Inspiring Change

March 2010: Weeks from graduation, fourth-year Communications students Joshua Burdick and Ashley Chapman present their final projects to their public relations class, COMM 413. They’ve created a design and communications package for Grace Rwanda,a Langley non-profit organization that builds and funds schools in the central African country,still recovering from the tragic genocide of the ’90s.

For their final project, Burdick and Chapman incorporate elements from several of their Communications courses. In their design course, COMM 383, they’ve developed a new logo and design guide for the organization. “Grace Rwanda’s symbol — a sun rising over the hills — represents hope rising for Rwanda through the education of Rwanda’s next generation,” they tell the class. The sunrise mimics the Rwandan flag. Curved lines represent an open book and the Rwandan hills. The colour scheme represents new life and new ground.

Burdick and Chapman have also produced a press release, brochure, and newsletter — vehicles for Grace Rwanda to tell stories of pain, reconciliation, and hope.

“These pieces are well-written and well-conceived,” says proud instructor, Fred DeVries, a pr professional who shares his expertise in the classroom. He’s eager to know the outcome of an upcoming meeting, where Burdick and Chapman will present their package to Grace Rwanda’s board of directors. “The organization may adopt and use their work,” DeVries says.

Capstone experiences of this nature can launch students into the employment market — grounded in theory, with desirable practical experience on their resumes, and portfolios in hand. Confident and articulate, they showcase their talents during interviews and presentations. Increasingly, the business world recognizes the value of artistic endeavour and the role of creativity in telling business stories. Because, after all, it’s all about the stories.

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enter samc

April 6, 2010: The School of the Arts, Media and Culture (SAMC) celebrates its launch during a gala showcase under the direction of its dean, David Squires, Ph.D. New colours — red, white and black — are revealed on banners, posters, and bookmarks,and a new multimedia website goes live. The School’s motto, “Inspire Change,” is key. Inspire. Change. Inspire Change. “It’s all about transformation,” Squires says. SAMC is rooted in the former Faculty of Professional Studies and Performing Arts (FPSPA).

The transition from a Faculty to a School — a significant philosophical shift — is the result of careful rebranding consultations. To the original component departments — Art and Design, Music, Theatre, and Communications — SAMC will add a new emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of “culture.” Incoming art, music, and theatre students will study together in team-taught interdisciplinary courses.

“The School format,” Squires says, “encourages cross-pollination between the arts. SAMC will offer new professional degrees and prepare students for careers or post-graduate work.” While the designation “professional studies” has dropped from the old FPSPA banner, the professional element is vital to the new School’s vision. In order to make a living through their talents, Squires insists, “All ptrofessional actors,artists, musicians, film-makers and writers should study pr and marketing. It just makes sense.”

art, meet business

The world-renowned Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) now offers graduates an “artrepreneur” package, complete with business cards, credit card readers, and financial literacy courses to aid their business ventures. “Any artist or musician should be able to write a grant proposal,” Squires says.

But it’s not just a matter of helping artists work toward a sustainable business approach. Rather, business is engaging the arts to transform itself — by investing in human capital, and adding flexibility and creativity to its management, its marketing, its brand and business aesthetic. “Arts,” Squires says, “are where the world is going.”

business, meet art

In a lecture entitled “Using the Arts in Business,” leading expert Giovanni Schiuma, Ph.D., of the University of Basilicata and the University of Cambridge, speaks of the legendary motorcycle manufacturer, Ducati. In danger of bankruptcy, Ducati embraced the arts. The company’s motto, “Ducati builds emotion,” is all about the power of story to touch us at the core of our humanity.

April 11, 2010: Freedom Hall is transformed into an intimate coffee house for “Vignettes: an Evening of Literature and Photography,” an inspired pairing of truth and beauty. The event, one of many held during SAMC’s inaugural ten-day Festival of the Arts, Media and Culture, features nonfiction writing students from comm 414 and photography students from Michael Rathjen’s art 330. Some humorous, some harrowing, the students’ stories and photos exemplify the power of creativity.

“I’m so nervous!” third-year communications student Carol Wang admits. She’s doubly courageous tonight. She has chosen to take an upper-level writing course even though English isn’t her first language,and she has agreed to read one of her stories. Aloud. In public. “My [international] friends think I am crazy to try.”

When Wang takes the podium, she uses everything she’s learned in Public Speaking, comm 211. Her hands are steady. She reads at a good pace, makes eye contact, smiles, even pauses a moment to enjoy audience laughter following a humorous point. Like the others, Wang is able to perform her personal narrative with professional poise and flair. People congratulate her: “You didn’t look nervous at all.”

Dean Squires is impressed by the variety and quality of student experience. “Storytelling,” Squires says, “is essential to the way we all live and do business.”

toward the future

September 2010: SAMC opens the fall semester with two new professional programs: a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications. The bfa in Acting adds significant classroom, rehearsal, and stage experience to the typical BA Theatre major. “Our goal,” says Angela Konrad, MFA, Jessie-award-winning director and Theatre Department chair, “is to graduate well-rounded theatre artists,”— professionals like Theatre grad Kaylee Harwood (’08). Harwood recently won the Sam Payne Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the 2010 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards.

Similarly, the new BA in Corporate Communications — a partnership between TWU’s School of Business and SAMC’s Communications department — melds leadership, media, writing and business.“There’s a sense of excitement and intentionality to these professional programs,” Squires says, “a direct line to a career path.”

travelling the career path with grace rwanda

June 27, 2010: At their fundraising event in Burnaby, BC, Grace Rwanda officially implements Burdick and Chapman’s PR package. A new website using the logo, visual design guidelines,and colour pallette is launched (gracerwanda.com).

Regretfully, busy graduates Burdick and Chapman aren’t able to attend the event. “Josh was in Alaska,” Chapman says, “and I was in rural Quebec at the time.” Currently visiting Ireland, Chapman is pleased Grace Rwanda will be using their creative vision for fundraising and education. “We’re both still doing some work for them from abroad,” she says. “I’ll do some more writing and Josh some further design work.”

a never-ending story

The tale of such partnerships between art and business is an ongoing one. Elsewhere, under the SAMC banner, Kevin Schut’s game development course (COMM 350) pulls programmers, writers, musicians, and artists together in a professional enterprise to create a new game. Jeff Warren’s Arts Media & Culture Travel Study (SAMC 420) offered in London England brings students into an encounter with artistic creations from the famous to the cutting edge to consider interdisciplinary connections amongst the arts and the role of the fine arts in both illuminating and enriching their lives. Actors, musicians, visual artists — SAMC students will be there offering stories, inspiring change in others, in themselves, in the world, one individual at a time.


Loranne Brown, MFA, (cand.) is a published novelist (The Handless Maiden, Doubleday Canada 1998) and journalist. She teaches professional writing in the Communications department of SAMC.

by Loranne Brown
photography by Michael Rathjen ('04)

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