Thursday, July 24, 2014

Navigating Tides of Challenge and Change, Keynote Acadia University

 Sharing highlights from my recent keynote, School of Education, Acadia.
Navigating the Tides of Challenge of Change

 with the Creative arts in Research and Practice

A keynote address delivered at the Summer Institute,  School of Education

Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia   

by Cheryl L.  McLean, July 4, 2014


 I have been a contributor to the field of the creative arts in interdisciplinary research for over ten years,  as an educator and publisher of The International Journal of the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP and editor of the CAIP Research series and books, Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change (2010), Creative Arts for Community and Cultural Change (2011), Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, Brush Education, distributed by University of Toronto Press (2014).  In the journal and research books I have featured international researchers active in creative and community based  projects around  issues such as poverty and homelessness, water issues, cultural issues,  issues such as bullying, raising awareness about marginalized groups and many others.

Among my goals for my work in the creative arts in interdisciplinary practice and research  has been to broaden the way we think about the arts in research and  interdisciplinary practice as a transformational force for social change.

Today we will be navigating the tides of challenge and change and examining how the creative arts in research and action play a role meeting those challenges and  in seeking creative solutions.  We will  examine illustrative research and stories of the arts at work in  research and action for change.  We will learn how such work could be used to address the challenges of change  while also being applied in education.

There are two things that are especially important in our work as researchers and educators.  The notions of place and its people.  It strikes me that perhaps there is no better place to speak about arts research  and  change than right here in this place, Wolfville, Nova Scotia,  located  so close to the creative inspirations of the life giving ocean and The Bay of Fundy, a place that is witness daily to change and some of the highest tides on earth/these tides you know so well,  day in, day out, regular comings and goings, like human experiences of life and living, ordinary and yet so very extraordinary.   

  I came here to this place because I was looking forward to speaking with you and because over the summer session I will be teaching a course called Problems in Education, Research and Creativity.



"Leaders commit many errors by not taking into account something so real as the people's view of the world...a view which contains their concerns, their doubts their hopes, their ways of seeing. "  Freire

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?  Thoreau


We know it's important in our work as educators and critical for researchers or for those active in creative arts research and  processes to try to know or understand people, who they are and how they live and what's happening in their day to day lives before we seek to work with them to  make a difference at all in their learning.    For example, before I prepared this talk I would deliver  today I gave some serious  thought to you my audience, particularly the graduate students seated before me.

I imagined that many of you were hard working educators teaching in public or high school all year,  with active careers and busy lives and in what spare time you would have you would be  runners, hikers,  environmentalists, community volunteers.  You would have finally paid for your last course or courses, you might have  left  the responsibilities of home (some of you are married with children) to find and rent a place here in Wolfville,  maybe on campus, or in an apartment sublet,  you would  set up to  read and study for just over two intensive weeks.  You've come to add to your credentials  or open up more opportunities or to advance toward your career goals, some of you will be heading toward administration.   Many will feel the stresses and anxiety of starting a new course, with a new instructor especially and after seeing the new syllabus and the assignments and projects ahead of you.  You want to know how  to get things done quickly and efficiently,  how things will be counted and  evaluated and many of you will want to get an A average upon graduation.  For a grad student all this can be quite exhausting, and then, you are asked by a new instructor, the one who handed out the syllabus, to be creative and change the world too!


Today the world itself  is facing incredible pressures and stresses, critical needs with increasingly complex  challenges, challenges that come home to touch us deeply and intimately every day in our homes and schools, affecting our children,  and the very food they eat.  There is  a critical need for creative professionals working collaboratively,  empathic down to earth real people for the people, educators and researchers who are problem solvers with heart.  The tides have shifted today in terms of creativity.   These new creatives are not content to stand on the shores and wait for change,  they view creativity as necessary and  fundamental and  central to the educational process. 

The new  creatives  value the flow of the  collaborative circle the dynamism of human connection,  over the rigidity, the comfort, and absoluteness of straight cut angles and predictable squares.  They have the creative confidence to join with communities to seek to know and really hear the stories, to explore, together even further, even when navigating through stresses and uncertainty, they are the planners and designers  who although they draft and carefully chart the navigational course  toward hope also work as  intuitives who feel and move with the currents of change.

Daniel Pink has said we require people today whose skill sets are different from those dominated by the left-hemisphere of the brain. According to Pink (2006) conceptual age workers must be able to “create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention, to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and elicit it in others."

Along with contemporary leaders in education and creativity practice  such as Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink, Robert Kelly at the University of Calgary, and editor of the book, "Educating for Creativity",  also believes  developing creativity should be central to the educational process. But still, as Kelly points out, the reality is  creativity suffers when many  students still spend much of their time in public education working for marks, gathering information and then compliantly restating it, giving the teacher what he or she wants. In terms of real creativity in education and active problem solving, new idea generation and collaborative development, believes Kelly, these  are  the bedrock of creative development.


So what do we mean by arts based research and how might  these approaches benefit you in  your work as educators?   

Arts-Based Research (ABR) uses methods and artistic processes as a means  of inquiry, creating various forms of art as a way to collect data, conduct analysis, and/or represent social science research.   Other terms that cover similar ground include arts-influenced research, arts-based inquiry,  A/R/Tography, arts informed research. 

Put simply, the arts in their many and varied creative forms: narrative; monologue; poetry; photography; painting; theatre; film; dance; music; collage ..have the unique ability to help us "see".   Here's just a few general examples:

Based on research interviews with young people who have experienced first stage psychosis, a dancer choreographs a dance which will raise awareness about mental illness and be performed in schools, for health organizations  and in the community. 

After a serious bullying incident at their school, a drama teacher interviews students who have experience with bullying, based on theatre exercises and role plays a script is created to share the stories with schools and the community.  

Responding to the need for sexuality education for youth, interviews are conducted with teens and focus groups are organized.  Drawing on this research a participatory play is created to educate audiences and raise awareness.   

If one looks back at the history of this work as it relates to education, the spawning of Arts Based Research or ABER really began  in the 70's with the father of ABER, the late  Elliot Eisner at Stanford.   Even in these early days Eisner had the wisdom to know that arts and science disciplines could work together quite compatibly often resulting in mutual benefit and greater depth and clarity of vision for both.


"It is to the artistic to which we must turn, not as a rejection of the scientific  but because with both we can achieve binocular vision.  Looking out through one eye never did provide much depth of field."
 Elliot Eisner


And in time we saw evolutions and adaptations among them the turn to performance and performative social science articulated so well in writings by Dr. Norman K, Denzin in the book "Performance Ethnography:  a Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of Culture."  Here were performance narratives, performance ethnography,  ethnodrama, autobiographical poetry, the new narrative forms in qualitative research  for social change and economic justice.

In addition to teaching us about ourselves, and about places and people,  in terms of practice, arts processes can benefit the educator in many ways, these approaches  can contribute to reflection and self learning;  effective communication ; collaborating; presenting and performing, keen observation and listening; witnessing; reflecting.  

But the particular goals of this talk today are for us to explore through illustrative examples and a few stories of the work and research in action,  and to point to how the arts might potentially be used in relation to education  and in practice and  in addressing issues and social problems in the larger community.  This is where the creative challenge in this work lies drawing on educators' individual cross disciplinary specialties and skills  to navigate through the tides of challenge and change with creative solutions that can make a difference for educators, schools and the communities where you work and live.

   Some of the research I will refer to in this talk  will be drawn from the books, Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change, and Creative Arts for Community and Cultural Change.  I will also present research authored by Acadia faculty.  At the close of our talk I will refer to  an  example from my own ethnodrama research.  Among the examples I present, I will be referring to topical issues and challenges  directly  affecting communities here in Nova Scotia.  So, this presentation has been created  for/ as well as about you, my audience.   Let's begin our journey.


 Knowing about research as it relates to ones own place and community challenges can help us frame the problems with existing data and research and this  can be the compelling motivator to draw researchers, educators as creative professionals and others in communities together working  toward viable solutions.  Let's listen to the research.



Dr. Lesley Frank is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology here at Acadia University.   Dr. Frank is a sociologist researching in the area of family poverty, food insecurity, and health inequity. She has also worked as a community-based researcher.

She authored the report card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia.

It is a moving  report from this researcher/sociologist, who has spent ten years advocating to help address the issue of child poverty in Nova Scotia.  Listen as she appeals in these heartfelt words  to the public, to policy makers, to anyone with the heart to care...

"When you do something for ten years that was first motivated by a passion­ate concern for social justice, and no justice comes, it is hard to keep going sometimes. But then I think, I have groceries in the fridge, a job (at least for now), my kids are not hungry at school, they will have winter coats and my income allows for opportunities. So I write this report card another year for my Nova Scotia neighbors who may go without food or heat in their homes this winter in the hope that someone is listening."

The report card she issued,  unfortunately was not a good one.

The House of Commons goal in Ottawa was  to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, but, as Lesley Frank reports, rates for child poverty between 1989 and 2011 in Nova Scotia are virtually unchanged.  Nova Scotians have the fifth highest provincial rate of child poverty at 17.3%.

 According to another report by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, poverty costs Nova Scotia over l billion a year.  Not to over simplify the many serious complex factors that contribute to poverty in many of our Canadian provinces but could we tap the creative talent and varied experience  of the educators and creative professionals in this room here today?  Could we tell those stories and navigate toward new solutions through with the arts?  


John Portelli and Ann Vibert, Director of Education here at Acadia,  in the article A Curriculum of Life described the 3 year pan Canadian study about student engagement in life and learning.    One Nova Scotia school was cited as an example, a school where many of the students had experienced the effects of poverty and yet the approach to teaching and education was hopeful, democratic and transformative, highly creative and grounded in the immediate daily worlds of arts infused curriculum where students engaged with the creative arts, visual arts, performance arts, music and craft, building programming around themes of social justice and care, common courtesy and peace and extending this creativity out to the broader community, a Town Hall where once a month students, teachers, parents and community members celebrate work, raise issues of concern to the school and community, stage performances and present arts projects.


 Also known as participatory photography the method called photovoice was originally developed by Caroline Wang at The University of Michigan as a way to help rural woman in China influence the policies and programs that affected them.  We have featured many photovoice projects in our research books some dealing with raising cultural awareness or documenting stories of homelessness and poverty. Here's how one school in Campbell River  applied photovoice influenced processes  in a class project for change around the theme of resilience. 


In  a  multi layered community based  arts research project addressing Poverty and Homelessness in Toronto Ontario, there was a pressing need to be heard and to raise awareness about the issue of poverty and homelessness and to help bring these stories to the attention of the public and change social policy.   It was  a collaboration of educators and creative researchers which included peer researchers, (people with lived experiences of poverty)  educators, community agency staff, funders, artists, academics social workers 8 research based arts projects. In my role as editor, of the book, Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change,   I talked to Nancy Viva Davis Halifax the artist researcher on the project.   I  wanted her to share  her  process meeting and working with homeless persons and recording their stories and  lived experiences  through one of the projects,  a photovoice project,  which put cameras in the hands of homeless persons to document stories of    a "day in the life" of people living on the streets of Toronto.

Nancy writes,

"My responsibility is to work towards social justice and equity and to teach about the circumstances through writing and arts informed research.  The deaths of the most vulnerable on our streets haunt me.  Every season provides new challenges.  And always there is isolation, fear, shame, loneliness."

In addition to issues around poverty  in  Nova Scotia, there have been hard fought battles to keep schools open in villages like Petite Riviere,  Maitland, River John, Wentworth, and Mill Village, people and families thrown into crisis, hundreds of rural and small town Nova Scotians have come together  to support their small rural schools trying desperately to avoid more school closures.

Here at Acadia, Michael Corbett and Dennis Mulcahy, at Memorial, in their report, Education on a Human Scale, Small Rural Schools in a Modern Context" have demonstrated in their research that smaller schools in Nova Scotia can and do work and that big isn't always better.

How might we contribute creatively with arts based solutions driving innovative project ideas that could have the potential  to navigate challenging issues such as these/ issues  that affect the very heart of a place, your students, communities, your schools?

Environmental issues affect every province across the country and Nova Scotia is no exception. Climate change, water  and the impact of sea-level rise in Atlantic Canada, /harnessing the tides for energy/    studies are underway looking at the impacts, there is a Tidal Energy Institute here at Acadia.

 Carefully charting and then navigating the currents, around tricky territory such as community water issues,  or the lack of water , can be, for any community,  a serious question of life and survival.

Navigating their way  through a critical water crisis in Texas in an arts based interdisciplinary   educational project for change,  Dr. Stephen Carpenter, a Professor of Arts Education at Penn State and Oscar Munoz, Deputy Director of The Colonias Program for the Centre for Housing and Urban Development faced a challenging question, How can we provide clean potable water for the people of the colonias?    In research across disciplines informed by the visual arts, education, civil engineering, sociology and anthropology the project explored waters role in community health .  Their solution was to create clay pots,  point of use ceramic water filters.  Educators worked with the community as well as school students, kilns were built and clay pot receptacles were fashioned at several public pedagogy events held with the community.  Researchers and interdisciplinary team members created a travelling national exhibit of ceramic water receptacles and the exhibit toured for public galleries across the United States.



John J. Guiney Yallop is a Professor here in the School of Education.  John's work as a creative teaching professional  a researcher, writer and poet  involves  poetic inquiry, narrative inquiry, autoethnography and performative social science .   His writing has drawn on place and memory and his loving accounts touch  the emotions as he shares his personal experiences of life growing up in Newfoundland.  In other writings the work addressed these important questions:  How do we convey the experiences of four ex-prisoners attempting to find new lives outside prison?  How do we raise awareness about their health and care while educating others about the issues? With colleague and researcher Liz Day, and based on interviews with four ex prisoners, John expressed through poetry and evocative writings what happens to older persons leaving prison, both socially and from a health point of view.

These writings, this research,  gives voice to those stories,  ...stories that are not often heard. 

 Following this presentation Michael Corbett and Martin Morrison will be presenting a workshop about the importance of inclusive educational practices as well as addressing the need for  cross cultural understandings in Nova Scotia.  In an article in the book Creative Arts for Community and Cultural Change, discussing The Art of Migrant Lives, Bicultural Identities and the Arts, Wakholi and Wright discuss a project called The African Cultural Memory Youth Arts Festival which took place in Western Australia. They too asked an important question  that inspired  the idea for their project. How can we use performance to educate in Australia about Bicultural Identities? Arts based educational research  along with African centered pedagogical approaches provided the framework for new understandings. The arts were used to explore identity while sharing experiences and stories with others through singing, dancing, drumming, storytelling, script writing, painting and cooking. They reported African Australian young people, between two worlds, performed embodied knowledge about bicultural identities and educated others about their lives and cultural experiences.

 So,  navigating my own educational journey,  like many of you  I too had to shift with the tides to attend graduate school, say good-bye to my two teenage children and my husband in London, Ontario, and  set up a second residence in another city,  Montreal, Quebec,  travelling the distance between home and school,  over two years to complete my studies.

I began my graduate work at Concordia University.  My interests were in arts research and drama at the time with a focus on gerontology and mental health.  I worked for two years as a therapist with older persons in mental health in low income residential homes, and, at the same time studied Stanislavski acting methods with Dr. Muriel Gold, formerly the Artistic Director of the Saidye Bronfman Theatre.  All of my clients were Jewish and among them were Holocaust survivors.  My research too  began with a question, How could a performance about aging, autonomy and mental health educate health care providers about depression in older persons and help bring about change?  Drawing on my writing, acting and therapeutic experience with older persons I believed  the best way to  foster empathy, bring about change and educate about aging and mental health was to research, write and act in an ethnodrama (defined by Johnny Saldana, an ethnodrama is a written play script consisting of dramatized significant selections of narrative collected from interview transcripts, participant observations, field notes, journal entries, personal memories, experiences and or print and media artifacts...this is dramatizing the data.")

In my research  I sought to learn as much about my clients as possible, compiling detailed field notes, conducting one on one interviews, recording oral histories, listening to my clients' stories of struggle and survival.

 My audience was comprised of health educators, geriatricians, nurses, social workers, counselors, people highly experienced in the field.  The ethnodrama was based on the true stories of their clients.    The stories they would witness in this drama would be the same stories they experienced day in and day out with older persons in their care.

 I will now introduce you to Mary, who  shares her memories about life in the children's home and her love of her teacher and her excitement about learning how to read.

(reading from ethnodrama script monologue Birds/Mary)


 "There is a paternalism with regard to the elderly.  this often results in their autonomy being assumed to be less than it is or taken away against their will.  I learned I am inappropriately detached from people.  I came.  I attended because I was curious and I am glad I came.  I learned about others but it (the ethnodrama) taught me about myself." Elder abuse researcher


 We set out on this journey today to navigate our way together through the tides of  challenge and change with the creative arts in research and practice,  and so now we turn  toward home.       Creativity and change begins with recognizing the force that has been since the beginning,  the universal human need for love and community, to connect together around a cause bigger than ourselves,  to launch toward hope and to make a difference.  And it is in this creative force,  and in  the always returning to it, that the tides  may hold their greatest promise.


The late Alex Colville, former Chancellor of Acadia University,  and one of Canada's most respected and influential contemporary artists, who died nearly a year ago on July 16 of last year,  a long time resident of Wolfville, described the creative journey and how the arts bring us  back to those things we may have always known, the soul's longing for purpose, he writes, "The creative process consists of the unconscious activation of an archetypal image and in elaborating and shaping this image in the finished work.  By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present and so makes it possible to find our way back to the deepest springs of life."

It has been an honour and a  pleasure speaking to you today, thank you,

Cheryl L. McLean.