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Alan Shepard Summer Residency Program students gain real-world experience with Montreal cultural institutions

The future arts innovators at Concordia develop new audience-engagement models and revenue streams in the non-profit arts sector
August 2, 2022
Group shot of 12 people smiling, some standing and some kneeling
This year’s 11-week paid internship from the Alan Shepard Summer Residency Program allowed students to match up with Montreal’s major cultural organizations.

For the first time since its start seven years ago, Concordia’s District 3 (D3) is focusing its innovation program on the arts and culture sector, which was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last three months, 11 students from the Faculty of Fine Arts and John Molson School of Business have worked in full-time, paid positions at the Alan Shepard Summer Residency Program.

This year’s program revolved around specific mandates from several of Montreal’s major cultural institutions. District 3 partnered with Place des Arts, the Festival international des films sur l’art (FIFA), POP Montreal, the National Film Board of Canada and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) to develop new models for audience engagement, forms of artistic experience and revenue streams in the non-profit arts sector.

Hosting a cross-disciplinary arts-focused residency at District 3 has been a long-time goal for Xavier-Henri Hervé (BEng 87, DSc 11), its co-founder and executive director, and Joanna Berzowska, associate professor of design and computation arts. This year, Berzowska suggested that the Alan Shepard Residency look beyond a traditional startup model and refocus on the arts, culture and non-profit sector.

“I had been involved with the D3 residencies several times in the past 10 years, and I really think that their residencies, which bring together students from across the university, offer amazing opportunities,” she says.

Eighty per cent of this year’s cohort are from the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“As creative professionals, fine arts students are really unique problem solvers who can have a significant social and cultural impact on the world. They bring a fresh perspective and multidisciplinary lateral thinking skills,” she notes.

“This residency is helping our students thrive as future innovators in the arts.”

Real-world experience as part of a multidisciplinary team

Working in small groups, residents were presented with specific post-COVID-19 challenges faced by the arts institutions and were tasked to come up with new ideas and practical solutions to these problems.

“The residency gave students real-world experience working as part of a multidisciplinary team on different mandates coming from Montreal cultural institutions in the visual and performing arts,” says Zaccary Dyck, a project coordinator at District 3.

Over the 11 weeks, residents developed competencies in innovation and design thinking, social media, current trends in online content delivery, marketing and conversion strategies, and entrepreneurial thinking, explains Dyck.

They also immersed themselves deeply into the world of the not-for-profit cultural sector. District 3 organized mandates along three themes: value propositions, space use and online user experience (UX).

Student teams spent three weeks on a project before rotating onto a new task. They tackled a wide range of topics:

  • developing an audience base and customizable UX for a new film online streaming platform
  • addressing post-COVID changes to programming and membership
  • reimagining and branding public spaces
  • creating flexible exhibition and performance spaces
  • creating vitrines to feature artwork
  • offering entirely new digital ways to experience contemporary art online

‘I was able to be put in these much larger circles’

Film animation alumna and current art education student Katarina Martins (BFA 20) describes the residency as a personal journey for her. While she says film animators tend to mostly work alone, being with this cohort bought out her inner extrovert.

“I realized that there are different types of leaders, some quieter than others,” she says. “But I also am not just the glue — I can also lead a group just as an extrovert can.”

Liz Hosson, who’s majoring in art history with a minor in First Nations studies, also enjoyed the team’s chemistry.

“What I liked most about the residency is working with people who come from entirely different backgrounds, and bringing them into play kind of creates this environment where you get to think outside the box,” they say.

The residency has led both students to consider their future.

“It gave me a baseline to see what the cultural environment in Montreal looks like, and where I could potentially bring in my little spice,” says Hosson.

Martins is currently working at a small independent animation studio, so she was grateful to have seen what it’s like at a much bigger organization.

“I was paired up really perfectly with my organization,” she says. “Thanks to D3 I was able to be put in these much larger circles.”

Strong cultural networks are vital to a thriving city

At the end of the summer residency, participants gathered with university faculty, staff and representatives from the various cultural institutions to show off their work at a vernissage at Concordia’s 4TH SPACE on July 28.

Concordia President Graham Carr credited the university’s past president, Alan Shepard, for the residency program’s existence.

“Alan had a deep interest in the providing students with opportunities to create startups, to receive good mentorship, to give them a value-added beyond what they were learning in the classroom,” Carr said.

“District 3 came about because of Alan’s vision; this residency exists because of his generosity, his personal donation to Concordia. I know that he is very proud of all that you have accomplished here.”

Anne Whitelaw, Concordia provost and vice-president, academic, reflected on the importance of a thriving cultural industry in the city, which she pointed out is often the first thing people around the world associate with Montreal.

“I’m very proud of this residency and of our students, who have lent their talent to help address pressing challenges in the cultural sector,” she said. “All the organizations here today are anchor institutions in Montreal who are committed to building strong community networks.”

Marine Godfroy, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s director of marketing, communications and visitor experience, adds that the students provided valuable insights that will definitely be integrated into discussions about the future of the MAC.

“It’s a pleasure to get involved in events like these, as these exchanges bring great insight from a market-research standpoint,” she says. “Hopefully, it will inspire participants in the program to not only discover their local cultural institutions but also see potential cross-disciplinary career paths.”

Likewise, Marie-Josée Desrochers, president and CEO of La Société de la Places des Arts de Montréal, praised the collaboration with the residency program.

“We were very impressed with the students’ creativity as well as their understanding of the mandate,” she says. “The ideas they proposed to develop the various public indoor spaces of Place des Arts proved inspiring for us, and we hope that our participation contributed to enriching their experience.”

Berzowska adds that District 3 and the Faculty of Fine Arts are in discussions to scale up this kind of culture-focused entrepreneurial and innovation programming, to continue this type of entrepreneurial, innovative programming to support student-led fine arts initiatives to shape the future of cultural industries.

WATCH: District 3 and 4TH SPACE present the final outcomes of The Alan Shepard Summer Residency Program 2022.

Find out more about the Alan Shepard Summer Residency Program at Concordia’s District 3.

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