Teaming up for creativity

Is London a creative city? Does it foster an environment for creativity? Is London reaping benefits from its creative citizens and giving nothing in return?

These questions and more came up in a public forum Tuesday night at Museum London titled Culture, Policy, Urban Space and the City, where Western Visual Arts professor Patrick Mahon, English PhD candidate Joshua Lambier and Faculty of Information and Media Studies Dean Thomas Carmichael joined Robin Armistead, manager of culture for the City of London, to discuss the role and purpose of creativity in the city.

“Creativity isn’t just about good ideas, but the capacity to implement,” Armistead said at the start of the evening.

Having previously worked on the Creative City Task Force, she added London’s communities and organizations engaged in creative work – Western included – have previously operated in silos. The city is working to form partnerships so all could not just benefit from, but enjoy creative work in the community.

Engaging Western is a big step in the process, she added.

The university, however, needs to step up, find a way to connect in the community and showcase its creative work in the arts and humanities, said Labmier, director of The Public Humanities @ Western, a new program that according to officials is “designed to enhance the Faculty of Arts and Humanities’ commitment to the promotion of innovative forms of publicly engaged knowledge creation, experiential learning, and campus-community collaboration.”

“The university needs to championship a new spirit of citizenship and engagement through arts and humanities research. (It) needs to promote a place for publicly recognized academic work and to be responsive to new forms of civic engagement and public learning” he noted.

Shifting from a model of education for profit making to one of education for engaged citizenship is a two-way-street, Lambier continued, explaining while working in and with the city is important, students, staff and faculty need to leave campus, their office and libraries and partake in London’s cultural landscape.

“We need to be bolder at Western, I think, in terms of making mutually beneficial relationship between the campus and the community and that is a two-sided dialogue,” he added.

Lambier offered four suggestions to forming such a mutually beneficial relationship.

First, build constituencies for the humanities – galleries, libraries, symphonies, etc. Staff and faculty need to get out of the proverbial ivory tower and engage with their “constituents” in the community, groups of people who would – and should – miss them if they were gone.

Second, Lambier continued, the university needs to foster community service learning, making service and engagement in the community compulsory for coursework in order to engage students and showcase the work happening behind university gates.

There is also a need for campus-community initiatives, Lambier said, noting that lecture series, sometimes a one-way dialogue, aren’t enough as a point of connection between Western and the London community.

“We need programs with two-way feedback, to find where the university and the community can work in collaboration,” he said.

And finally, Lambier added, Western needs a community-based research centre, preferably downtown, to establish working groups between the city and the university.

And Carmichaeal agreed.

“There is a movement away from thinking about the university as only a resource to be mined, but thinking of the university as a source to be engaged,” he said.

“I think we need to keep in mind that cities are not universities and universities are not cities. The relationship between the city and the university is already in place. London and Western have long had a common project. The question is to actualize that project.”

We need to make Western a part of life in London and London a part of life at Western, Carmichael explained.

“And that’s a project not to be solved by one initiative,” he said. “There are many on both sides.”