Tara Mahoney, co-creator of Creative Publics Lab and PhD student at SFU installing the "150 Years Young w/SFU" exhibit at SFU Vancouver. Photo credit: University Communications.


SFU tutorial innovation teaches creative civic engagement, sparks photo exhibit

December 15, 2016

By Kamilah Charters-Gabanek.

Tutorials were conducted a little differently for a class of fourth-year Communication students at Simon Fraser University this term.  

The students are the first cohort of the Creative Publics Lab: a new type of tutorial that merges creative civic engagement methods with the traditional university tutorial model.

This term, as their civic engagement experiment, the Lab’s students produced a photography exhibit showcasing the diverse conventional and unconventional ways that local young people are building more resilient and just communities.

The exhibit, “150 Years Young w/SFU” launches Dec. 15 in the foyer of SFU’s Vancouver campus Harbour Centre building.

Photo credit: University Communications.
Carol Leung (left) and Tara Mahoney stand in front of the Creative Publics Lab exhibition. Photo credit: University Communications.

Creative Publics Lab is the tutorial associated with Communications 427, a fourth-year course titled Participatory Youth Media Cultures.

The idea to transform the tutorial came to Tara Mahoney, an SFU PhD student and the class’ tutorial assistant, when she found students were not engaging with the course material during traditional tutorials. Despite what she thought were compelling course ideas and content, the students seemed to be much more interested in how they could get involved in her civic engagement agency, Gen Why Media.

“The Creative Publics Lab is an experiment to merge the creative civic engagement of Gen Why Media with university tutorials,” says Mahoney.

“We are trying to develop a model of praxis [the place between theory and world] that brings together theory and practice through making real-world community media projects in partnership with organizations. The exhibit is the culmination of our first experiment.”

Mahoney describes the exhibit as a co-creation between course professor, Stuart Poyntz, the students and herself.

“The students have been really amazing in their feedback and willingness to try weird new things and help us re-imagine the tutorial experience… I think that type of collaboration is how innovation at the University will happen,” says Mahoney.

Aidan Bancroft, a Communication undergraduate student and co-creator of the exhibit, echoes Mahoney’s experience.

“The Creative Publics Lab is the epitome of what I perceive 'the engaged university' to be: inspiring faculty, fantastic guests, innovative real-world learning, and taking our classroom into the community," says Bancroft.

“150 Years Young w/SFU” is also produced in partnership with the national community engagement organization Apathy is Boring, a group that aims to increase youth political participation. The student photo project at SFU will contribute to Apathy is Boring’s “150 Years Young Project,” a signature initiative of the Canada 150 celebrations. Mahoney sees the Creative Publics Lab model as a way to encourage energy around youth community involvement.

“The primary purpose of university should be learning how to contribute to your community. If you think about it, where do you go to learn creative community organizing?” asks Mahoney.

“Unless you work for a non-profit organization or a political party, it's hard to get plugged into the essential skills needed for community resilience. The great outcome would be for the lab to become a place where student learn how to use media, art and communication to create new forms of togetherness.”

“150 Years Young w/SFU” will go on display Dec. 15 at SFU’s Vancouver campus Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings St.) Visit the Creative Publics Lab website for more information.