The Province of St. John’s – Part 2

Disclaimer:  This entry by no means is trying to argue that the Visual Arts program would NOT be a success in St. John’s.  In fact there is a very good possibility that St. John’s COULD have been an answer to it’s low enrollment problem.  The main emphasis on the whole piece of writing is on the word “COULD.”

This is not a light topic to tackle, especially at work between calls.  The debate is so daunting that in truth I have severe doubt in my drive to continue beyond this one post, but after seeing CBC publishing the counter-point as news I find it impossible to stay quiet.

The question is, where do I begin?

Why the hell is it in Stephenville in the first place?

Let’s start with the comment I guess that really started it all for me.  It was said a few weeks ago, and was the opening line of the infamous CBC article. “It makes absolutely no sense to me!” 

This basically began as a comment on the Facebook group  The rest of it essentially is an accusation that the only reason the program is in St. John’s is some government agenda to stimulate the rural area.  This has become a sentiment that has been shared and repeated by a number of people in that group.

The very tragic part of this point is that this seems to be the belief even after someone much more knowledgeable of CNA’S origins than myself or anyone else posting in that group, posted the origin.  The VA program wasn’t moved there as some government agenda to get the rural vote… it was started there by Fowlow and Wright.  The Bay St. George Community College IS the origins of the course.

Should it have been moved to St. John’s later? That’s not an easy answer.

It’s SO much cheaper to live in St. John’s than Stephenville

Yes ladies and gentlemen this is a line that I actually heard on more than one occasion from someone hailing to be a journalist.  Based upon nothing more than the short lived experience they had while in the community for a little over a year in total.. (maybe a year and half tops).  I’m very sorry but this one isn’t ambiguous and I would be very surprised if very many come to the table to defend that this is even a discussion.  Stephenville vs St. John’s for cost of living is a no contest.

One person getting a bad deal on a single apartment in one place, or maybe finding a good deal on an apartment in the other place, or both… is NOT evidence enough to make such a blanket statement over the community.  I’m not going to dispute this on simply my own experience. (Although after living in 5 different apartments in St. John’s and a number of places in Stephenville throughout my life I could draw upon a lot more experience then the person quoted. Who I’m pretty sure only lived in one apartment other than CNA Res)

It’s more than that too.  If you want to go anywhere in Stephenville you could get there for free just via a no more than 20-30min walk.  Good luck trying to get around this city while broke if you want to go anywhere that isn’t your immediate neighborhood.

I’m not going to dwell too much on specific rates here. I don’t think it needs to be explained in great detail, travel, housing, entertainment… they all are cheaper the further you get from the Avalon.

The Article

The previous two statements were just pet peeves that I needed to get off my chest.  Now it’s time to dive full into the article that really should not have been so easily put on the CBC website.

“It always boils down to the same question: Why is an applied arts school over 800 kilometres away from the cultural hub of Newfoundland and Labrador?”

The cultural hub of Newfoundland?  I really would like to know when this decided.  I would love to speak with the sources on this one because when I think about the “culture” of Newfoundland I don’t see St. John’s as a hub.  St. John’s has been done, is being done, and will continue to be done.  There are only so many photos and paintings of Signal Hill someone can see before they want to see something more.   In no way to I mean to downplay the aesthetics of the city because St. John’s is beautiful.

The problem? There are so many other people that think the resources make this place the ideal location, hence everyone has already used it.    This ties into the next quote

There must be some very legitimate reasons for keeping the arts school in Stephenville, but I’ve yet to find a reason that satisfied me.  It seems like a no-brainer: put the arts school wherever the biggest arts scene is. This, of course, would be St. John’s, with its art galleries, museums, film festivals, music venues and media outlets.”

As much as I did enjoy the no-brainer comment because realistically after seeing the points that have been made in the communities defense it would seem that they just fall on deaf ears.  I can tell you a number of reasons why it’s good to have a school someone else OTHER than the heart of the biggest location of galleries.  Right now I’m just going to original thought for one.

Allow me to elaborate.  The part that I personally enjoyed about CNA is the encouragement for originality.  It is an aspect of the arts that can’t very well be taught, simply experienced…. *

gasp* but wait, you did Journalism, why are you talking about originality? You learn to report news not be creative….

What a good point.  I’m glad you ask.  The real strength to the location of these arts programs is that you were not in the middle of St. John’s.  You were put through a course that trained to encourage you to find the answer in the not-so-obvious place. \

This is especially true for the visual arts and film and video programs because of two reasons.

#1: You are NOT in the main center of the island, and you have access to scenes and settings that otherwise you would never see.  If this education was in St. John’s we know a bulk of it’s graduates would never see the other side of the island, never experience anything but the little bubble of the Avalon that they feel comfortable in.  The port aux port peninsula is a scenic marvel with a lot of different settings compacted into one region.

#2:  The restrictive nature of the scenes also forces the artist and the filmmaker to diversify in other ways.  If you’ve only got a limited number of places to shoot or to capture on film then you must in turn begin using your own creativity to try and capture these scenes in ways unlike others before.  It incubates creativity, but limited some options.

The tougher sell is the journalism program and the music based programs.  They are strengthened in Stephenville by a number of ways as well.

MIP (Music Industry and Performance) has the limitation that there are really only two MAYBE three venues to play other than the shows put on at the college by the school itself.  This sounds tedious and draining on the surface… however if you dig deeper what does it really mean?

If you’re playing the same venue throughout the two years of your course (sometimes three), you know exactly what to expect when it comes to set up, travel, owners expectations… you don’t deal with some of the unknowns you encountered when playing for different establishments… what you DO get is a consistent outlet to play, for a dedicated fan base that you know will get into it.

Sure it’s not much difference from just playing a show for your friends but it allows the Music Industry and Performance students to get experience PERFORMING, and tailoring their image and presence, without every really having to put a second thought to what the turn out is going to be.  They can try different things and see what works and what doesn’t

They have two years to refine their craft before let loose upon the “major hub” of St. John’s or whatever major center they head to afterwards.  (P.S: Congrats to The Combine on Battle of the Bands a while back.)

Journalism in a small town is pointless, stupid, I don’t understand how you can have a program like that in a town where nothing happens!!

Oh Frank Carroll and Don Murphy (CNA Journalism Instructors) how if you could only see me now in what I’m about to say.

You see being a student of the program I am no stranger to the proclamation of “Frank, there’s nothing going on in town how can we write stories”  to be met with Mr. Carroll’s mischievous smile… or “Video clip?  Don there’s nothing going on in town where are we going to get a video clip?”  to be met with Don adjusting his shades and also giving his a little grin.  I’m pretty sure both of them realized that eventually some of us were going to catch on to what was going on, and learn the truth as to why the program only offered in Stephenville and not in St. John’s near the telegram and NTV.

The lesson that Frank and Don were trying to get us to understand, yet seems like most of us never do, is that the point of the program is that a real talented journalist knows how to find news.  CNA and specifically our instructors Frank and Don specifically were trying to develop versatile and innovative journalists.

The idea behind the program is not to have another cookie cutter journalist that can go to the city and write an article on something his editor tells him too.  The idea is to become a part of the community, find the stories that no one is telling, get a feel for the stories that your demographic wants to read.

It’s not a difficult job to just go to music shows and say great things about the bands that play and get read by other people to go to those shows.  But to be introduced to an element that you’re NOT already comfortable with and find a way to not only tell a compelling yet informative story but to be able to find a way to connect with the population and get their interest.

Having finished the program and had time to be in St. John’s to ponder these things, and it may have come a little bit too late for it to inspire me while in the program upon reflection now I am thankful for the education I received and when the rest of my life gets sorted out I look forward to trying to utilize the skills learned to garner a career.

Anyway, the sad truth is this is a lesson that only some will learn.  The others?…. well they just “leave the program two months into their second year”.

****

Okay this is getting a little longer than anticipated, and ladies and gentlemen we are only about two paragraphs in.
Stay tuned for part 3..

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One thought on “The Province of St. John’s – Part 2

  1. I just need to make this comment…
    Anybody who thinks the west coast doesn’t have a strong art scene is out of their damn mind. Yes there are more galleries in St.Johns, but how many practicing artists are there? REAL LIFE WORKING ARTISTS. The west coast is over run by artists and culture. If you’re not willing to relocate for a visual arts program, then maybe you should be doing something else.
    Weh.

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