The news that our project, Bridging the Gap, was selected to represent the Connected Communities programme at CUVIC 2014, Victoria University, was very exciting. After a long journey with a short stop over in Vancouver, we arrived at UVic to be greeted by a family of deer crossing the green pastures of this most beautiful campus – a rather nice start to our short stay in Victoria.
During our first day, we went to a pre-conference workshop on ‘Canadian and global community-university engagement networks’ which brought together over 40 participants from four continents. Sophie Duncan, from NCCPE gave an eloquent presentation about the British approach to global collaboration. Ireland, India, Argentina, the US and Africa were also represented at this interactive workshop.
In the evening, the conference opened with a community celebration event where we heard academics and politicians explain their ideas about collaboration, but more significantly we listened to music from the Gettin’ Higher Choir, a community choir, experienced the Witness Blanket Installation, and heard the artist talk about its significance for First Nation people in their search for truth and reconciliation.
During the ensuing two days, we heard interesting talks on community sustainability, food poverty/security, co-learning and community leadership, research impact and so on. Sue Moffat and I ran an experiential workshop around notions of learning from communities in crisis. We brought with us an installation entitled ‘The Tree of Life’ developed with Japanese communities affected by the 2011 Tsunami in the Minami-Sanriku area, as part of a collaborative AHRC grant that sought to bridge the gap between academic theory and community relevance.
Our work is underlined by an American Pragmatist approach to knowledge and uses Cultural Animation as the primary methodology for co-design and community engagement. The Tree of Life continued to receive many stories from the participants who were not only invited to create short poems but these poems were animated in moving experiential performances.
All in all it was a very exciting conference. We made genuine connections and learnt amazing things about local communities and global networks formed from topics at the heart of community life across the globe. Given that this is the first international conference organised by the newly formed Institute for Studies and Innovation in Community University Engagement based at UVic, we were impressed by how well planned and clearly thought through the event was. Beyond that, the Institute held an open house event where participants were welcomed by its director, Dr. Leslie Brown, who shared with us the history and the ambition of the institute spurring us to consider the formation of such research institutes in our own universities in the UK.
Mihaela Kelemen, KeeleUniversity
Sue Moffat, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme
May 27, 2014