A highly-popular presentation from a celebrity Canadian astronaut. A well-attended public festival at Kelowna’s downtown park. A project using art to generate knowledge and interest in endangered native bees. An award-winning author’s talk dispelling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s. A school district science fair with 300 student participants. These are just a sampling of the tremendous number and variety of community engagements in which UBC Okanagan participates.

A common idea about universities is that they are isolated institutions where academics secretly carry on obscure research and have no connections to the surrounding world. Our regional university, UBC Okanagan, is the complete opposite of this ivory tower myth – involvement with the community is one of their main mandates.

“We know our partnerships and activity in the community have very real impact – in our neighbourhoods, our social and cultural lives, and the Okanagan’s economy,” says Bud Mortenson, Director of University Relations. “From UBC-O’s opening day, we have engaged the community in the life of the university.”

Internationaly-acclaimed opera singer Judith Forst was the star performer at an opening night at the university back in September 2005. More than 600 people attended the event which also featured UBC’s student opera ensemble from the Vancouver campus. It was a grand celebration of UBC’s new Okanagan campus, and just the start of UBC’s ongoing contribution to the vibrant cultural life of the region.

The Distinguished Speaker Series (speakers.ok.ubc.ca) has been a tremendous success since it was established in 2006–more than 20,000 people have attended these public talks over the years. More than three dozen speakers of renown have presented including the enigmatic retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield October, 2013. His evening presentation in downtown Kelowna was so popular the university telecast the talk to two other theatres on its campus.

Up to 10,000 people attend class, work or visit the UBC Okanagan campus daily.

In 2014, 138 public events were held on campus, and another 75 were held off-campus in Kelowna and in the Okanagan region.

While the UBC Okanagan campus is located in Kelowna, it lives up to its name and serves the whole region. “The academic plan which shaped [us] was created through consultations with communities throughout the southern Interior,” says Mortenson.

Now, as UBC Okanagan enters its second decade, it fosters partnerships with communities in the south and north Okanagan, in the Similkameen and the Kootenays, and is interested in growing an even greater number of beneficial relationships across the region.ubco-feature-okanagan-life-magazine-1

Activities include presentations, art exhibits, stage performances, film screenings, visiting scholars, authors, artist lectures, concerts, dialogues on critical issues such as children’s health, seniors’ health, alternative urban futures, violence against Indigenous women, ecology, conservation, management of biodiversity and water resources.

“A great university doesn’t just contribute to the wider community, it must be a vital part of it.”

— Bud Mortenson
Director of University Relations

“As a world-class research institution and public university, UBC Okanagan has a responsibility to address the aspirations and challenges facing society, and to learn from the experience and knowledge of communities,” says Mortenson. “When we think of a university engaged in the community, there are obvious public activities – compelling speakers, for example – but UBC Okanagan is engaged with communities in many ways. We know the university can only serve a greater good if it is thoroughly integrated in the regional community, educating citizens and answering the research needs of the Okanagan Valley.”

Mortenson says the university knows how powerful community participation is for the university. “A great university doesn’t just contribute to the wider community, it must be a vital part of it. We could not meet our academic goals?—?which include providing enriching, real-world learning experiences for students?—?without the collaboration we enjoy with so many organizations and individuals in the Okanagan.

For up-to-date information about upcoming public events: www.events.ok.ubc.ca

Over 80 public events a year are hosted by the Department of Creative Studies, with programs in visual arts, creative writing and performance. It is part of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS), along with the Department of Critical Studies (programs in English, art history, cultural studies, French, and Spanish, as well as other languages).

“Art needs audiences so we program into our classes several public engagement projects such as visual art exhibitions and theatre performances.” says Nancy Holmes, Associate Professor, Creative Writing, Poetry. “You can’t have art without that relationship with the reader, viewer, or experiencer.  Our work is meant for that.”

From Holmes’s perspective, it is particularly important that artistic and cultural resources continue to develop in the Okanagan. Research shows that people want to live in culturally-rich communities. “Therefore, many of us want to help generate regionally unique art-making structures and elements. We want to help our students and people in the community see themselves in an artistic ‘centre’ even though physically they are in what may seem to be a peripheral region like the Okanagan. This kind of engagement may over the long term this help keep creative people in the region, which will help to continue to develop rich cultural resources.”

Some major annual Creative Studies events include:

  • presentations by visiting authors and artists
  • Art on the Line, a major fundraisers for visual arts students
  • year end BFA show, “one of the most exciting and well-attended art events in the the valley”
  • year end performances of graduating theatre students
  • Theatre 26, the annual roster of professional theatre groups that come to Kelowna under Creative Studies sponsorship
  • the biennial Okanagan Print exhibition


Holmes says Creative Studies students also do numerous other public events such as poetry readings, book launches, gallery exhibitions and performances. Creative Studies along with Critical Studies also has a partnership with the Regional District of the Central Okanagan to hold readings, community master classes, and workshops at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in the lower Mission area of Kelowna, especially in the summer months.

The Department also has several research projects that engage with the community.  Denise Kenney and Nancy Holmes have over the past four years created, curated, facilitated or supported over 20 community art events through the Eco Art Incubator, a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council)-funded research project to support the development of eco art or place-based art in the Okanagan. One of these projects supported is the unique Dig Your Neighbourhood project where creative writing and visual art students create a package of art for Kelowna neighbourhoods which is then distributed to the Welcome Wagon (and some items are for sale at the Okanagan Heritage museum.)

Visit: www.blogs.ubc.ca/theecoartincubator/.  Nancy Holmes is also starting a new project called The Public Art Pollinator Pastures, a three year project also funded by SSHRC, which will focus on endangered native bees, using art as a generator of knowledge and interest.

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