ASC! brings together a stellar team to create diverse resources designed to benefit artists, researchers, individuals and community organizations that use arts-based practices in their work.

JudithMarcuseJudith Marcuse, LL.D (Hon), Project Director

Best known originally as a dancer and choreographer, over some 40 years, Judith Marcuse increasingly added directing, producing, teaching, writing and consulting to her creative activities. In 1980, she established a repertory touring dance company and, since then, has led many other local, national and international initiatives ranging from symposia and festivals to multiyear, multi-partner art for social change (ASC) projects in Canada and abroad. She is Founder and Co-Director of the International Centre of Art for Social Change (ICASC), a partnership between SFU and Judith Marcuse Projects, as well as Adjunct Professor and Artist in Residence at SFU. As Project Director (formally called Principal Investigator), Judith oversees all aspects of the project and leads the arts-based facilitation and partnerships field studies.


Dr.Katherine BoydellDr. Katherine Boydell, (U of T), Co-Investigator, Co-Coordinator of Knowledge Mobilization

Dr. Boydell is a Professor of Mental Health at The Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales. Her research explores the use of a wide variety of art genres in the creation and dissemination of mental health research – including documentary film, dance, digital storytelling, found poetry, installation art and body mapping. Her work takes a critical perspective and focuses on the theoretical, methodological and ethical challenges of engaging in arts-based health research. She has published over 150 peer reviewed articles and book chapters and presents her research internationally.

Lisa DoolittleDr. Lisa Doolittle, (University of Lethbridge), Co-Investigator, Teaching & Learning Coordinator

A dance artist, educator and scholar for over thirty years in Canada and internationally, Doolittle has developed innovative approaches for arts-based community-university collaborations around health promotion, issues in refugee, immigrant and indigenous communities, and inclusion of people with disabilities. Her scholarly publications, original productions, and documentary films use the critical lens of Dance and Performance Studies to explore embodied performance as a catalyst for change. She leads the project’s Teaching & Learning research, focusing on ways that pedagogy contributes to the effectiveness of the arts in community development and change agendas, in academic, professional and grassroots contexts. Her team is analyzing data to contribute to a critical theory of pedagogy in the field, and is piloting a mobile ASC learning hub. Professor in the Department of Theatre & Dramatic Arts at the University of Lethbridge since 1989, Lisa Doolittle is Board of Governor’s Teaching Chair for 2015-2017.

Lynn FelsDr. Lynn Fels, (SFU), Co-Investigator, Co-Coordinator of Knowledge Mobilization.

Drawing on her expertise in arts-based research, online publishing, and arts-infused curriculum, an Associate Professor in Arts Education, SFU, and Co-Director of ICASC, Lynn’s work focuses on learning through the arts, performative inquiry, and teacher education. She has co-written Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama and Learning, and co-edited Arresting Hope, written by women who have experienced incarceration. Lynn and Dr. Katherine Boydell are responsible for encouraging and tracking documentation and dissemination of research processes and knowledge integration between partners, co-investigators, field study leaders and collaborators throughout the life of the project. Lynn and Katherine advise  the research team when requested on the production and dissemination of project outputs and deliverables.

Anne headshot paisley fall 2013.jpgAnne Flynn, (Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology; Research Associate, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary), Co-Investigator, Leader, Urban Dance Connect Field Study

Anne Flynn has been involved in the Calgary dance community as an artist, teacher, scholar, administrator and dance education advocate for over thirty years. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has funded her research, and she has published and presented her work in a wide range of venues nationally and internationally. She has served on the board of directors of numerous national and international dance organizations and is currently President of the U.S. based Congress on Research in Dance. Professor Flynn is responsible for implementation and coordination of the Dancing Parkinson’s YYC field study, including research data collection and analysis, and liaison with community partners in Calgary.

Rachael Van FossenRachael Van Fossen, Co-Investigator, Leader, Research Creation Field Study

A theatre and performance director, writer, teacher, arts consultant and researcher in the Theatre Department at Concordia, Founding Artistic Director of Common Weal Community Arts and former Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop, Rachael is an early innovator in community art practices in Canada. She contributed to curriculum design for the Theatre and Development specialization at Concordia; produced, wrote and directed some 36 community art projects. She leads the ASC Research Creation field study, including data collection and analysis, and liaises with partners in Montreal.

Dr. Annalee YassiDr. Annalee Yassi, (UBC), Co-Investigator, Co-ordinator, Partnership Capacity-Building

Dr. Yassi brings world-class expertise in developing and assessing partnerships. A Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Capacity-Building, Dr. Yassi has led multi-million dollar community development projects in Canada and worldwide, addressing a wide range of challenges, from environmental degradation to social upheavals. Her team has designed, implemented and evaluated arts-infused certificate programs employing puppet shows, drawings and painting, social drama and role play involving partners from numerous disciplines and organizations. She focuses on how partnerships in this project and other contexts can enhance the impacts and effectiveness of ASC. Her work integrates theoretical and methodological findings to inform the research.


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Reflections on Bridging the Gaps: A Chataqua Dialogue on Art for Social Change Practices (Thursday, June 23, 2016)

On Thursday evening of June 23, 2016, I attended “Bridging the Gaps,” a Chataqua dialogue hosted by the Art for Social Change (ASC!) research project and facilitated by Judith Marcuse. The Chataqua participants were Art for Social Change (ASC) practitioners who represented a diverse range of experience and community-engaged arts work. These practitioners had worked closely with their communities throughout Metro Vancouver and BC. As someone who has only recently learnt about ASC, the event was, without any doubt, a great learning experience.

In this reflection, I want to highlight ideas about the importance of language, including in dialogue and in issues of accessibility. In the course I took in Spring 2016 with Professor Shayna Plaut, “Ethics and Qualitative Methods in Human Rights Work”, we discussed how important language can be to frame and understand an issue, as well as in defining one’s personal and professional identity.

Upon reflection, I realise that I would not have understood much of the conversation without having taken this Ethics course at SFU. Even though the class did not specifically teach me the ‘languages’ of ASC, there are overlaps between the fields of human rights work and ASC. These language overlaps stems from how both fields question the relationships between the different spheres of research, activism, community and the arts. More specifically, the ethics class I took taught me about the languages and frameworks in research and activism used by funders, stakeholders and institutions. This includes the challenges of gaining access to a community, working with them, and the ensuing responsibility to ethical and reciprocal practice. These overlapping themes echoed back and forth in the Chataqua dialogue. As an outsider stepping in to ASC, I can see that there are many access points into these languages – and that it is crucial that we work to make these accessible to others. The conversation was all in English, but I would not have really understood the references, the nuances and the particular definitions had I not been fortunate enough to be equipped with the basics of this language. I am also aware that I probably did not understand all of the nuances in the discussion. I very much look forward to learning more.

ASC practitioners, although in many ways speaking the same language, do not always agree on the meanings of certain words. They are in constant negotiation with each other, even as they appear to be discussing the same thing in the same room. The awareness of this underlying tension really helped me understand this dialogue as part of a dynamic process of shaping the languages of ASC.

For example, during this Chataqua dialogue, participants discussed the idea of “doing good”. Judith asked the group, “Are we here to “do good”?” Discussion opened up. Is this a primary motivation for making art for social change? Where do aesthetics fall into this? And what are the ethics and responsibilities behind the notion of trying to “do good” in a community? Interestingly, the participants agreed to disagree: “No, we are not here to “do good”” As a person just coming into this field (many of us seeking to “do good”), this question is perplexing. Could it be that “doing good” has a specific meaning I am not aware of? Perhaps it connotes a white savior complex or some kind of colonial perspective? – a common criticism of “doing good” initiatives. Admittedly, I do not know the answers, and the answer will probably vary from person to person, practitioner to practitioner. And as a newcomer, discussing the question of “Why are we here?” – is probably a good starting point.

Participants passionately raised and discussed their concern that art for social change has been struggling to find its own language. There was a lot of focus on the growing trendiness of “socially-engaged” art in all its forms. As soon as the language of socially-engaged art starts to catch on, shallow interpretations of the words like “engaged”, “social practice” and “community” are likely to become token buzzwords featured in guidelines created by funders.

We asked many questions, some of which were: “How can this language not be co-opted by medium-to-large institutions trying to do ‘quickie’ projects?” Where do we stand? What do we advocate for? Do we, in this room, share a language that we agree on? Answers weren’t developed in this dialogue, but it was clear that this concern is something artists and practitioners in this field are grappling with.

Judith raised a point about collaboration that I thought was very important. She said that for a long time there has been a disconnect between artists and researchers. There is a growing need for academics and artists to work together more. This is especially pertinent because research can do a great job to theorize, analyst and enrich the work that artists and activists do.

In a time where many funding cuts hit hard, addressing this issue, Judith proposed two scenarios: “crabs in a barrel” or collaboration. Not surprisingly, we are starting to see more an more “crabs in a barrel” situation as artists and organizations struggle from day to day just to survive financially. What we need is more collaboration between organizations – especially with those in other sectors who value the qualitative and quantitative impacts of ASC work that is also useful for them.

Another impression I got from the Chataqua discussion is that funders and juries want to see results that are quantifiable, numbers to measure how much art has impacted or benefited lives of human beings. They want quick, tangible results.

The group also agree that funders often ask them, “Why does it take so long to gain access and trust with some communities?” Do funders have the same level of expertise, experience and understanding of ASC? Why do funder not understand that community-engaged work takes time? Collaboration is not only important between academics and artists, or artists and other sectors – funders need to be part of the conversation. This may be naïve of me to think, seeing that the participants expressed that they have been met with tremendous resistance on many fronts. But what are the options?

In retrospect and conclusion, this dialogue has made me realize that most people haven’t learned or had an experience that will help them understand this field’s language or framework (for example, by reading relevant pieces, joining various ASC programs, participating in dialogues such as this one). How can future policy makers or the public make and advocate for better decisions when it is not easy to understand what ASC is? Reflecting on the importance of language and the challenges of finding a shared one, it is also not easy to explain the nuances of ASC. As challenging as it may be, current artist-practitioners and researchers must reach out and invite more people to join the conversation, as well as mentor younger people to continue the work in this important field.

Some final questions:

How do we invite more people to join this conversation, make it accessible and inclusive rather than “exclusive”? How do we make this conversation more accessible to the general public? How do we encourage people to start talking about art for social change and help make it a more widely accessible form of art and activism?

Special thanks to SFU Professor, Shayna Plaut, for giving me the foundations and the language to explore this realm which I find so fascinating. A lot of gratitude and respect to Judith marcuse, for including me in this Chataqua dialogue and taking time to guide me in the process. I have learnt a lot from everyone gathered there. Thank you to the most wonderful Kim Gilker and Nicole Armos for all your guidance and company – I cannot ask for better! Last, but not least, thank you to all the participants for coming and sharing your knowledge. I am very humbled to have attended this eye-opening dialogue.

Prodpran is a student at Simon Fraser University, entering her last year of undergraduate studies in International Studies with a concentration in International Development, Economics and Environmental Issues. Her areas of interest are human rights, food, arts and research. She has recently joined the ASC! Project’s communications team for the summer.