An item in The Globe and Mail captured my attention recently: Todd Hirsch, Chief Economist for ATB Financial (and an Arts alumnus), penned a column urging Alberta to move beyond the traditional oil-based narrative we’ve relied on for so long. The key to getting more positive economic attention, he believes, is to engage in cultural diplomacy – in short, to start making arts and culture part of the story we share with the rest of the world.
Those of us who work and study at the U of A already know that, despite the impression a cursory glance at our province from the outside can give, life in Alberta is incredibly diverse and rich. And the Faculty of Arts has a great deal to do with this. Indeed, I don’t hesitate to take that statement one step further, and say that the contribution we make to the arts and culture in Alberta is profound.
When I think of the most talented actors, musicians, artists and writers working in Alberta today, a large portion of them are either Arts alumni, whose education here shaped their lives and laid the groundwork for their careers, or faculty members, who are not only immensely talented in their own rights, but crucial mentors to the next generation.
The recent announcement by Avenue Magazine of their “Top 40 Under 40” for 2014 is one recent snapshot of our impact. This year, as in past years, the lists for both Edmonton and Calgary feature a number of our alumni – people who are singled out for being exceptional young community leaders, often working or volunteering in the cultural sector.
Of course, being a strong liberal arts faculty, we can’t talk about creating a new narrative without also analyzing and challenging the existing one. When it comes to oil and energy, consider the groundbreaking work of the Petrocultures research cluster based at the U of A. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences are trying to find solutions to the world’s “energy impasse” by examining the socio-cultural aspects that guide our actions and decisions.
There is, without a doubt, a larger story to tell the world about Alberta. We know because we live it every day. I agree with Mr. Hirsch that it’s time to start sharing this story more broadly, and I look forward to doing what I can to make that happen.
Dean of Arts