The Arts Foster Understanding and Empathy in our Community

Posted on March 14, 2016

Futurists predict a world which differs markedly from the social organization that we experience today. It centers markedly on connection, equality, creativity and social intelligence. The quest for intellectual capital will eclipse the current emphasis on the accumulation of goods and capital that marks Western social organization.

Edmonton is a creative city, one which has long been appropriately recognized for its originality in research, education and the arts. But the pursuit of oil has dominated our society and oil, while contributing to the wealth of Alberta, has produced its own problems. Growth in Alberta has been greater than other provinces, leading to more jobs and greater wealth. Robust job markets with resultant wealth have brought many newcomers to Alberta. But population growth has led to cultural diversity, poverty for those without skills and currently, because of the downturn in the price of oil, a predicted increase in unemployment.

We are already experiencing a diversity of cultures in Edmonton, one that will increase rather than decrease over time. And, as conflict continues in other countries, we are the logical place for the displaced victims of such tragedies. Our own aboriginal population is another group who has been ignored and marginalized. Attempts at inclusion have been rare, and Edmonton does not have a place where everyone can express their cultural heritage and feel included.

The arts foster understanding and empathy in our community. The center of the city, with facilities to hold the expression of these cultures would be the logical place for people to connect. Creativity – dance, drama, voice, painting – a plethora of expressions – can be understood by everyone, regardless of language. People feel connected.

This cultural centre is historically significant as Edmonton was the original gathering place of our indigenous people who welcomed tribes from the large circle of land surrounding it to gossip, intermarry and trade. The concept of a communal gathering place in the heart of the city re-emerged as a vision from consultations with the arts and business community in 2011.

Two tenets that must exist in these facilities are visibility and access. Arts and music must be open to the community. Frequent public performances by university and community groups are essential. Young people can attend theatre or hear a musical performance. Families can attend art classes, expose their children to theatre or educational opportunities, or simply hear a performance. The homeless, long-time residents of the inner city, would be welcome to participate. Students would be downtown and add to the vibrancy of life on the streets. The music and arts department of the University of Alberta would expose citizens to the work and creativity of artistic creation.

This vision embodies a soul for Edmonton – a compilation of not only what Edmonton is, but how it can grow and improve in a way that is harmonious with the future. The Edmonton Galleria embodies the following:

  • More space for the arts: performance, exhibition, work and rehearsal space.
  • Accessible and affordable space – available to all economic levels.
  • University departments which are visible to everyone and hence accessible.
  • Activation of the inner city; more jobs with more people leading to increased safety for everyone.
  • Establishment of a cultural trust which would provide sustainability for the arts in perpetuity.

Edmonton in the future must diversify its economy which includes the support and growth of the talent and educational expertise in the arts. The empathy embodied by the communal expression of our artistic heritage and culture leads to a decrease in social problems and further enriches our city.

Dr. Dianne Kipnes, Chair, Edmonton Galleria Foundation