starting research when the food bank asked her to give a lecture for their series. A this event began, looking out into the audience she quickly realized the experts were the youth and artists who’d came to listen. This realization set into motion the need to provide more than prescribe or teach those youth who already had something to contribute but lacked resources. So it is with the IMP labs, that Dr. Marsh facilitates people with a medium, by working on skills like lyric writing, production, public speaking and performance and providing equipment, so people can tell their own stories.
One result that IMP lab has had, which Dr. Marsh relayed in story, was that students she’s worked with from Scott are beginning to get excited about the work they’ve done and want to further their education. In one instance a young man came to the IMP labs, nervous and lost on his first day of university and sought out Dr. Marsh to chat and find something familiar. In this way the IMP labs are becoming a cultural space, a place of comfort, safety, exchange and creativity that give youth and artists, who may not have been comfortable in a university before, a sense of place and belonging.
Dr. Marc Spooner, from the faculty of Education at the University of Regina, followed Dr. Marsh’s train of thought on extending the University into the community. Dr. Spooner focused on how the university’s ivory tower mentality was no longer valid and real validation came with what role a university places in the community. Once academia might have been the arbiter of knowledge but as Dr. Spooner rightly said, knowledge and information is more accessable than ever which means the university must offer something more.
Taking a stack of housing and social service government reports he questioned the relivance of the old academic mantra of publish or perish. Describing the build up of reports in ministry’s shelves a “black hole of reports” he questioned what impact academics’ have if this was the fate of their work. Specifically the publishing of peer-reviewed journals which are hegemonic, solely assigning credibility and denoting rigor. Dr. Spooner sees journals as one tool, but not the final authority.
The alternative was to “go public or perish;” universities must engage in the community, researchers must go out into the field, and programs must be accessable. He gave an example from the University of Winnipeg during the question period after the presentations, where that institution opened its doors to children in its community, giving them familiarity with campus and programs. The University of Winnipeg’s Opportunity Fund Tuition Credit program goes further, giving children the chance, if they engage in programing and maintain grades, to pay for school once they graduate from highschool while being comfortable with the institution.
I suppose for me, Dr. Marsh’s IMP labs really speak to community engagement, in the way they are beginning the process of place making. My own experience at university was one of wandering around for nearly two years finding somewhere to eat lunch or study that was comfortable. I often (half) joke that I finally chose a major based on which department provided the most comfortable and accessable student lounge.
During the presentations I was thinking about how until I went to university I really had little involvement with the place. I live only a five-minute walk from the classroom building, my family attended the U of R and my father worked there. So I was familiar with the place, but I never went there. I can remember elementary school mates coming back to school in the fall with stories of basketball or science camps, but I never thought much about them or felt I was welcome.
For the university to be more relevant to youth, accessable and familiar seems like a great idea. What’s exciting is, as the discussion bared out, equipment like the IMP labs and programs based around it are bridging gaps in reality rather than in theory.