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A Higher Purpose for Fine Arts?

Symposium united teachers with arts community leaders

Claire Robson gave the talk titled “Catalytic Validity in Critical Arts Research for Social Change”. | Download Presentation Slides

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April 3, 2014 - It’s often said that the arts can be considered a form of powerful personal expression, to be shared with audiences who choose to view or listen to select work.

But how can the arts be used critically for higher purposes beyond simple aesthetics?

“A greater goal of the arts is to inform our lived-experiences and extend possibilities to shape ourselves and the world around us,” says Lisa Panayotidis, associate professor and chair of Educational Studies in Curriculum and Learning (EDCL) in the Werklund School of Education.

Panayotidis, who studies visual culture, looks at how historical university students used the arts as a way to represent and advocate on behalf of their own interests in particular socio-cultural and political ways.  By using cartoons, photographs, maps, paintings, and drawings, she says the students find they can employ the medium to forge cultures of activism.  And the same is true for other forms of art, like music and dance.

But Panayotidis says the idea of arts-as-activism shouldn’t be limited to the post-secondary level.

“My interest in examining contemporary art practices and the social and cultural function of art and artists in the school system has led me to collaborate with a number of professional and community stakeholders who want to improve critical pedagogies and curricula in the classroom,” she explains.

“A greater goal of the arts is to inform our lived-experiences and extend possibilities to shape ourselves and the world around us,” - Lisa Panayotidis

In mid-March, Panayotidis and her colleagues in EDCL gathered  academics and researchers, artist-teachers and  graduate and undergraduate students from faculties across the University of Calgary and other Alberta post-secondary institutions as well as teachers, administrators, consultants from local school communities , community NGO’s and members of our the local arts communities for a one-day symposium. The Beautiful Risk of Curriculum - Meditations on Arts, Activism and Advocacy  brought these groups together to talk aboutthe power of the arts to activate and forge advocacy locally, nationally and around the world. 

The  symposium  featured a keynote talk by Claire Robson, an educator, artist, and post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research considers the educational dimensions of collaborative critical arts practices, and her presentation, “Catalytic Validity in Critical Arts Research for Social Change”  launched the symposium.   

“The day was filled with discussions of research, conversation and collective creation, in an exploration of the evocative and catalytic nature of arts-based teaching and learning and its effects on the socio-cultural world,” says Panayotidis.

“The intent was to create, in line with the theme of the day, a dynamic, vibrant, and rich symposium.  ”

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