FCAT scholars awarded Community Engagement Initiative grants for their innovative work

February 06, 2024

Four scholars from the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) have been recognized for their innovative community engagement work with grants from Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Community Engagement Initiative. James Long and Ryan Tacata in the School for the Contemporary Arts are finding creative ways to connect community engaged work and creative practice, Tara Mahoney in the School of Communication is promoting civics and climate leadership amongst youth, and Suzanne Norman in the Publishing Program is offering a series of professional development webinars to emerging Indigenous storytellers and editors.

SFU's Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) is a small grants program that aims to strengthen community-university relationships. The initiative has awarded over $1 million in funding over the past nine years in support of projects that demonstrate SFU’s deep commitment to partnering with its communities.

Creative Exploration in Place | James Long and Ryan Tacata

With the support of the CEI grant, James Long and Ryan Tacata have introduced a new area of study within the School for the Contemporary Arts’ Theatre & Performance program, the Social Studios, focused on the intersection of performance studies and community engaged practice.

For the inaugural year of the Social Studios, Long and Tacata will partner with 312 Main to complete a study of the place, purpose and function of 312 as a whole. This study will provide a basis for what Long and Tacata hope will be a long-term relationship between the SCA and 312 that includes working with individual organizations housed within. Tacata will be leading the first wave of this work, teaching two courses that will take place over students’ third year of study – the first acting as a survey of the ethics, history and methodologies of social practice; followed by a practice-based exploration culminating in a public facing event. 

Long says that the goal of the Social Studios is “to promote lifelong learning and engagement on the part of Theater & Performance students with respect to social issues and to introduce modes of public engagement via performance practice.”

“It would be wonderful to see students beginning to apply a more community-minded focus inside, and/or inspiration in, their final projects.”

Long explains that he chose to pursue this particular project because so much exciting work in contemporary performance is happening in the area of community engagement, and offering students opportunities to consider and work within it will allow for more mobility in their post grad careers. “These projects aren't necessarily about solving social ills,” he notes, “but about discovering new, socially connected and impactful ways to explore how we operate in society.”

Youth Civics and Climate Leadership Program | Tara Mahoney

The Youth Civic & Climate Leadership Program (YCCLP) was initially piloted by CityHive in Fall 2022-Spring 2023 to increase youth understanding about how local government works while strengthening their connection to their peers, civic institutions, and community organizations.

As CityHive concluded their initial pilot of the program, they sought partnerships with SFU and other local groups to re-examine the role this program could play in supporting lesser-engaged youth to take on local climate action.

With CEI’s support and School of Communication professor Tara Mahoney in an advisory role, the next iteration of the program aims to reach six new youth communities, partnering with service agencies that work with different demographics, including settlement organizations, newcomer youth leadership groups and neighbourhood houses.

“It is so critically important that young people understand how decision-making works with respect to climate policy and how they can be a part of that.”

Mahoney says that receiving the grant meant a lot as “grassroots climate programs like this are often how young people first encounter meaningful opportunities to engage with climate issues,” and support for the program will create more opportunities to bring young people into the climate movement.

“With all the intense climate change we are experiencing; climate action is an antidote to climate anxiety. We feel better about our predicament when we act with others. So, I encourage everyone to find a pathway into climate action and join us!”

Indigenous Editing & Publishing Webinar Series | Suzanne Norman

A continuation of a successful CEI-funded program of professional development webinars held in partnership with the Indigenous Editors Association (IEA) in 2021, this new series of webinars will continue the previous series’ focus on Indigenous editing and publishing. The CEI grant will allow the series to be offered free to emerging Indigenous publishers, editors, and storytellers.

During the webinars, representatives of the SFU Publishing Program and the SFU Indigenous Studies Department, including Publishing lecturer Suzanne Norman, will offer their educational expertise and networks with publishing organizations across Canada to support their partner organization, the Indigenous Editors Association.

“The IEA helps the publishing community respond to the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls for improved education about Indigenous Peoples, and these webinars will contribute to the IEA’s collection of educational materials.”

Norman hopes that the program will “enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion among the broader publishing community, in which the SFU Publishing Program is a recognized pillar.”

Recordings of the webinars will be shared with participants and members of the IEA, and the content will be converted into educational materials for the IEA’s programming and public engagements. 

About the Community Engagement Initiative (CEI)

SFU’s Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) offers small grants of up to $10,000 to SFU staff and faculty for projects developed with community partners that strengthen relationships and have meaningful impact. CEI supports proposals for initiatives that address opportunities identified in SFU’s Strategic Community Engagement Plan in ways that advance the priorities and values of What's Next: the SFU Strategy and that improve and expand SFU’s capabilities to engage with its communities through student experiential learning, knowledge mobilization and community-engaged research.