Western students bridged the gap between town and gown during an immersive experience outside of the University Gates in London’s arts and cultural community recently.
The School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH) and the Public Humanities at Western held the second Forest City Culture Crawl on March 18, which mapped out opportunities for students to meet local artists and writers and explore Museum London, The ARTS Project and DNA Artspace.
“I wanted to look at spots of culture that represent different things in the community and different sources of funding and, therefore, would produce different experiences,” said Joel Burton, PhD candidate and Culture Crawl founder.
Seven SASAH students volunteered to help plan the programming at the downtown venues, including a digital scavenger hunt at Museum London, a discussion with The ARTS Project resident artists Rob Nelson and Angie Quick, and performances by London poets, among other activities.
“The university has a responsibility to the community,” Burton said. “The obligation is more and more because the relevance of studying the arts and humanities is under duress.”
Burton believes the next generation of arts and humanities graduates will be expected to have experience in bringing the voices of academia and local arts and culture together. Events such as the Culture Crawl are an example of how “we can imagine our own futures in leadership roles in arts and culture” to make this relationship work and push the academic exercise of thinking about arts and humanities outside the university walls.
“For the students, as they imagine their own careers and capacity to lead, you can really start to imagine yourself collaborating and leading something outside of university,” Burton said.
“The most exciting education can happen when those big ideas mix with something local. That interaction can produce the next generation of leaders and visionary professors in the arts and humanities.”
With 40 participants at last week’s event, Burton sees this as a pilot for broader, collaborative cultural events in the future. The first Culture Crawl was held in September 2014, during London Culture Days, part of a national event celebrating Canadian arts and culture, and Doors Open London.
Morgan McAuley, a first-year SASAH student, wanted to get involved in the planning to gain first-hand experience offering “a glimpse into the future” of what a career in arts and culture might look like.
“I really do feel the ‘Western Bubble’ and I like things that get me out of that and allow me to experience the city more because I spend so much time on campus,” McAuley said.
“It is integral in becoming a whole person; you can’t just spend all your time in one place,” she said. “Once we leave university, we will have to spend more time in the arts and culture scene, so it is nice to start now, especially in first year, stitching together the groups in which we belong and making those connections.”
McAuley and Emma Cohen, a first-year SASAH, Creative Writing and Scholar’s Elective student, developed a ‘zine that directed visitors through Museum London and encouraged different forms of interactions with the exhibits, such as writing notes or taking pictures.
“Our end goal would be to make it a way for citizens and students to explore the arts and culture of the city in a new way, and promote local artists, and really explore how the humanities operate within the City of London,” Cohen said.
In larger centres, like Toronto or Montreal, arts and culture is right outside your doorstep, noted Cohen. While London has an active arts and cultural community, the opportunities to engage are not as obvious, she continued.
“It would be really strong for Western and the community to work together more often. There is quite a significant arts and culture community in London, so to be involved with something that would continue to display that and engage with that is something I am very passionate about doing.”