New masters program uses art for social change

Are you an art lover who wants to change the world? SFU’s new master’s degree in Art for Social Change (ASC), the first of its kind in Canada, is the program for you.

The new Master of Education in Art for Social Change will offer training in group facilitation, project management, communication, and ASC processes. The two-year program will launch this fall, with cohort-based classes to be held on Saturdays at the Harbour Centre campus. The degree also includes internship opportunities with local community organizations.

Judith Marcuse, an Artist in Residence and Adjunct Professor at SFU, explained that art for social change takes two forms. In the first, artists create pieces that contain content about social change and are intended to start a dialogue around specific issues. In the second, groups of people produce artwork about a subject that matters to them, with the help of an artist or facilitator.

Despite being the first formal graduate program in Canada, Marcuse said that art for social change has been used in a wide range of contexts all over the world including HIV and AIDS stigma reduction through puppet shows and other forms of performance, and hospital policy change through a play created by former patients.

“Because the range is so vast, it’s difficult to pigeonhole it,” said Marcuse. The interdisciplinary program has taken a long time to find a place at SFU; Marcuse started working towards the creation of this master’s program seven years ago.

Marcuse believes formal training will help provide the specific skills necessary to do ASC work as safely and richly as possible.  Producing art for social change includes both communication and exploration. She created a five year project that explored teen suicide, in which 400 youth used art to explore their own experiences around teen suicide.

The results of the project, she said, were powerful. “It becomes personal and it becomes a feeling, rather than just information,” said Marcuse.

ASC can have very different results from more analytic forms of activism. Marcuse said forms of art such as photography, storytelling, dance, and theatre, have the ability to affect people at an emotional and intellectual level.

“You can read all kinds of statistics about a certain subject, but then if you see a film about it or a play or you read a poem, it’s a very different experience,” she said.

Art for social change can be used for a wide variety of agendas, including education, policy change and conflict resolution. “So it’s not just for artists,” Marcuse stressed.

Who is the ideal applicant, in Marcuse’s opinion? “Anyone who wants to make change in the world and who sees the integration of the imagination as an integral part of that change-making.”

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