Meet our Organizers: Rosemary in Sackville

Culture Days – February 27, 2020

Looking back on the 2019 celebrations, we want to highlight some exceptional organizers who help make the Culture Days weekend what it is across Canada. Dr. Rosemary Polegato is a professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB and every year works with students to organize Culture Days events throughout town as part of a course curriculum. This is one of the oldest Culture Days programs and a very successful one year after year. Rosemary answered some of our questions about it:

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Can you tell us about the program and how it came to be?

Since 2010, our Culture Days program has been situated with a third year Commerce course called Arts and Culture Marketing. The people in this course are a diverse collection of students from Drama, Fine Arts, and Music, as well as Commerce. The course design is rooted in a pedagogy called community-based experiential learning. Instead of asking the citizens of Sackville to come to campus, the class takes their project to downtown Sackville. Ten mini-events, that take place on the Friday of Culture Days, are programmed at ten locations downtown, including restaurants, banks, the grocery store, a drugstore, an art gallery, a thrift store, a bookstore, and the post office. All ten businesses have provided support since 2010. Student artists and performers from the performing and visual arts have always been on the program, as well as students representing cultural groups on campus. In recent years, there have been collaborations with the community; for example, we’ve had music students from the local elementary school on the program for three years. There is a 30% assignment attached to the project which includes a reflection on whether and how the project fulfilled the objectives of Culture Days.

What are the challenges of organizing events as part of a university curriculum?

The biggest challenge expected has not actually really developed, and that is whether a diverse group of students coming from all corners of the university—who do not know each other well or at all—can organize a Culture Days event in 3.5 to 4 weeks? So far, this challenge has not materialized for any class since 2010. Other than that, there are the usual cancelations due to unforeseen circumstances, which we treat as a realistic aspect of working in the arts.

As an educator, how do you view your role in engaging the community with arts and culture?

I view it as a part of how I teach. It is a way to connect “town and Gown” and a way for students to appreciate what our small town has to offer. The Culture Days project allows students see how welcome they are by small businesses and the citizens of Sackville. We have had the Mayor do the rounds, which is always a nice touch, as well as media attention. Community engagement is an integrative approach to teaching and learning, showing the true complexity of arts and culture events, including human and logistical factors.

What place does Mount Allison University have within the arts and culture community in New Brunswick?

Sackville is a vibrant microcosm of activity in the arts and culture sector in New Brunswick (and Canada). We also have an environmental bent which is an interesting intersection in perspectives. Mount Allison University has had long-standing success with its programs in Music, Fine Arts, and Drama. We have the oldest University art gallery in the country. The MASSIE Program (pre-university learning) brings the influence of Japanese culture, while the 12% of the University body who are international students bring their influences. A wide variety of activities invite the community to campus and vice versa.

What role do students play in organizing the events that happen over the Culture Days weekend in Sackville?

Students do all of the organization, promotion of the mini-events, and set-up and caretaking for the 10 mini-events, with three exceptions: Because they need to be taken care of before classes start in September, I ensure that all ten of the downtown businesses are onboard for another year and ask what their preferences are for the art and culture to be presented at their respective locations, I contact the department chairs of the performing and visual arts departments to obtain permission to recruit their students (volunteers) for the program, and I fundraise for the budget. Students are organized into four interdependent “Work Pods”: Media Pod, Marketing Communications Pod, Production Management Pod (including a budget), and Operations Pod.

How long have you been involved with Culture Days?

Since 2010.

Do you have anything planned for the future of this program?

In recent years, I have asked students whether the Culture Days Project has “had its day” as a class project. The answer thus far has been, a resounding, “Keep it.” So as long as students remain enthused about the project and are willing to make it a success, I will keep it. It is a complex community-based experiential project which would be very difficult to replace as a learning capsule!

Does anything make Sackville a unique place to organize arts and culture events?

Part of this answer lies in my response to your previous question about Mount Allison Univesity. On the other hand, any place, large or small, that can identify a microcosm as a context, could do the same kind of project or something very similar. It’s about knowing the community that you want to engage.