Creative Arts and Production (CAP)


Can you eat creativity, or searching for jobs in the 21st century

By Busra Copuroglu

     Which career path would immediately guarantee an unwavering path to success? What are the most in-demand skills that the job market is looking for today? What should I study to land a career that will immediately guarantee financial stability? Many students, with the fear of being replaced by AI, are torn between choosing a major that would make it easier for them to find a job upon graduation and doing something they are passionate about. For those interested in a field in the arts, news outlets, unhelpfully, routinely publish pieces about staggering enrollment rates in the arts and humanities with headlines that churn out different variables of the words “end,” “crisis,” “decline.”  On the other hand, responding to these headlines tolling the bells of yet-to-be confirmed death of the arts and humanities, other opinion pieces, courageously defending, the arts and humanities tell the young people: the humanities are worth fighting for!

     In recent years, governments have come to recognize the transformative economic potential of creative industries as a viable response to deindustrialization. In 2017, The Government of Canada, for instance, published a Creative Canada Policy Framework to support the creative industries. The policy aims to position “Canada as a world leader in putting its creative industries at the centre of its future economy.”  “High-quality creative content and industries,” the report states, “are an engine of economic growth and a competitive advantage.”

     Today, a quick glance at job ads reveals a cluster of hackneyed words and adjectives listed under the headings “job descriptions” and “qualifications”: producing compelling ideas, narratives are in demand; writing compelling stories; creating compelling content to draw audiences; create engaging website pages, creating impactful presentations, and managing digital files ; developing presentation decks, proposals, and gift agreements as needed for Leadership supporters etc. It seems, then, individuals endowed with the ability to think creatively and critically to create something unique, compelling, and engaging to uphold and sustain the highest standards of the element of the interesting is one of the most desirable qualities that many organizations, from the most  prestigious to start-ups, look for.

     Responding to this insatiable demand for creativity of the job market, in Fall 2020 Western has launched the Creative Arts and Production Program (CAP), jointly offered by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, and Don Wright Faculty of Music. The Government of Ontario has signed off on the program with enthusiasm because of its potential to feed the job market. A student-centered module integrating both theory and production, the program focuses on creativity, creative practice, and collaboration to prepare students for the demands of the highly competitive job market. The students enrolled in one of the faculties connected to CAP complete the module alongside their degrees in their home departments and have the chance to select from a broad range of courses within arts and humanities, media studies, and music.

     The launch of the program was first shared with Western community at the 2020 Homecoming event Virtual Coffee House with the participation of the deans of these three  faculties. “The students will not only develop and cultivate skills as writers, videographers, they will also learn how to draft a budget and write grant applications,” Lisa Henderson, Dean of Faculty of Information and Media Studies, said. While learning about “the various aspects of art processes and productions,” Betty Anne Younker, the previous Dean of Don Wright Music Faculty, noted, students will work in collaboration to “increase their ability to collaborate in informed way.” The program, Michael Milde, the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities added, “will also provide opportunities to students to engage with community outside the university and cultivate their skills.”

     The first year Introduction to Creative Arts (CA1020) is the pre-requisite, gateway course to the program. In this course, students are introduced to creative practice in arts, music, and media  on creativity and its applications. The course covers a broad range of topics from philosophical and sociological approaches to creativity, to gender and identity politics, to technology and AI alongside collaborative class work.

“CAP is very focused on preparing students for navigating a challenging job market, but it also doesn't overlook critical thinking and humanist minded thinking,” Basil Chiasson, Assistant Professor in FIMS, who first designed and has taught the course since 2020, noted. “The ethos behind my design is making it as diverse as possible,” he said.

Autonomy Over Course Material

     The course content and the assignments are designed to provide an exercise in critical and creative thinking and to encourage students to do research off-campus, with creative freedom and give students curatorial power. The Fieldwork assignment, for instance, asks the students to venture out into the city of London to find creativity and analyze their findings. The Final Making Project assignment, on the other hand, asks the students to create something –anything— they want to showcase their creative vision

     Grace Meier, a second year Studio Art Honours Specialization and Art History student, walked into the course thinking it would benefit her program of study. “This course aided me in thinking about art in a new and expanded way which does help me in my studio practice [and] improved my ability to communicate information concisely and to critically evaluate art thoroughly in limited spacing,” she said.

     Stella Rugby, second-year MIT study, after taking the course,  found it much easier to take on other assignments. “We didn’t only talk about the product of creativity but also the processes of creativity, and the different ways in which you can take on a project. That  helped me a lot when I was doing assignments later on,” she said.  The Fieldwork Assignment, Rugby noted, forced her to discover the city in a way she never would: “I could spend a day going out, coming home, having it fresh in my mind, writing about it... I enjoyed that.” The course, she noted, also inspired her to look for more creative courses in other faculties.

     Sara Catherine Luchak, a third-year student in Theatre who is interested in pursuing a career in the creative industries, after taking the first-year course decided to enroll in the CAP program. The course helped her expand her understanding of what creative industries are and the possible outcomes her career could take. Alongside collaborative group work in class, the assignments, she said, “allowed us to reflect on our own creativity, and often pushed us to explore that concept within ourselves.” “I would describe this course as a beautiful exploration of the creative arts and the creativity that lies within yourself,” she noted.

Creative Freedom, Thinking with Others, Self-Actualization

     In addition to critical analysis and individual projects, collaboration and self-assessment are also salient parts of the course. Alongside his academic training in English Studies, with a focus on the history of theatre and performance, Chiasson has also worked as a professional musician and continues to perform with different bands as a guitarist in Canada. After working with various artists and musicians for years, Chiasson has come to see collaboration, the ability to work with others, as an important skill. The students taking the course can use these skills “not just in the arts, but in various different career paths,” he added. “Being able to present your ideas, to listen to other people’s arguments and ideas and then engage with those to make something collaboratively with what's presented to you, pitching and managing projects... These are key skills, and you can use these abilities in almost any context. Take consultants, for example. They have become so popular and are often well paid.”

     Sawyer Shin, a second-year student majoring in Fine Arts Honours Specialization Studio Art and CAP, was immediately drawn to the course when he saw it in the course catalogue. “Creativity is always something I was fascinated with and want to engage in for my future [so] I wanted to take a course that would help me develop my creative skills,” he said. The combination of individual and collaborative class work for Shin was one of the most valuable experiences. “Being able to partake in a further discourse on creativity, approaching creativity in new ways, utilizing these skills in the real world through collaboration, and being able to accumulate all these skills into a cohesive project is something I value as a personal skill, [and] my future career as a creative,” he said. Shin found the fieldwork assignment most interesting. “It was great to have first-hand experience and research, as compared to conventional research that might include looking through texts on a computer screen, pretty far from the physical reality,” he recalled. “It puts the student in the real world analyzing, understanding, and seeing the ways [creativity] functions outside of the classroom.”

     Justin Heffernan, a third-year honor specialization of English Language and Literature and Creative Writing student, who is also completing Scholar’s Electives module, came to course  as a creator with interests in different forms of artistic expression. Heffernan found the final project assignment, in particular, “very attractive.” The project, he said, gave him the opportunity to explore what he does well and critically engage with it. While the course allowed him to cultivate his skills as an individual, weekly group work was another component he enjoyed the most. “We were not paired with the same people, we worked with different people each week,” he said. The overall structure of the course, he noted, has also informed what he plans to do in his academic life.

     Lauren Cowell, a fourth-year student doing double major in the School for Advance Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH) and Sociology was first drawn to the course as someone interested in various forms of art and creative expression. Thanks to the interdisciplinary approach, the course, Cowell said, challenged her preconceived ideas about art and creativity and allowed her to express her creativity through different mediums. “It’s a great way to start your post-secondary academic career as it challenges society’s creative binaries and provides an interdisciplinary approach to the creative arts. This course helped enable a creative mindset that I continue to use in my academic and professional careers,” she said

     A rapidly changing tech industry on the one hand, a job market relentless searching for a superhuman to routinely churn out the most interesting ideas on the other, selecting a university major has never presented so many competing variables driving the decisions of many high school graduates and university students. Nevertheless, as we anxiously await the next big technological invention, for now, for every AI perched on a tree looking at outer space, we can find a sentient being, in flesh and blood, holding the branch.