Dear arts student:
You are essential.
I hope that wherever you are in the world and whatever discipline you practice or field you study, that you’ll continue your creative work this year. We need you.
Amid all the current uncertainty and planning, it is so tempting to wait for things “to go back to normal.” As the parent of someone who just finished his first year of university, I see the challenges of the zoom classroom and understand the appeal of taking a break until this current situation is all over. But it’s not clear yet what the next “normal” will look like or when it may come. Some things may resemble what we remember; others will be forever different. While this uncertainty can be a cause of anxiety, it also offers a rare opportunity, especially for the next generation of global artists.
Emerging artists, designers and scholars entering universities today have a rare opportunity to explore what the arts can do and to encounter questions of the past with fresh eyes. Those who participate in this exploration, will set the stage for the future of creative practices to come. Now is the time to take part in these changes and to determine what kind of future we all will have.
Beyond the university, creative fields and industries are rapidly changing in response to the current crisis. Arts education will change alongside, working together with community and professional partners to navigate these shifts. Students learning today have the chance to participate in these discussions from the beginning and to prepare in real time for whatever comes next. This is what real experiential education is all about. It’s not just about adapting to changes as they come, but also having a say in what comes next.
As the Dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University, I’m committed to supporting students in this work over the next year and beyond: to helping learners across the arts and design navigate these changes, prepare for the future, and be a part of a sustainable future for the arts. It’s not just about making things different; it’s about making them better.
Around the world and in many different kinds of institutions, faculty and staff are working tirelessly to adapt and to prepare for this future. But we need your help.
If only a few people participate in defining the future of the arts, then the inevitable changes to come will benefit only those select few. In the wake of COVID-19, we have seen just how essential the arts are to our collective and individual well-being and also how unequally the effects of this disease are experienced. We cannot afford to lose a new generation of voices and a diversity of perspectives now. The changes underway are too big and too important to be left just to established artists, no matter how experienced or talented. To ensure a sustainable and inclusive future for the arts, we need many different perspectives, most especially those who are just beginning their arts education.
So whatever you do, don’t give up. And don’t sit this one out. You have the opportunity to drive the changes that will define the future of creative arts and industries. A former coach of mine had a favourite phrase that hung over her desk: “Good things come to those who wait. But only the things left by those who hustle.” Now is the time to hustle.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that anyone should risk either their own health and safety, or those of their loved ones and their communities. The first priority right now must continue to be our collective well-being. This priority is precisely why we need the broadest range of people engaging in the discussion of what comes next in arts and design. We need to continue to revise our practices with the most vulnerable in mind and to ensure maximum inclusion and participation for all.
We cannot afford to wait and we can’t just look back at what has been lost. If we’re going to get through this time together, we need to expand what’s possible. More than anything, we need to ensure that whatever changes may come our way, that they work for everyone.
That’s why I hope that you — young artists, thinkers, designers, scholars, and innovators — will continue your creative and educational journeys this fall. Wherever you go, know that your voice, your perspectives are needed to help us all make sense of this time and to create a better version for tomorrow.
However those of us in the arts are working over the next year, it won’t be about equipment or technology or buildings. It will be about people and ideas and imagination. We will learn to communicate differently and to collaborate in new ways. These changes are too important and far-reaching to happen without the active involvement of emerging artists. To create an inclusive and sustainable future for the arts, industries, arts organizations and universities need you, the next generation, your ideas and talents, to define this future.
We need the next generation to define and improve the next normal. I can’t wait to get started.