New School of Creative and Performing Arts formed at the U of C

By Riley Hill

The departments of dance, drama and music have been merged to form the School of Creative and Performing Arts, creating a new heart for fine arts at the University of Calgary. According to university administration, the new school will open up opportunities for interdisciplinary work between fine arts students while also increasing the university’s profile in Calgary and abroad.

The SCPA is not a faculty like the Schulich School of Engineering or the Haskayne School of Business. Instead, the school is a kind of super-department within the faculty of arts, collaborating work between the three joining departments while presenting a new, collective brand.

U of C faculty of arts dean Richard Sigurdson said he hopes this brand will bring new talent to fine arts at the U of C while also advertising what the formerly separate dance, drama and music departments already have to offer.

“It’s very much about branding. We’re going to be doing a lot of exercises in the new academic year where we will try to get our message out about the new school, showing that we have vibrant programs in all of the creative and performing arts,” Sigurdson said. “We also intend to recruit a new director for the school. We think we have a tremendous opportunity for a senior creative artist in dance, drama or music to come to the U of C and to lead the new school for the next period.”

Initial plans for the school were set in motion with a town hall during the 2012 fall semester. One of the faculty members in attendance was music professor Alan Bell, who was later chosen as the interim director of the SCPA. Bell said after initially hearing the proposal for the SCPA, he thought the idea for a collaborative art school made sense, adding that few attendees disagreed with Sigurdson at the town hall.

“Amongst the teaching faculty, there were people who were for it and others who were wondering about it, so we needed to think about it quite a bit,” Bell said.

Bell came to the conclusion that creating a centralized fine arts school would make collaborative projects between departments easier to manage.

“It soon became clear that if we came together in some kind of way, we would be able to have access to better promotional activities and come together in ways that would make it possible for us to do some inter-arts activities more easily,” Bell said.

Bell said he was hopeful that the SCPA would open new avenues to fine arts students who want to collaborate with others outside their chosen discipline.

“We’re going to encourage inter-arts activity — to make it easy for dancers, musicians or actors to get together and to do projects,” he said. “I can’t tell you what they’re going to be because I’m of the mind that I just want them to meet each other, start finding out what they do and make things. They’ll be doing things that I wouldn’t even conceive of.”

Bell said unifying the three departments into one school also makes private donations to the merging departments more likely.

“The advantage of the school status is that a school, unlike a department, can be named,” he said. “We now have the School of Creative and Performing Arts, but it could bear your name should your parents decide to create a legacy on your behalf.”

Both Bell and Sigurdson said the consolidation of the departments has nothing to do with the recent provincial budget cuts to post-secondary education, with both saying the decision to create the school was made prior to the cuts.

Classes within the merging departments will not be changed. According to Sigurdson, there are no plans to layoff faculty or staff.

The decision to create the SCPA was praised by several members of the Students’ Union, including vice-president academic Emily Macphail.

“I think overall, it’s a good thing,” Macphail said. “It will attract more talented professors and give more opportunities to students.”

Arts representative Levi Nilson also said he supported the creation of the SCPA.

“With dance, drama and music put together, it will make it a lot easier for those like-minded departments to have a better kind of cohesiveness and work together better,” Nilson said.

The departments of art, music, drama and dance all composed the faculty of fine arts until 2010, when the faculties of social sciences, fine arts, humanities and communications merged into the faculty of arts.

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