Mike Berthiaume Your Realtor in Windsor Essex

The University of Windsor sign is pictured on campus in Windsor, Ont., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011.

The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. -- When it moves its art programs downtown, the University of Windsor intends to pioneer new ways of teaching the arts that it says would place the school at the cutting edge of creative expression.

Cecil Houston, dean of the school of arts and sciences, said the plan would see students from various disciplines crossing over from one form of expression to the others in a bid to produce new multimedia art forms for the digital age.

He said only Simon Fraser University in Vancouver has a similar emphasis on interdisciplinary art study, but the local school intends to take the concept much further.

When asked about the university’s plans to experiment with merging programs from music to the visual arts Houston cautiously ventured the Hollywood movie franchise Happy Feet as an example of what might be done, not necessarily with the content, but with the process.

“Combining different art forms to create new art,” said Houston.

“You take dance, music and visual art and come up with dancing penguins.... We want to see what we can create for ourselves with art, making the walls between disciplines more porous so you can walk between them, around them or avoid them totally.”

He said the goal is in tune with the way art is evolving among young artists in today’s digital world, where a computer can become a musical instrument as valid and worthy of study as a violin or trumpet.

“We had a brainstorming session back in June where we brought in leaders from Vancouver and Detroit to look at redefining or amalgamating (programs),” said Houston. “The old programs will continue to be offered. You can still study visual arts, media and film or music. But audiences are looking for something different.”

Houston added that the resulting projects could lead to more collaborations and ultimately generate economic activity for the region with the area possibly becoming a leader in artistic innovation. In addition, he said, the cutting edge programs offered would “create buzz” among students hoping to come to Windsor.

“We’re doing it in the space of a year and a bit,” he said. “We want to be ready for the school year of 2013 with improved and modernized (facilities) and our new downtown location” at the former armouries.

He said that art and performance have become an integral part of North American culture as well as the economy and new technology is creating forms “that may have not even been thought of or even considered before.”

The new unit would include a permanent faculty of about 19 to deliver programs in visual art and music while introducing new programs in film production, sound and interdisciplinary arts, including art and architecture and a form of musical expression known as “sonic arts.” There will even be an option for students to design their own interdisciplinary degrees.

The university’s senate approved the merger of schools into a single administrative unit at its meeting last week.

“The administration is totally behind this,” said Houston. “They’re focused on making it happen,” he said. “We’d be alone in Ontario. This is something if we do well and create buzz and a cutting-edge spirit we could catch the attention of people across the province.”

He said “updating” the way the arts is presented in university “is a nice way to put it.”

“The arts and culture industry has changed significantly,” he said. “And this is a digital generation. It’s not like previous generations.”

Brenda Pelkey, director of the university’s school of visual arts, said artists have been increasingly exploring different forms of expression and utilizing various media. She called the program being developed “a new, bold approach” similar to the one at Simon Fraser, “but hopefully even more innovative.”

She said the challenge will be to develop curriculum. One aspect will be to teach leadership skills so students will be able to foster community engagement.


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