On the Road! A Whirlwind Day with the Fort McMurray Public School Board (FMPSB)

Just leaving the tiny, cramped, wildly busy airport in snowy Fort McMurray. It’s been a whirlwind day with teachers, principals and education ‘big brass’ in the Fort McMurray Public School Board (FMPSB). They had asked to meet with sector councils around their 4 key issues of:

  1. Trades/Apprenticeship/Career Technology Studies and Engineering
  2. Aboriginal Learners and Capacity Building
  3. Arts, Culture and Creativity
  4. Infrastructure/Learning Facilities

Yes, arts culture and creativity are in that list. This booming northern Alberta oil patch town (pop 75,000), which can barely keep up with its breathtaking growth, and has been described as “the epicentre of Canadian skills shortages and challenges” – they simply doesn’t have the skilled labour they desperately need to respond to local industry’s demands. At the same time, Fort McMurray is a growing and maturing city, and it is looking to the arts to help build community.
Fort McMurray is a fascinating place—one presenter described it as either a true melting pot of diversity or “the biggest truck stop on the planet”. City and education officials definitely want it to be the former, and they are thinking hard about how to grow in a smart way and avoid getting caught up in growth for growth’s sake, which does not necessarily mean progress or prosperity.
I have to admit that when I heard that the city’s college, Keyano, had let 11 teachers go from its fine arts programme in May, I feared that I would have to spend a good part of my day making a case for the arts in that oil town. But that was not the case at all. In fact, speaker after speaker — from the President of Keyano College, who reaffirmed the College’s commitment to the arts, to the Executive Director of the Oilsands Developers Group, to the CEO of the Athabasca Tribal Council, to a representative of Learning Through the Arts — affirmed the importance of the arts and the value of creativity (as a career choice as well as to enhance other career choices) in their schools and community, and it was a pleasure to share CHRC’s excellent materials —Careers in Culture and The Art of Managing Your Career were especially popular.
The FMPSB is working hard to “get it right”. Fort McMurray and the vast area around it that is served by the Public School Board are a microcosm of Canada in many ways – 127 countries represented, 69 languages spoken, and a strong aboriginal presence – and the arts are seen to be critical to the evolution and maturation of this fascinating part of the country.
The day was darkened though by the news of the CCA’s closing. You can read more about this sad event on the CCA website. (http://ccarts.ca/ )
We’re heading to Montreal tomorrow to meet with members of le Conseil québecois des ressources humaines en culture at their annual meeting. I’ll be talking about CHRC’s future in the new self financing sector council regime; then, there is a digital media validation session on Friday. Next week it’s St John’s and Toronto.
The Context Paper precedes us. It is getting a very good reception!