The Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) marked its fifth anniversary this year with the announcement of a $500,000 research cluster grant awarded to six research projects across UAlberta’s social sciences, humanities and arts faculties.
This is the second in a series profiling the four Arts research projects chosen to receive cluster grant funds.
A team of researchers and artists from UAlberta is creating social change in Kenya by using stories to get communities thinking about societal issues.
“Old Stories in New Ways” is an interdisciplinary project led by Drama professor Jan Selman. Its goal is to preserve, sustain and transform the ways that stories provide foundational cultural power for local communities in Kenya.
According to Selman, health and economic issues are just a few of the problems Kenya is facing, and rapid urbanization in the area has created strain among its communities and tribes.
“It’s a perilous time, particularly for youth, and we plan to create a contemporary theatre performance blending hip hop, local language and traditional music to address issues that relate to youth and societal change,” explains Selman, adding research has shown that a creative approach can help identify issues and encourage discussion and problem solving in the community. “It’s less about delivering messages and more about fostering and enhancing their own discussions.”
Along with the youth-centred project, the team is planning a separate theatre initiative that will engage rural-based communities in problem solving and social development questions.
“Both programs will be interactive; the rural project will play in villages and marketplaces to engage community members,” she explains. “In Kenya, there are major social and gender inequities and this is a way of creating much more community involvement and discussion about these issues.”
“In Kenya, there are major social and gender inequities and this is a way of creating much more community involvement and discussion about these issues.”
The KIAS Cluster Grant funding will go towards the project’s research, the creation of the two theatre programs, and communication and support for the team’s Kenyan partners.
“It is great seed funding, as we expect this project to keep growing. But it’s important to note we couldn’t possibly move ahead without substantial support like this,” says Selman. “It means everything.”
With the funds, the team will be able to secure partnerships and bring in a number of researchers from different disciplines to create the theatre programs.
Once they’ve shaped and successfully implemented their project models, Selman says the research team will be able to share their findings with Canadian researchers and artists who are looking to impact local communities.
“The research is very transferable. It can help Canadian researchers and artists make their work as relevant and impactful as ever,” she says.
More than that, she notes, Old Stories in New Ways creates an opportunity for Canadian researchers to ask themselves how they can create new ways of communicating through the arts.
“This is about putting our research into action and placing the Arts at the forefront of visibly useful and impactful projects,” she says.
To read more about KIAS, follow this link and watch this space for more profiles of Arts projects funded by this year’s KIAS Research Cluster Grant.
Students! Want an opportunity to put this type of social service into action? Read more about a student project in Kenya, led by Jan Selman, coming up this June! http://www.curiousarts.ca/