Chevalier of Arts and Letters: Acceptance Speech - Ron Burnett

Vancouver, Canada, June 3, 2010

M. Garcia, Consul-General of France

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening and, thank-you so much for coming!!

I stand here tonight feeling both proud and humbled. Proud because so much about culture and creativity is affirmed by this honour, and humbled because I have been chosen to receive this prestigious award from the French government.

Mes premiers mots seront pour exprimer mes sincère remerciements
au gouvernement français, à l'ancienne ministre de la culture et de la communication Madame Christine Albanel, au ministre de la culture et de la communication Monsieur Frédéric Mitterand, à l'Ambassadeur de la France à Ottawa, Monsieur François Delattre, au Consul de la France à Vancouver, Monsieur Alexandre Garcia et à son Attaché Culturel, Monsieur Hadrian Laroche.

Merci pour tout ce que vous avez fait pour rendre possible cette grande distinction.

C’est un honneur d’avoir été reconnu et accepté à l ordre — un ordre qui est unique en caractère et objectif parmi les démocraties occidentales.

Let me express my profound thanks to the French government, the former Minister of Culture and Communication, La Ministre, Christine Albanel, the Minister, M. Frederic Mitterand, the French Ambassador in Ottawa, M. François Delattre, and M Alexandre Garcia the Consul in Vancouver and his Cultural Attaché, M Hadrien LAROCHE. Thank-you for making this award possible and thank-you for the recognition and for supporting awards of this kind, which are unique in character and purpose in Western democracies. My deepest thanks also to my wife Martha and my two daughters, Maija and Katie for their support and love.

One of the central purposes of French government cultural policy in the international arena is the promotion of cultural diversity among all nations. This policy is also at the heart of UNESCO’s cultural platform. 93 nations signed an agreement to promote cultural diversity, including Canada. France led this effort, and among the policy’s key statements are the following:

**Affirming** that cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity;

**Conscious** that cultural diversity forms a common heritage of humanity and should be cherished and preserved for the benefit of all;

**Being aware** that cultural diversity creates a rich and varied world, which increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values, and therefore is a mainspring for sustainable development for communities, peoples and nations;

and finally,

**Recalling** that cultural diversity, flourishing within a framework of democracy, tolerance, social justice and mutual respect between peoples and cultures, is indispensable for peace and security at the local, national and international levels.

These statements and the values they put forward are in many respects, at the heart of my career and articulate far better than I ever could what has motivated me to spend a lifetime creating, promoting and defending culture in all its manifestations and forms.

I was born in London, England in a difficult post-war period of deprivation and familial challenge. My family and I immigrated to Canada in 1952 during a time of economic difficulty for all countries. The struggle of immigrants to find their place has only accelerated since then, not only because of the increasing movement of peoples across many societies, but also because so many cultures have faced immense and sometime insurmountable struggles to survive. Disaporic experiences were fundamental features of the 20th century and will continue to determine the direction of the 21st century.

My career is built upon and is a reflection of what I learned during that formative and early period of my life as we struggled to adapt to living in Montreal.

Over the last forty years, I have worked at a number of positions including a wonderful period at McGill University and five years in Australia at LaTrobe University. During my tenure as the President of Emily Carr University I have learned more than I could ever have imagined when I took the position fourteen years ago.

Seamus Heany, the great Irish poet, credits poetry for teaching him to “walk on air against your better judgment.”

Albert Camus, whom I read in my teens and who had a formative impact on my life, said, “The artist forges himself midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from.” “Et celui qui, souvent, a choisi son destin d'artiste parce qu'il se sentait différent apprend bien vite qu'il ne nourrira son art, et sa différence, qu'en avouant sa ressemblance avec tous.”

When you walk on air, life is a continuous adventure. And, when you immerse yourself in beauty, even the saddest moments are learning experiences. Learning is at the heart of what I do everyday. It is only possible to learn if one remains open, open to change, open to insights, open to difference. Even in this historical period characterized by many difficult challenges, I continue to believe that it is possible to walk on air.

I am privileged everyday at Emily Carr to be among wonderful people and to experience their passionate excitement about creativity, invention and innovation — their extraordinary commitment to the materials of art, to the crafts of making and to the challenges of living and learning about the creative life, their passion for aesthetics, for colour and for form, their intense desire to produce meaning and communicate it, all of this has not only taught me a great deal, but also given me a profound insight into the potential and importance of the creative process.

So, this award means the world to me because it also acknowledges the values of that creative life and the importance of sustaining creativity in every aspect of what we do everyday of our lives.

The other great intellectual mentor in my life is Claude Lévi-Strauss. His work brings together all of my interests in anthropology, sign systems, linguistics and images. It is therefore not without some sense of the ironies of history that we find ourselves today amidst a renaissance in First Nations culture and cultural production.

Because, it was Lévi-Strauss who brought Pacific Northwest native culture into French consciousness and did more than many to signal to Westerners the importance of culture to this extraordinary area of the world. And, it is not without irony that in one of his last books, brilliantly titled, Look, Listen, Read (Regarder, Ecouter, Lire) that Levi-Strauss celebrated the craft of basket weaving so integral to First Nations culture. He talks of craft in relation to myth and of the integrated nature of making, thinking and living. For me, making, thinking and creative engagement are at the core of what I do and how I live.

I will leave it to my other great intellectual hero, Michel Serres to complete these remarks. In speaking about the social and cultural context that we now share, Serres mentions the endless noise of modern life, the sharp points of despair at the edge of chaos, and he contrasts this with art as the means through which we build society, create vision and make peace with each other and with the world we live in. And then, in talking about Lévi-Strauss, he says, Levi-Strauss helps us see what we can’t see, and through his stories he helps us understand the strange and beautiful social forms that surround us. Cheers to that and cheers to you all!! Et Merci encore à vous tous.







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President's Convocation Speech of 2010 - Emily Carr University

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Grads, Colleagues, Dear Family and Friends - All —

Before I begin my formal remarks, I want to express my thanks to Dr. George Pedersen for his extraordinary work on behalf of Emily Carr. Dr. Pedersen is finishing his term as Chair of the Board of Governors. He has been steadfast, insightful and generous not only to me and to the Board but to everyone at Emily Carr. We love you George, thank-you.

I also want to thank our Chancellor for his very generous donation to Emily Carr that will support awards to graduating students in perpetuity. I also want to thank Jake Kerr for all his help in securing a new campus for Emily Carr. I look forward to working with Jake over the next few years as we realize the dream of building a 21st Century Art and Design University. Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank Monique Fouquet, our VP Academic for leading the complex transition and planning process that is transforming us into a fully-fledged university of Art and Design.

Graduations are always auspicious occasions, special moments in time for you, -- students of Emily Carr University, and for us, faculty, staff and administrators — special because this event marks the both the beginning and the end of an important period in your lives and in ours. Emily Carr as an institution is small enough that we know many of you personally and have witnessed and in some cases participated in your struggle to become artists, designers, media creators — and because that struggle is so important to the future — yours and the society we live in, my comments today will deal with the future and your potential contribution to the betterment of society.

Universities fuel social, cultural and economic growth and change. Universities are at the heart of what we mean by freedom and democracy. It is within the university context that we can freely share not only ideas, but also develop solutions to some of the challenges that we all face. To be a creative person in this context is both a privilege and a burden.

We cannot exercise our creative talents in a vacuum but must connect what we do to where we live, connect our visions to the communities we share, link our imaginations to suggesting solutions to the vexing problems of the day, explore and innovate with the hope that we will also communicate values that have an impact, values that we can believe in and support.

Over the last four years, many of you have witnessed some dramatic changes in our society. We have all lived through a major economic downturn and seen an extraordinary election in the United States. We have watched the emergence of China and India as important powers and lived through more and more examples of climate change. These are but a few of the many events during this compressed period in time. Throughout this period you have had to learn how to balance your personal lives with being a student, and to find a sense of equilibrium as our social context has become more and more complex. Whether you have desired it or not the history of this period has affected your art and it is one of our shared responsibilities as artists to understand these effects.

As creative people, we balance mastery of materials whether they are real or virtual with the creation of artifacts. When you become an artist or a designer or a media creator you commit yourself to this balance, to the shape and form of meaning, to the translation of meaning into form and shape and this commitment is sometimes difficult and other times seems to flow intuitively. The ability to balance all these elements teaches us something about balance in general, about the need to find and maintain some poise as the complex swirl of everyday life circles around us. There is an exquisite beauty to this balancing act — exquisite because we are privileged enough to be in a context where we can dream and where it is possible, even a requirement to translate those dreams into reality. Emily Carr University permits and encourages the imaginative leap from idea to reality! What an extraordinary thing! A place that actually opens up the possibilities of self, transformation and personal growth — a place that historically over 85 years has helped build the creative culture of BC and Canada —a place of freedom that has nurtured and supported some of Canada’s most important creative people.

This heritage is what we all have a responsibility to maintain, support and celebrate. This is the present and the future.

I want you to imagine yourselves inside a room with the sounds of twittering everywhere, the chatter and exchange of ideas, disagreements, agreements, information and misinformation, think of that room as a large public square where we have assembled to talk, create and talk some more. Think of that room as a studio where the smells and tastes are integral to releasing the energy of creativity. Think of yourselves during that silent moment in front of an empty canvas or a blank screen and that chance, that rare chance to create, to imagine and to produce. At each stage of your learning experience you have had to overcome that emptiness, the sense that there is meaning even if it is not immediately apparent. And each time that you have productively found a solution, you have validated your education, and reinforced the importance of what we do collectively and individually. This creative heritage is your responsibility to maintain, support and celebrate.

We live in a city that by virtue of location and history extends Canada eastwards to the vast nations of Asia. We live in a city that is small by comparison to the large cities of Europe and America. Yet, we have produced some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century and hopefully will continue to produce even greater artists in the 21st Century. Perhaps it is the fact that we are the mediators between Europe and Asia. Perhaps we have always been not so much a gateway to the East as a cultural point of transition between east and west. And perhaps that hybridity has given us a unique advantage — the advantage of understanding how cultures come together and how diversity is at the very core of our identities, at the very core of most creative acts.

So, graduates!!! You now bear the burden of carrying on some great traditions. You now have the chance to become what you imagine, you can translate your hopes into action, but you will also need to relate what you do, what you imagine to who you are and WHERE you are. You will need to connect to the community and understand where you can contribute. Now more than ever there is urgency to how we interpret the present and how we see the future. And, as you engage with these challenges remember Emily Carr. We are and always will be your extended family.

Good Luck and all the best for the future. [This speech is also available in PDF.](/~rburnett/Weblog/Grad_2010_Speech.pdf)

Beauty and Democracy

It has been quite a week. I watched the American election results overnight in London, England and felt a deep sense of joy and hopefulness amidst all of the gloom. Then on Friday, Emily Carr University of Art and Design installed its first Chancellor. Some photographs from the event can be found on the main Emily Carr website.

The election of Barack Obama, his acceptance speech and the extraordinary sense of relief visible among all of the faces in Chicago and elsewhere in America and the world say as much about the strength and resiliency of democracy as they do about the event itself. The feeling that one's vote counts is not a cliche, rather and more importantly, it brings forth all of the sensations that come from empowerment. These are visceral feelings and they are almost impossible to reduce down to words. Everyday life is often overwhelmed by an endless procession of small events, some benign, others bewildering, and moments that are sometimes hurtful.

Obama's victory erased all of that in one intense jump from an age dominated by fear and the marketing of bankrupt ideas to an age where at a minimum the most powerful man in the world will speak with honesty about the challenges we all face. For better or worse, America remains the most powerful symbol of nationhood in the world. Its icons, its images, the inflection and content of its discourse affect everyone. The very manner in which the country has been constructed is replete with nearly every possible contradiction one could ever imagine, and this brings an intensity to its position and to its postures that few nations can match. Its idealism so often a cause for worry, now stands out as a foundation for one of those mythic stories our parents often told us. To imagine the future may well be to create it.

Reflections on Disciplines and Their Role in Universities

This short piece is adapted from a lecture I gave some years ago about the way disciplines, in particular film studies, develop into departments within universities. How do disciplines stay alive and remain current and connected to the social and historical context of which they are a part? How do they grow and how and why do they often stagnate?

Disciplines or areas of study and research are in large measure created and sustained by the institutions within which they are taught. To my mind when I say that, I am presuming that a discipline cannot be taught without also being researched, even if that research consists of no more than just keeping up with the production of others in the field.

Film Studies for example, has always been a hybrid of many different disciplines. This, as we shall see, has had both negative and positive results sometimes leading to an expansion of the discipline, other times leading to a severe contraction. Film is both an object of study and a creative discipline although there is a tendency to separate production from theory.

The construction of a discipline is dependent upon a set of processes which are located in the structure, politics and history of institutions. This may seem obvious, but over time the processes which have produced that history are often lost from view. The struggle through which that history has been forged recedes into the background. There have been many efforts over the last 35 years or so to build the study of film into a coherent and recognizable as well as acceptable discipline. Yet, because institutions drive towards discursive sameness (and this need not be a negative characteristic) as a means of giving disciplines credibility for teaching and research purposes, the often complex and bumpy road which has been followed doesn't appear to be a part of the discipline itself.

In concrete terms it would be unusual for a university film department to offer students a history of its own construction because that might entail rethinking the very purpose of the department itself. Furthermore, questions as to how one discourse, say in film theory, has become more privileged than another, go right to the heart of how a consensus has been built in the first place. Even, for example, the presumption that film history needs to be taught in film departments, suggests a particular theoretical schema, one that needs to be foregrounded and not simply assumed.

The internal cohesion of a discipline is driven by the demands of institutions, demands which are more often than not situated in the very language of the institutions themselves. How do the conditions of knowledge production affect the goals of disciplinary development?

The daily practice of film scholarship is provided with meaning by the community of researchers and teachers who together participate in constituting, creating and maintaining it. That community, however heterogeneous, will inevitably search for, and then fix upon a certain set of primary ideas which it feels 'represent' the discipline (a canon). The creation of a specific and sometimes very powerful discourse to re-enforce the strength of that approach is perhaps unavoidable. What needs to be discussed are the assumptions which have produced that discourse and the politics which have governed the choices that have shaped the discipline.

Sometimes, the environment of universities for example tends to militate against that happening. And so students are faced, as they are in many other disciplines, with an area called film studies which of necessity presents itself as already constituted. Again, this is perhaps unavoidable, but what interests me is what is lost in the process and how institutionalization has created pedagogical and research models to support certain discourses over others.

Cinema Studies has, in a short period of time, achieved what seemed very remote in the early 1970's. There are at present many teachers of cinema and an extraordinary proliferation of film departments at both the university and college level, particularly in North America. The discipline has been fragmented into a variety of specialties with each having an internal cohesion undreamed of during the early period of disciplinary 'construction'.

The heterogeneity of approaches which characterizes the study of film, has a great deal to do with what critical theorists like Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno recognized in the 1930's. Film was then seen as the cutting edge of twentieth century culture, the practical manifestation of all that was wrong and right about the effects of new technologies upon art and audiences. If we were to reconstruct the arguments of that period we would find that the examination of film was heavily affected by debates in psychoanalysis and linguistics, as well as in literary criticism and the arts. Those debates were not seen as an infringement on the already defined territory of film studies, rather, it was if new technologies like film needed those debates and drifted inevitably towards the ideas which those debates initiated and developed.

Ironically, if film represented that sphere, that cross-section of interests which reflected its position as a new technology, it also pointed the way to a re-evaluation of the critical and theoretical enterprise in the arts. Its particular organization of meaning, its effective collapse of signifier and signified, its astonishing naturalization of the difference between the real and representation, all of these characteristics meant that the study of film could not proceed along conventional lines.

It is interesting to note that in each successive phase in the development of film studies, "other" disciplines have been used, as if the difficulty of finding a strategy to analyse film, meant that some kind of master code had to be found elsewhere. But as it turns out, this elsewhere suggests a division between disciplines and other areas which film studies has never been able to sustain. Film as poem, film as novel, film as text, images as sentences, as words, as frames. Film as painting, as music. Film and television, film in opposition to television and so on. I won't even begin to raise all of the comparisons with photography, the presumed interdependence, photographic metaphors, the fact that film as movement, images in movement, have always been seen in the light of images as still, photographic stills.

What we call film studies has never been able to bare its soul, to reveal, beneath of all of the comparisons, precisely that uniqueness which might distinguish it from the interlopers who camouflage it. I would suggest that film studies has been quite fortunate, because that essence just doesn't exist, and both the history of the 'discipline' and the manner in which films produce meaning, points towards the interdisciplinary as the context in which definitions of the field can best be worked out. Problems remain of course because every discipline has its own history, its own set of debates, often, its own language. But this doesn't in any way devalue the process of borrowing, albeit that more care needs to be taken with the use of other disciplines, including a more profound recognition of their boundaries and assumptions.


Emily Carr University of Art and Design


L-R, Board Chair Dr. George Pedersen, Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell, Premier Gordon Campbell

Emily Carr Institute will now be known as Emily Carr University of Art and Design!

This historic change to university status reflects the fact that we are and have been awarding undergraduate and graduate degrees to a wide and diverse group of students from BC, Canada and the world for many years. University status will allow us to grow and develop as we move into the 84th year of our proud history as British Columbia's only specialized university of Art, Design and Media.

Our new status will also allow us to be more competitive and enhance the already rich tradition of research, professional practice and academic rigour that has made Emily Carr University into one of the most important institutions of its kind in the world.

Emily Carr University was founded in 1925 and is made up of an extraordinary community of faculty, staff and administrators whose passion and dedication provide a unique learning experience to our 1500 full time students and the many hundreds more who take our community-based continuing studies courses.

As we move into a new era in the history of the institution, I would invite all of our supporters, students, alumni and employees to share this special moment together and to email me their thoughts and hopes for the future.

Dr. Ron Burnett, President

president@eciad dot ca

Geometrical Mapping in Urban Systems (Research Proposal)


Jay Gazley (Jay is a graduate student of mine at Emily Carr Institute)

(I will be putting more research from Graduate Students at Emily Carr on this Blog over the next while.)

Since the advent of industrialization there has been an increasing shift in population demographics from rural to urban regions. Urbanization has led to enormous changes in power structures; large metropolitan areas have been increasingly dominating the social, political, and economic organization of nations. According to L.S. Bourne from the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, “These areas, even when broadly defined, may occupy only 3 to 4% of the national territory, as in Canada, but harbour 80 to 90% of the nation’s productive capacity, population and wealth. In effect, the urban system becomes the principal expression of the territorial organization of the national economy and its social system.��? As such, a greater understanding of the multi-dimensional characteristics of urban systems is of great importance. I propose the development of complex visual models in painting and sculpture, that would explore and map the various elements, which compose and effect urban systems.

For years architects and urban planners have been theorizing about the creation of a utopian urban system. My research will analyze the various theories and constructs that both modernist and postmodernist thinkers have been using to shape the urban fabric to date. Modernism and postmodernism are usually defined as polarities of one another. Modernist design on the one hand is characterized as industrially efficient, uniform, linear, centralized, and utopian minded, with its large-scale monolithic projects, while postmodernism is seen as a critical reaction against the former in that it’s designs are pluralistic, fragmented, personal, decentralized, and known for multiplicity of purpose and land use.

In addition to these approaches my research will also consider the scientific methods of Systems Theory developed in biology, computer science, and economics, as applied here to urban systems. The coherence of a city then may be understood through the analyses of other complex interacting systems. “Complex large-scale wholes are assembled from tightly interacting subunits on many different levels of scale, in a hierarchy going down to the natural structure of materials. A variety of elements and functions on the small scale are necessary for large-scale coherence. Dead urban and suburban regions may be resurrected in part by reconnecting their geometry.��? The analysis of the connective and disconnective potential in urban units, as subunits of wholes, through geometric configurations, is primary to my methodological approach to research. My research will then focus on the spatial geometric aspects of urban systems, and involve the critique and testing of modernist and postmodernist theories through standards of coherence as established by systems theorists.

My research will also consider the important effects that globalization and transnational corporations are playing in weaving the urban fabric. Cities cannot be studied in isolation; national, and international factors must also be taken into account. I will take into consideration the effects of production, distribution, consumption, transportation, communication, and legislation within urban systems to construct several different visual models. Each model will consider its own set of pre-established criteria for exploration, and deal with a different set of architectural and urban planning problems, as posed by modernist and postmodernist theorists. Each hypothesis will then be worked out in painting and sculpture. These models will be developed in an experimental manner and will include the injection of empirical knowledge and statistical information when possible.

The focus of the research will be on large to mid-sized twentieth-century Canadian metropolitan areas. The models will investigate concept and form from a variety of different perspectives; both macro and micro viewpoints will be considered, as well as aerial, ground level, and subterranean perspectives. Of particular significance is the aerial perspective, which has not only traditionally been used by architects and urban planners, but is also of emerging importance as satellites are increasingly shaping the way in which we see the earth. The aerial perspective also informs how transnational corporations and military powers view abstracted and dehumanized landscapes from distant office towers or fortified bunkers with orbital satellites. In this spirit I will also utilize resources such as Google Earth, where by one may, with a few clicks of their mouse, zoom in or out on most geographic regions of the earth.

These studies will reexamine the theories that underlie the organization and evolution of cities, as structural, biological, economic, social, demographic, and geographic systems, and attempt to give form to the seemingly invisible factors that shape them. Working in such uninhibited mediums, as painting, and sculpture will allow me to create a new methodological paradigm for urban systems research that will work in a complimentary manner towards existing techniques. Such a space will allow for greater experimentation, and inventiveness, enabling me to move freely through ideas and forms without the traditional architectural or urban design constraints such as client, economy, and policy.

The result will be a comprehensive multidisciplinary body of work that would act as an idea bank for future building strategies, expand the current community of interest in urban systems issues, and serve to create discourse and critique in new academic and critical contexts.

This research project will be housed within the Masters of Applied Arts program at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. The program at Emily Carr Institute has a strong emphasis on research.

The context for learning, education and the arts (1)

This entry has five parts. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

The context for learning, education and the arts has altered dramatically over the last few years as has the cultural environment for educators and artists/creators. Part of what I would like to do here is examine the intersection of a number of crucial developments that I think have transformed the terrain of technology, education, art and culture.

This is a grand claim and I would be the first to admit that we are being incessantly told that change has become the major characteristic of the late 20th century. But, I do think that we are witnessing shifts which will have a profound effect not only on the social and political structure of Western countries but on the ways in which In which we see ourselves, act upon and within the communities of which we are a part and how we create meanings, messages and information for the proliferating networks that now surround us.

The one important caveat here is that although I am concerned with the transformations we are experiencing, I will in no way claim that we are undergoing a revolutionary change. I tend to see history as evolutionary, which in no way precludes dramatic shifts from occurring. As intellectuals, artists, technology developers and educators, I believe it is our responsibility to become active within this environment and to develop the critical and creative tools to respond to the ongoing evolution of an emerging aesthetic of interactivity in which aesthetic goals are linked with ethical goals and are based on a perspective of caring for both the individual and the larger economic, political, ecological, social and spiritual circumstances that create contexts for the individual. (Carol Gigliotti;Bridge to, Bridge From: The Arts, Technology and Education? Leonardo, Vol. 31, No. 2, April-May, 1998 p.91)

Our cultural claims about the various factors that produce change tend to be linear, the line being one that moves along a fairly straight, if not narrow trajectory from the less complex to the more complex. The approach that I will take looks at the displacements that are created by the movement from one phase to another, movement in this instance being more like transportation framed by what Bruno Latour has described as connections, short circuits, translations, associations, and mediations that we encounter, daily. (Bruno Latour, Trains of Thought, Common Knowledge, Vol. 6, # 3, Winter, 1997, p. 183.)

So, I will begin by exploring the various conjunctures and disjunctures created by the presence of digital technologies in nearly every aspect of the cultural context of the early 21st century. My goal, however, is not an overview, but rather, to raise as many questions as I can in order to introduce increasing levels of mediation both to our understanding of the digital and to our creative transformation of the digital into various media of communication.

To be continued.....


Speech presented at the 77th Graduation Ceremony of Emily Carr Institute

Honoured guests, Dr. George Pederson, Chair of the Board of Governors, members of the Board, Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Families and Friends, today I will speak to you about some of the challenges that we will all face in the near future and the crucial role that the graduates from this institution will play in the future well-being of our society and of Emily Carr Institute.

This is my tenth graduation ceremony since being appointed President in 1996. Each year is different and each year is special. Each year we celebrate your achievements and your successes. It is always a humbling experience for me and I hope for all of you. Over the last ten years 2800 hundred students have graduated from Emily Carr. Since 1929, 7500 students have graduated from our great institution. In other words, 81 years after our founding, over 37 percent of our graduates have come through Emily Carr during the last ten years.

Before I begin my formal speech, I want to take a moment to honour someone whom many of you have met. Rick Robinson has been working at Emily Carr since the early 1970’s and since 1974 as a core member of our technical staff. If you have ever gone into the wood workshop in the North Building, then you have met Rick. This is a man whose dedication to the job, to the Institute and to students has been total — a dedication that goes far beyond conventional norms and expectations. Rick is a gentle, wonderful person whose contribution to Emily Carr has been so very profound. Today, we are going to honour Rick with a certificate of achievement and by permanently establishing an entrance scholarship in his name. The Rick Robinson Entrance scholarship will pay the full fees of an incoming domestic student and is our way of saying thank-you to someone who has done so much for so many generations of students and who is a crucial part of the very fabric of our institution.


On the Future…
“Sometimes there are moments in human history that seem to beckon awakenings. They perturb us to reevaluate our beliefs, assumptions, and reigning cultural stories. They challenge us to synthesize and integrate seemingly disparate forms of knowledge into new relationships, new patterns, and new theories. They invite us to invent new language, new rules, and new structures. They call us to create and live into new stories of possibility. These moments grace us with enlightened insights and more soulful understanding. They fill us with wonder and amazement. They open us to life and to the invitation to reclaim the fire and light that resides within us all to change the world.

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Stephanie Pace Marshall who wrote those words is one of America’s most important educational leaders. Her words are very important in the context of this ceremony. As graduates of Emily Carr you will encounter a series of moral and ethical issues and challenges that will test not only the education that you have had, but also your ability to respond quickly and sensibly to dramatic change at the social, cultural and political level. Soulful understanding connects you to your role as both artist and citizen, as designer and citizen, and as media creator and citizen. We carry many labels in our lives but none is more important than the label of citizen and with that label come many responsibilities including a passion for the social good, an understanding of and compassion for those less fortunate than us and a desire to contribute to the well-being of our society.

One of your most important challenges will be to make the environment for living and working in our society a more humane one and it will be your creativity, your knowledge and your sensitivity to invention and innovation that will mark you and also separate you from other post-secondary graduates.

In this, the sixth year of a new century, your skills in advancing and widening the role of the arts as an integral part of our social fabric and as a powerful catalyst in shaping the life of our local, national and global communities will be crucial not only to your well-being but to the well-being of the planet.

You are our greatest asset. You represent the living memories of the learning experiences at Emily Carr Institute, the continuity and connections between generations and the future of the institution as well as the future of the arts.

As Emily Carr moves into its next phase with graduate programs, a joint degree with the University of Northern British Columbia and the opening of our new research studio, Intersections Digital Studio of Art, Design and Media, we invite you to stay connected with us and to always feel that we are part of your extended family.

What do you take from this place? A grad project, stories, friendships, memories? Learning cannot be quantified. Hopefully you have learned some lessons about how to overcome hurdles, how to take on a challenge and succeed, how to better understand the story of your life and how to be sensitive to the stories of others. You will have brought poetry and imagination to your learning, new vision and the sense that the creative spirit cannot and should not be kept at bay. Hopefully, you will have learned how to channel your ideas into material forms but never at the cost of the passion that you have for experimentation. Some things cannot be expressed and some projects cannot fully represent the depth and complexity of your initial impulses. But, you are also part of a time when conventional notions of art, audience and display are undergoing fundamental change. It is no longer that simple to see oneself as an isolated creator. For better or worse, you are part of a growing cultural space that more and more people are noticing. You are a generation that will have a voice and with that comes even greater responsibilities to your families and to your communities.

My challenge to you is to always remember the institution that you have come from and to integrate your learning into the values of your life and to never forget that as holders of degrees from an Art and Design school, your mission is to bring the light and fire of creativity to the everyday lives of people in your communities, to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged, to create and promote and support the arts.

I will end with a quote from William Allen White who was one of the great journalists of the early 20th century:

"About all that a grad speaker can do for his auditors is to turn their faces around. He looks back upon the world as he thinks it was. Then he considers the world as he thinks it is. Finally in his receding perspective he discloses the pictured phantasm which he hopes will be the future. Thereupon his listeners may see mirrored in the gloss of his picture the world which they think they will make. It is a pleasant exercise.


The Challenge of Change in Creating Learning Communities (3)

The notion of learning communities needs to be deepened through an analysis of institutions and how they function. If we are going to create a new model for learning, then it will have to stand the test of organizational restructuring and disciplinary redefinition. The latter will not be accomplished unless we take a long and hard look at the informal learning that is a part of everyone’s daily existence. The disciplines that have been the bedrock of education must incorporate the lessons of the informal into their purview. For example, the study of language and composition should not take place outside of the experience of popular culture. The study of the sciences cannot be divorced from ethical and philosophical issues.

If we are to take the effort seriously, then the creation of new learning communities will bring with it a transformation of what we mean by disciplines. For better or for worse, the very nature of disciplines, their function and their role within and outside of institutions has changed. The context for this change is not just the individual nature or history of one or other discipline. Rather, the social and cultural conditions for the creation and communication of ideas, artifacts, knowledge and information have been completely altered. From my point of view, this transformation has been extremely positive. It has resulted in the formation of new disciplines and new approaches to comprehending the very complex nature of Western and non-Western societies. We are still a long way from developing a holistic understanding of the implications of this transformation.

It is an irony that one of the most important of the physical sciences relating to the brain, neuroscience, has become a combination of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biology, pharmacology and genetics with a profound concern for culture, ethics and social context. Genetics itself makes use of many different disciplines to achieve its aims. To survive in the 21st century the neurosciences will have to link all of their parts even further and bring genetics, the environment, and the socio-cultural context together in order to develop more complex models of mind. It may well be the case that no amount of research will produce a grand theory. But, as the great neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran has suggested, the most puzzling aspect of our existence is that we can ask questions about the physical and psychological nature of the brain and the mind. And we do this as if we can somehow step outside of the parameters of our own physiology and see into consciousness. Whatever the merits of this type of research, it cannot avoid the necessity of integration.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of the disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Although there has been an explosion of research and writing in the conjoining areas of Cultural Studies, Communications and Information Technologies, the various specializations that underlie these areas remain limited in their approach to the challenges of interdisciplinarity and learning. The reasons for this are complex. Among the most important, is the orientation that some of these disciplines follow and that is to develop their own language and culture of research and practical applications. The difficulty is that, as they grow more specialized, they cease to see or even envisage the potential connections that they have to other areas. They also disconnect themselves from the educational context that is after all a context of communications and exchange.

Most importantly, the research agendas in all disciplines will have to incorporate new approaches to culture and to the fundamental importance of popular and traditional cultures in creating the terrain for learning at all levels. This will be a huge challenge, but it is the most basic one if we are to create the conditions for learning communities and learning societies.




40.5 M for Canada's first Digital Media Graduate Program

Vancouver - The Province of B.C. has allocated $40.5 M in one-time funding for Canada’s first professional digital media master’s program, at the Great Northern Way Campus (GNWC) in Vancouver, to help ensure that B.C. students can access employment opportunities in this rapidly growing sector, says a leading force behind the initiative.

“There is no other graduate program like this in the country and only a few in the world? says Bruce Clayman, President and CEO of the GNWC. “Funding this program will ensure that students have access to world-class education right here in B.C. and our close partnership with industry, through New Media BC, will result in valuable job opportunities for our graduates. We are grateful to the Province for providing this critical support.?

The Great Northern Way Campus is a unique partnership of SFU, UBC, BCIT and the Emily Carr Institute. The collaboration allows creation of programs that leverage the strengths of all four institutions. The one-time government funds will help attract the best faculty members in the world, meet the capital costs of constructing labs and classrooms, and create an endowment to help meet ongoing operating costs. The first intake of students is slated for September 2007. Approximately 200 students are expected to graduate by 2010.

Dangerous Ideas

For those of you that may not know about the Web Site run by John Brockman, connect here to THE EDGE, which, as its title suggests is about "edgy" thinking. At the beginning of each year, Brockman invites readers to contribute to a debate through a question that he poses. This year's question goes as follows:

"The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?"

In the spirit of Brockman's approach, I would like to pose the following question:

What dangerous idea do you have that would alter our conceptions and pre-conceptions about learning?

Keep in mind that the idea need not "realizable" but should be provocative.

Here is mine:

Lets get rid of classrooms as the main site for learning at the K-12 and Post-Secondary level. Once we do that, or before, lets redesign the architecture of schools and universities to reflect and encourage more common areas through which learners and teachers can "meet" and learn from each other. The classroom model, both physically and as a learning environment needs to be rethought. The teacher as the main source of knowledge, as the centre of attention needs profound rethinking. Another way of debating this point would be to ask, What would happen if the student were to speak from the position of the teacher? Would the student organise the material in the same way? Would she set the same goals? Would she need to make a moral judgement about what should or shouldn’t be known or understood?

And while we are at it, lets recognize the importance of auto-didactism to the process of learning. We are all auto-didacts and bring a vast heritage of learning to the schools that we attend.

Over to you! Please feel free to email me directly. Alternately, place your dangerous idea into the comments section and I will move it from there to the main page. And send me the email addresses of people who may wish to read this Blog.



Wikipedia and Art Schools

Ian responds to Mary

Hi Mary. If WalMart were like Wikipedia, anyone could walk into the store, move around products on the shelves, add their own, and the cashiers would let others buy these new products and send you your earnings at the end of the month.

I took a deeper look at the rules that govern Wikipedia, like you suggested, and couldn't find anything about "no controversy", but rather found that controversy and conflict is built into Wikipedia as an expected part of the process in evolving its knowledge.

As for "no original knowledge" and an "absolutely implausible limit condition", I couldn't find any references to these ideas. What are you talking about?

If the Rosa Parks entry was a part of ECI, which room would it be in? Would it be a course or a workshop? What would it be called and how would it work?

Can you explain how you see Wikipedia as a modernist project? I don't understand the connection. Finally, can you explain your mobius strip analogy? I don't see Wikipedia as something that loops back on itself, or as a structure that has only one surface.

Here's are some interesting visualizations of wikipedia articles:

A question from a reader

If Wikipedia were an art school, what would it look like?

This question was posed by Ian Wojtowicz who has been very active in contributing to this Blog. It is a brilliant thought. For those of you who haven't explored Wikipedia it is one of the largest open source collaborations in the world, an encyclopedia that has been put together by contributors from all over the world.

I will respond to Ian in greater detail over the next few days.

Dilemmas of Learning and Teaching

In an essay written in 1982, Shoshana Felman described some paradoxical statements made by Socrates and Freud on education and learning. In the context of a discussion on pedagogy, they both talked at different times about the "radical impossibility of teaching." (Felman, 1982: 21) I would like to argue, in some agreement with Felman’s conclusions, that a recognition of the "impossibility" of teaching, enables and encourages the development of new and innovative approaches to pedagogy and learning. (Most of the discussion which follows deals with undergraduate education.) I will also link my discussion of teaching and learning with some comments on the creation of technologically mediated environments for education. My ultimate goal is to enrich the debate on technology and learning by linking innovation in education with the history and theory of classroom practice.

At the root of the claim about the impossibility of teaching is my feeling that learning never progresses along a "simple one-way road from ignorance to knowledge." (Felman, 1982: 27) In addition, teachers cannot fully anticipate the outcome of the processes of communication and interaction with their students unless the learning process is framed by a set of very narrow concerns. The balance between where students have come from and where they are headed is rarely linear and is often not clear. There is a legitimate desire on the part of teachers to structure ideas and values, as well as knowledge and content, for the purposes of presentation and discussion. What must be recognised is the role of "desire" in communication and teaching, as well as the gap between what teachers know and how well they have come to grips with what they don’t know. This profoundly affects the teacher’s capacity to create a site of learning for students. The same problems and potential solutions apply to learners.

As Felman herself suggests, "Ignorance is thus no longer simply opposed to knowledge: it is itself a radical condition, an integral part of the very structure of knowledge." (Felman, 1982: 29) For Freud, and for Socrates, knowledge is only gained through struggle and as a result of the recognition that ideas have an impact because of the dynamic interplay of words and spoken language, interpersonal communications and public discourse. It is their recognition of the importance of speech and of the balancing act between knowing and not knowing that opens up new possibilities for discussion and learning.

Ignorance is about resistance. It is about the desire to think and act in certain ways, most of which are rooted in a conscious refusal to engage with processes of inner reflection. The problem is that some pedagogical strategies try to anticipate what students need to know, as if teachers have already solved their own contradictory relationship with learning. The result is that teachers create (if not imagine) an ideal student and then make judgements about the students who are unable to attain the standards set by their instructional methods. If there is to be some equality of exchange here, then the teacher has to be learning nearly all of the time. This can then set the stage for some linkage and visibility between the foundational assumptions of the instructor and her own past, as well as her own history of learning. This may then return the teacher to a closer understanding of what it means to be a student.

The underlying presumption of most teachers is that students need to learn. There is a moral imperative to this assumption that is often linked to the overall values of a society, even if those values are themselves the site of intense struggle. Ironically, as the age of students at the undergraduate level increases, the question of who knows what drives teachers into using more and more specialised knowledge constructs.

The difficulty is that the need to learn cannot be understood in isolation from actual classroom practice. And the classroom is not necessarily a site of communication and exchange. The more specialised the teacher is, the more likely that the teaching will orient itself towards a power relationship that is results-oriented. But why should students learn in the first place? It seems almost heretical to ask that question. I ask it in the context of institutionalised forms of education that are driven by a complex set of motives, where the student is often not the primary focus. The culture of education has bred a tree of contradictions. Many of the supposed beneficiaries of the educational experience participate because they have to, not because they want to. This combination of resistance and acquiescence is framed by an increasingly complex system of assessment and evaluation. In order to fill the obvious gaps here, institutions rely on survey strategies to find out what is working and what isn’t. If the students are ambivalent about their learning experiences, their capacity, even their need to respond to survey-type questions, will be influenced by a set of impulses that are unlikely to appear in the results. This only further amplifies the difficulties in getting to know what students know.

Applied Studies in the Arts and Sciences

I recently attended a meeting in the Netherlands on learning in the Arts and Sciences entitled Building the Scientific Mind with the following aims:

* identify important dimensions and attributes of the scientific mind, from the holistic perspective;
* determine the conditions that foster development of the scientific mind in multiple, both formal and informal settings;
* establish practical ways to improve and complement existing implicit and explicit efforts to develop the scientific mind;
* seek to approach the development of the scientific mind in a coherent manner, exploring the potentialities of multiple learning settings and moving beyond mere disciplinary approaches;
* pave the way to innovative interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in hitherto uncharted terrain regarding the above issues.

One of the participants, Frederico Major, the former Director-General of Unesco made the following statement:

"There can be no applied sciences without science to apply."

The same issue applies to the Arts. There can be no applied arts without the engaging, creative work of the arts itself. There will be nothing to apply if there are no places where art is practiced for its inherent value and not solely for the outcomes it is supposed to produce.