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The Arts and New Brunswick’s Innovation Agenda


February 12, 2015

The Arts and New Brunswick’s Innovation Agenda

Akoulina Connell, Executive Director

I’ve always been a strong proponent that New Brunswick’s Innovation Strategy (announced in 2012), like the Finland strategy upon which is modeled, should include a strong component for arts and cultural development to ensure that the creative sector has breadth. True innovation springs from diversified creative capacities, thinking, and approaches. In the Finnish model, fine arts programming is baked in from primary and secondary school right on up through post-secondary and into adult life. Good engineering needs to be complemented by good design. In order for a strong design culture to grow in NB to complement the tech and science sectors’ success potential, there is much work to do — from sensitizing the business community on the value proposition of our local creative sector to capacity building for innovative practice within the arts sector.

This line of thinking does not mean that artists are being asked to place artistic projects in the back seat. It simply opens the door for those artists who see ways in which their work, in conjunction with experts in other fields, might lead to solutions that have practical application and aesthetic merit. A conference I attended in Boston, Connected and Consequential, held by Artists in Context opened my eyes to a broader spectrum of what is possible when such cross-disciplinary opportunities are opened, embraced, and properly funded.

Artistic Inquiry and Social Advancement

It is time to resituate/reframe the value of art, artistic inquiry, and its essential collaborative role for social advancement – particularly now when “the medium is the message” has taken on even deeper significance. In Canada, in recent years, we have seen deliberate erosion by the current government of Statistics Canada surveys (the foundations of informed decision-making for our country), on scientific research, non-profit organizations, and fundamental privacy rights (in the name of public “security”). Considering that all of these other sources of data/information/research/rights are being quietly yet persistently eroded, artistic inquiry becomes all the more key to ensuring that new and different questions are asked, and that the larger social, environmental, technological, philosophical, and relational constructs get closer scrutiny.

Planet Hatch Activities

More programs like those at the Hexagram Institute (with branches at Concordia and Université de Montréal) and at MIT’s Media Lab (where graduate students in several disciplines in the Fine Arts work on research side by side with graduate students in science and technology) are needed in Atlantic Canada if we want to create the hive of creative inquiry needed to foster the true innovation New Brunswick’s Innovation Strategy was designed to pursue. While the provincial Innovation Strategy has brought few Innovation Chairs to our universities, I’d argue we need at least one Innovation Chair who could head a lab that encourages cross-pollination similar to that underway at Hexagram and MIT. It is my hope that Premier Gallant, once he has examined this question more closely, draws the same conclusion — it is encouraging that he has taken on Innovation as one of his key portfolios. Currently, not a single thinker from Fine Arts sits on the board of the Innovation Council. That, too, needs to be rectified if the Finnish roots of our Innovation Agenda are to be properly attended to. It is essential to include artists with cross-disciplinary practice in consultations for policy development in almost every field where diverse critical inquiry is explored.

Arts Incubators: Shared Outcomes

At artsnb, we’ve initiated a series of roundtable discussions on arts incubators. So far, this discussion has included several organizations that are working on various models: Fredericton Makerspace, ArtsLink Arts and Culture Accelerator (based in Saint John), the Friends of Broad Street in Sussex), and the Saint John Theatre Company (which has done training and outreach in the community for a long time), along with stakeholders from the fine arts programs at Université de Moncton, Mount Allison University, and Saint Thomas University. The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour as well as the Department of Tourism, Heritage, and Culture have also been active participants. The idea is for stakeholders to build a shared frame of reference, identifying common goals to ensure that NB’s creative sector is better resourced now and in the future. Stronger tools to support sustainable professional arts practice, will yield a more robust, viable, and profitable Creative Sector in our province.

In NB, we’re just getting started on helping shift the mentality from STEM to STEAM. It’s an important beginning, and it underscores how lifelong access to arts programming, engagement, and innovative platforms deserves the same supports currently enjoyed by STEM initiatives through the Brilliant Labs/Labos Brillant initiative in our education system, through Planet Hatch, and through programming run by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. If we’re *ever* going to truly think outside the proverbial and much-flogged box, we have to change something fundamental in our approach. This is it.