Symposium Panel Spotlight on Art-ful Engagement in Small Cities: Beyond the Project

March 24, 2021

This blog is part of a series of interviews that features panelists participating Field Stories: Community-Engaged Research in Times of Crisis, a day-long visual symposium that explores a range of community-engaged research practices, stories and assemblies about current social, health crisis and change.

Panel: Art-ful Engagement in Small Cities: Beyond the Project

According to Will Garrett-Petts, a Professor and Associate Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies at Thompson Rivers University, “This session will focus on the special zones of contact at play in community engaged research collaborations in smaller communities and how they are designed to draw out the everyday creativity of the participants, breakdown personal and institutional boundaries, give licence to playful exploration, encourage fresh perspectives, enrich dialogues and make the engagement process visible. It will also unpack the implications of project thinking, project funding and sustainability of CER initiatives.”

Garrett-Petts is one member of the five panelists that make up the “Artful Engagement in Small Cities” team. Other panelists include Tracey Kutschker (Salmon Arm Arts Centre), Danalee Baker (Tk’emlups te Secwepemc), Tammy Robertson (City of Kamloops) and Cheryl Gladu (Thompson Rivers University and the City of Kamloops).

They will discuss three projects featured in a curated video that documents three interrelated community-engaged research initiatives as case studies: a Public Showers Project undertaken by United Way, ASK Wellness, the Steelworkers Union and TRU; an LGBTQ2S+ Cultural Mapping Pride Project inspired by TRU cultural mapping initiatives and undertaken by the Salmon Arm Arts Centre, the City of Salmon Arm and a coalition of community stakeholders; and the adoption of a Researcher-in-Residence Model for community-engaged research by the City of Kamloops and TRU.

One of the areas that Garrett-Petts is interested in exploring more deeply is how community partners—in particular, municipalities and galleries—can significantly drive their university’s research agenda. He believes that “community-engaged research is primarily relational, tied to the small city context, and a vehicle for creating enhanced student research experiences.”

Garrett-Petts has a long history of conducting CER stretching back to 2000 when The Kamloops Art Gallery and Thompson Rivers University were awarded the first of two Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“Small Cities CURA,” Garrett-Petts’s first funded project, was initially led by the Kamloops Art Gallery in partnership with the University of Thompson Rivers, and later expanded to include multiple universities and cities. He has subsequently worked on more than 20 projects over a ten-year period, championing an arts-informed approach with a commitment to public participation and to public exhibition of the research results.

In an essay titled “Small Cities, Big Ideas,” writer and art critic Lucy Lippard identified the community-centred projects by Garrett-Petts and the community partners as well as community and university researchers as “a potentially wonderful way to prove the worth of small cities and the value of artists’ contributions.”

However, as Garrett-Petts points out, she also cautioned that “unless it is ongoing, socially dynamic, connects with the region, and attracts continuing community involvement in the urban landscape, it will become simply another ephemeral public art project, well-meaning but ineffective in the real life of the city.”

In Garrett-Petts’ words, “The Researcher-in-Residence Initiative and the Salmon Arm Art Gallery’s Pride Project respond to Lippard’s warning that big ideas in small cities can become simply another ephemeral public project—interesting in the moment, well-intentioned, but too short-term to be effective.”

More details

This panel discussion will take place Friday, March 26, 2:00-2:50 PT.

For more information and to register, visit:

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