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Mount Royal University course explores the economic and social value of art in Calgary

An innovative course offered at Mount Royal University is looking into how Calgarians perceive arts and their economic value in the city.

Catherine Pearl, assistant professor of social innovation at Mount Royal University, said the course was taken by 19 students from three different Calgary universities.

It culminated in ‘Vivacity: A Civic Innovation Showcase’ which ran at the Calgary Public Library’s central location from March 23-27.

The last time the course was offered three years ago, the students looked at potential solutions for the glut of office space that’s still a challenge for downtown Calgary.

“This semester, we kind of pivoted a bit and changed it to look at what’s the impact, and what’s the scope and the power actually of the creative and cultural economy in Calgary,” said Pearl.

“Students were challenged to explore and learn about the creative economy but also learn about its scope, impact and how might we embed the creative economy in Calgary’s DNA.”

Pearl said the class broke into four sections, which each focused on a single aspect of the arts: performance, film and music, literary works and visual arts.

Along the way they met with mentors, coaches and artists to better understand the economic and cultural impact of art in the city. They partnered with Calgary Arts Development for mentoring, and with the Calgary Public Library to put their experiments on display.

“It’s quite amazing the number of people that have gone through the exhibit and test drove the little experiments each of the groups developed,” said Pearl.

Student Hanna Thorsen is studying accounting and supply chain management at Mount Royal University, but she said she likes to take social innovation courses to break out of the linear thinking that comes with her major.

“It really pushes my brain to think differently,” she said.

Her group created a 16-foot long table where library patrons were invited to write about performance arts.

“People contribute their own experiences with the performing arts cluster in terms of what it’s done for Calgary and what it’s done for them,” she said.

“There’d be a set of instructions that tell you a bit of performing arts and how diverse they are, but we want to hear from you about what events have shaped your identity.”

Professor Catherine Pearl led the class, which explored the value of art in Calgary. AZIN GHAFFARI

Classmate Brendan Chuckmala, a third year business student at Mount Royal, was in the visual arts group.

“We were trying to engage people in the arts in Calgary and trying to challenge what they perceive as art – whether that be fine arts or graffiti – we what to challenge people’s perceptions of what art is,” he said.

His group created three spaces, each with a mixture of visual art styles as well as blank space, where they could create.

“Since we opened the exhibit, it was fairly busy. What we found is that the public, they like to engage with it.”

Pearl said the students and library patrons were challenged by the displays and they helped to bring about new ways of thinking about the value of art.

“It’s been quite the learning curve, I think for everybody, in terms of how important the arts are to Calgary, particularly in where the city is headed,” she said.