Innovator Profile: Sarah Van Borek

Connor Curson
Community Outreach and Research Assistant, SFU Public Square

Innovator Profiles highlight extraordinary community members that are making a difference.

Sarah Van Borek is a filmmaker, musician, visual artist, educator and global citizen dedicated to global citizenship through the arts.

Sarah Van Borek is a self-described “global citizen.” And indeed, it’s a fitting term. Sarah has lived across Canada and has split her career between Africa and Vancouver. The term also perfectly captures her sense of self, and the interesting work she’s doing to break down geographical definitions to get individuals engaged and collaborating across larger communities and national and cultural borders.

Sarah started down her current path at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD), where she studied media arts. At the same time, Sarah was in love with traditional Southern African music. After her first year of university, this love prompted her to head to Africa.

Volunteering in rural Uganda, Sarah’s work as a videographer provided a life-altering experience. She was amazed by the power of media makers to shape a story about people and places, and the biases that could influence that story to create misconceptions and misunderstandings that often become the roots of bigger social issues. For Sarah, a more participatory media experience was needed. This meant working with communities to tell their own stories, not just capturing them and telling their stories for them.

When she returned to her studies at ECUAD, Sarah began passionately experimenting with engaging diverse youth in media production for social change. This ranged from a self-directed study working with Vancouver Moving Theatre, to engaging youth groups in producing music videos that address social issues, to leading a music video workshop series at the UN International Children’s Conference on the Environment.

Sarah followed her passions and interests and returned to South Africa to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in film and TV production from the University of Cape Town. There, her master’s thesis project involved producing a pilot music TV program where she engaged South African youth in creating original songs and music videos on gender-based issues. The videos were shown on a TV show as a catalyst for dialogue between urban and rural youth. Sarah was invited to present this research at Plan International’s Youth Media Development Forum in Mali, where she was further inspired by international colleagues using media to engage communities in innovative ways.

Upon returning to Canada, Sarah soon found herself working with SFU’s Centre for Dialogue as community outreach coordinator for “Canada’s World,” a national dialogue project engaging non-traditional voices in creating a citizens’ agenda for Canada’s foreign policy. Her main task was coordinating the ForeignPolicyCamp Project, a media-infused national hybrid conference. For Sarah, this was another defining moment, because for the first time she felt that dialogue was a recognized academic field, and a viable one to pursue her passion of building relationships with diverse communities through artistic expression. In 2012, Sarah produced one of her “dream projects” working as the artistic director of SFU Public Square’s ONE VOICE Music Project.

Sarah’s current project, in collaboration with SFU Public Square’s 2013 Community Summit, is an innovative crowd-sourced film capturing B.C. residents’ views of the provincial economy. The We Are BC video project gives citizens a chance to submit their own short videos about their relationship with B.C.’s economy. For Sarah, the potential for extensive community participation makes this project an exciting one. When asked about handling the risk of the unknown presented by crowdsourcing, Sarah notes that “people keep saying, ‘I can’t wait to see what you make,’ and I say, ‘Me too!’ The risk brings magic to this project; the magic of both the challenge of it, and the opportunity to be inspired by and to learn new things from my fellow citizens.”

What’s next for Sarah? After We Are BC, she’ll continue working on a partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation and ECUAD, where she teaches in the Social Practice and Community Engagement (SPACE) program. Titled “Rewilding Vancouver," Sarah will instruct a “community projects” course that engages students across a range of levels and artistic disciplines to apply their talents to sustainability initiatives in the community. This work builds on Sarah’s fall 2012/spring 2013 “Natural Capital” project/course which featured in an exhibit at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery museum and as part of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (New York 2013), and will be part of a group exhibit, “Cultivate,” at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre (October 2013).

With all she has done, one would think Sarah has already lived two or three lifetimes! But there is more in store for this community engagement innovator. In the future, Sarah hopes to form a bridge between her networks in South Africa and Canada in order to spur creative collaboration and dialogue on shared experiences between the two distant nations. We look forward to her work!