Lending expertise in Africa

(Edmonton)Drama professor Jan Selman is lending her expertise to the birth of an academic endeavour nearly 14,000 kilometres away.

Selman spent eight months in Kenya working with a team at Aga Khan University to help lead the creation of its first Faculty of Arts & Sciences. With the ultimate goal of an interdisciplinary program that incorporates science, humanities, fine arts and the social sciences, Selman had been tasked with developing specific programming and research activity for the digital arts, expressive arts (performance, design, visual art, music and creative writing) and business for the arts stream.

A foreigner in the region, Selman made it a priority to learn about the cultures and needs of local arts communities. With the help of local artists, Selman and her colleagues were able to determine which topics the faculty should incorporate into its curriculum.

For example, Selman learned there is a pressing need to preserve stories that have been passed down through generations.

“Storytellers�that is so important among various communities. They are getting older and [they need] to be documented,” says Selman, adding that one storyteller is 115 years old.

Aga Khan University, a partner of the U of A, is constructing a brand new campus that will be situated near Arusha, Tanzania. According to Selman, the new space for the faculty played a large role in planning. “With the fine arts, space is a very big deal because we make things, practice things and create things in spaces that are reasonably specialized: theatres, film editing suites, sound stages, visual art studios. So the design is extremely important,” Selman says.

With the first draft of the academic plan completed, Selman expects some courses to begin in 2015 and the faculty to be taking its first students in 2017.