Monday, 5 December 2011

Creativity and Community

As PCVS takes a field trip to Queen’s Park, the time is propitious to consider the power of the creative mind in community.

KPR administration appears exceptionally eager to pluck the Integrated Arts program from PCVS and transfer it to TASSS. Out-of-town, out-of-touch Trustee Gordon Gilchrist and others have fixated on the idea of thus turning TASSS into an “Academy of Arts, Science and Technology.”

How much more inspirational a “science and technology” school sounds when prefaced by “arts.”

While the study of science is obviously essential to human progress, the simple fact is that it generates very little in the way of community energy.

The performing arts, by contrast, bring large groups of students, teachers, and families together on an ongoing basis to work and to enjoy, to share thoughts, feelings and information. Theatre, music and dance oblige people from disparate backgrounds to co-operate creatively, and performances create community bonds among audience members whose significance may extend throughout the numberless pathways of our social network.

KPR administration has stated that they intend to turn PCVS into a Centre for Independent Studies, catering to students who need to work on their own because of personal circumstances. I'm a fan of independent studies programs, and in fact took advantage of one to finish high school myself. But the fact is that most of those programs can happen almost anywhere. What PCVS has been building for decades is a de facto "Centre of Excellence in Collaborative Studies," if we want to adopt the type of jargon used by KPR. And it has been among the best schools in Eastern and Central Ontario in this respect for some time now, leading the way on more than one front. 

PCVS has always been known for its focus on leadership, and as the cornerstone of our city for as long as it has existed, the school has contributed immeasurably to making Peterborough a great place to live. Among the long list of noteworthy PCVS graduates are Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie, Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett, and many prominent Peterborough lawyers. In the past four years there have been an astonishing three PCVS grads who have won a Loran award, a national scholarship focusing on leadership, of which only a few dozen are given out across the thousands of secondary schools in Canada each year.

In the past ten years, however, there has also been an incredible outpouring of musical talent from PCVS, beginning with Juno-award winning singer-songwriter Serena Ryder.

Ryder never misses an opportunity to credit PCVS with her development as an artist. A YouTube clip of Serena discussing PCVS is here , and her professional website is here. I remember coming home from Toronto one day, about twelve years ago, to my house on McDonnel Street to find the teenage Serena leading my roommates and friends in a vocal jam session. Serena went on to develop musical partnerships with prominent Peterborough songwriters and instrumentalists living downtown, such as Dave Tough and Beau Dixon, as she honed her craft.

Ryder’s success wasn’t a fluke. Year after year PCVS has been the crucible from which collaborative, creative musical talent has emerged. I’ve linked websites to the names on the following list so you can get a sense of the stature and the sound of these PCVS graduates.

Former PCVS students Wyatt Burton and Jessie Pilgrim helped establish the The Silver Hearts,  a large ensemble featuring unusual arrangements of roots and old-time music which has toured across Canada and internationally while remaining a local favourite. You can watch a beautiful black and white clip from 2002 here.

Highly respected bassist Dan Fortin and keyboardist Jonah Cristall-Clarke went on to prominence in the Toronto jazz world, with Cristall-Clarke now based in London, England. Cristall-Clarke performed professionally with Fortin in jazz trios during their high school years, and also lent his chops to the PCVS funk group Otonabee Groove.

Fortin and Cristall-Clarke perch above the Otonabee with sax-man Andy Cragg
during their "Mood Swings" days

Child prodigy Jimmy Bowskill found in PCVS a place which could accommodate him as he grew into adulthood while performing professionally and putting together his current blues/rock/rockabilly trio which now tours internationally. You can hear him on this YouTube clip performing a BB King number at Toronto’s Hard Rock Cafe when he was still in grade 10.

Members of the local group The Avenues, who continue to tour nationally and perform in Peterborough, also attended PCVS. A big, Silver Hearts-like group called Candle Cave Ensemble lit up downtown Peterborough regularly for several years, thanks to a large cast of PCVS students. Guitarist Sam Gleason and keyboardist Aaron Hoffman were performing professionally while still at PCVS, and are now on their way up through the ranks in Toronto. 

This Examiner article from last week reports that a PCVS fundraiser concert is being planned for Showplace on January 21.  There won’t be any shortage of talent onstage, as Ryder, the Silver Hearts, Bowskill and the Avenues are all scheduled to perform. It should be a heck of a show – and a heck of a community party.
Musical success requires a particular, collective approach to creativity. Too often we conceive of creativity purely as a quality of a gifted individual, a special person who is inspired by the muses, or as a lone Romantic artist pursuing his or her unique vision.

The reality of creativity is that it depends on community, especially with respect to the performing arts. Anyone can practice scales and arpeggios in the bedroom until the cows come home, but no one becomes a successful musician without constant, ongoing interaction with collaborators and audiences. Even musicians like Ryder who are accustomed to performing solo can’t develop in a vaccuum, and even when she’s alone onstage she is using all her faculties to communicate with her audiences.

With such a hot core of creativity and community in the center of Peterborough, you’d think that the administrators at KPR would be falling all over themselves to encourage and promote PCVS, if for no other reason than PCVS's generation of talent makes KPR look good without costing them an extra cent or requiring administrators to even do anything. Unfortunately, the sterile environment at Fisher Drive seems to suck any creativity from the people who take up professional residence there.

Except for one area, that is: accounting. Thanks to the "creative" accounting practices among KPR number-crunchers, administrators have found a way to re-classify classroom technology expenses as capital expenditures in order to allow them to spend $7 more million this year on digital technology. That’s in addition to the $14 million of your money they already spent on the same thing in 2009 and 2010.

How computer technology that’s only going to last five years can be classified as capital alongside school buildings is not completely clear. The Ottawa-Carleton school board doesn't do it. The Limestone board doesn't do it. The Durham board doesn't do it. In future posts, we’ll look more closely at KPR’s "creative" accounting practices and technology expenditures in comparison with these other boards.

In the meantime, you might ask any of the nationally-known musicians listed above how much of their success is due to computers in the classroom, as compared with how much is due to living day-to-day in the center of a community which values and fosters collective creativity.

1 comment:

  1. Nice contrast between the incredible talent coming out of PCVS versus the arts humbugs that have put their talent into creative accounting. What I first saw as incompetence - the decision to close PCVS - may be something uglier - corruption.