Posts tagged: crowds
I spent the past two weeks away from the West Coast, traveling back west (my west) to Northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. While things appear booming in Grande Prairie and Demmitt (saw the soon to be opened Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, dinner with recent Montreal/New York transplant Elisabeth Belliveau, caught up with the von Tiesenhausens for a concert at The Demmitt Cultural Centre, and a day with Jennifer Bowes just across the border at Dawson Creek), I now regret not traveling further north to see what was going on in Fort McMurray.
Under Prairie Artsters, I have written about Keyano College in Fort McMurray twice before. My first piece was a lament towards the closure of their art gallery. The second piece focused on my first and only visit so far in February 2010.
In that moment, Fort McMurray still undeniably appeared to be a makeshift town and I was allergic to the air. Keyano’s visual art program had been running for over twenty years and I saw a pretty spectacular musical theatre number in their state of the art auditorium. It was the first time I ever tasted Mankoushe and I was treated to a detox spa treatment inside of a trailer. Nothing made sense about the place, but there we all were from every corner of the world.
The concept of isolation really resonated when I visited the Wood Buffalo region also known as Fort McMurray. Built down into the surrounding thickness of the valley and lacking any visible pedestrian life, each person/car/unit was unto their own. The only crowd I ever saw was in the lobby of the college theatre, as everyone milled around after the show for food and drinks and faces. Once upon a time, Keyano had a visiting artist series with visitors from Monica Tapp to Alex Janvier, but that along with the gallery hasn’t existed for years.
I write with regret to say that as of Friday, May 4, Keyano has quietly pushed out the senior staff of their visual and drama departments. Keyano has been laying off senior staff for months from VPs to the Head of HR in what appeared to be a complete implosion of the college. Change was pending, and while cuts have been made across the departments, the arts took the biggest hits.
Sources say that everyone from the Chair of the Department to the Head of Drama along with the founding member of the visual arts department were fired Friday morning and told to pack up their offices and studios and leave the building with only 15 minutes notice. Eye witnesses report the staff were escorted to their offices by security in front of their students before escorted to their vehicles. An official open letter to the editor with questionable facts has been released from Keyano, and no word on the future for recently recruited students to currently enrolled students have been made clear as the college now faces a severe staff shortage to carry on existing programs.
Keyano should provide an independent count before saying their arts enrollment is on the decline and transferability is an issue. Programs have been scaled back over the years, but not due to the lack of want. By all accounts, Keyano arts classes have been full and credits have been fully transferable with alumni spread across Canadian universities. Keyano is still a publicly funded post-secondary institution, but feels at the moment like it’s operating as a private corporation. A focus on “skills shortage” was a highlight from the open letter, insidiously suggesting the production of culture is not a skill required for the sustenance of Wood Buffalo.
Rumors are flying that Keyano will turn itself over into a conservatory-style institution. This would mean the removal of accreditation for all courses and consequently, removing any potential for prospective students to earn a higher education in the region. While a lot that goes on up there remains unchecked, this recent gesture has not gone unnoticed. The unceremonious removal of senior staff, including those who first brought the arts into the community, does not bode well for Keyano, and by way, for Fort McMurray’s regional, national, or international reputation as a place to live and certainly not as a place to stay.