Stop farting around – we need more artists to help design New Brunswick’s future

Written by Cherise Letson

February 18, 2014

These rings were designed in a 3D printer by a Chilean designer, an example of what happens when technology and art meet. (Photo/Cherise Letson)


Want a strong tech sector? Get aggressive on arts education.

That’s the message ArtsNB director Akoulina ‘Akou’ Connell is delivering as the Government of New Brunswick gets ready to launch Brilliant Labs, it’s new initiative to boost coding, robotics and arts projects in schools. Check out Wicked Ideas’ story on its launch.

“The relationship of arts and design to technology is obvious to me,” Connell said. “If you’re going to have a really good program, a programmer can do that for you, but if you’re going to have a program or a tool, that is enjoyed, then art of design is a factor.”

She said it’s the “qualitative” experience that people have with a product that plays a key role in whether or not it’s successful.

“We’re living in a multimedia world, where people’s sensory experiences and new kinds of critical capacities are increasingly important,” Connell said. “When we go online and we click on a video that’s to be shared on YouTube, someone chose that specific song to give that emotional response.”

Everything from what colours are selected, how spaces are arrange and even down to what music chords trigger certain emotions are things that are important in the multimedia world kids are growing up in.

“These are all competencies and capacities that we need to build into our education system in order to help our children swim in the new world of multimedia narrative,” Connell said.

Right now, New Brunswick isn’t paying enough attention to the arts in schools, just as core education ideas are shifting away from exclusively literacy and numeracy and towards a broader embrace of science and technology.

“[The education system] we’re using right now was set up around the time of the industrial revolution,” Connell said.  “It’s really geared towards insuring that you’ve got people who are trained to become cogs in the wheels of an industrial society.”

Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s popular TED Talk for a great explanation of this shift.

Connell says we need to teach students the skills to think both quantitatively – the traditional role of science, technology, engineering and math, known by the acronym STEM – and qualitatively, which is the domain of the arts and humanities. Taken together the acronym becomes STEAM.

That, says Connell, is the key to creating products and programs that survive the test of time.

“The most successful things…even in the industrial period, had good design,” she said.

“The things that we hang on to, are the things that have good design, that have some sort of cool quotient that makes it something we want to pass on to the next generation.”

Brilliant Labs, the new government initiative announced at the January 2014 State of the Province, will fund and award grants to schools for projects in coding, robotics and the arts.

“It’s fabulous that it’s being brought into schools here,” Connell said. “Insuring that the design component and the arts and culture proponent is addressed at the same time is key.”

Connell said there good arts programs in the province, like Arts Smarts and Artists-in-Residency, however, she said they are not being accessed as much as they could be and the process to do so should be simplified.

“Also I don’t think many artists in this province are aware that it’s even there,” she said. “And I think even parents and teachers aren’t necessarily as aware as they could be about its existence either.”

Connell said bringing arts programs into schools not only teaches kids new, needed skills for the future workplace, but also helps boost the forever-coveted literacy and numeracy skills as well.

“We need to build new kinds of capacities with students at an early age, to insure that they are as ready as possible to be the innovator of the future.”


Wicked Ideas writer Cherise Letson is the News Editor @TheBrunswickan and Atlantic Bureau Chief for Canadian University Press. Follow what she’s got to say @CheriseLWrites

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