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New art installation shines light on migrant workers

Exhibition at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts gives voice to South Asian men working and living abroad.

A plate of biryani.
Biryani, the traditional South Asian dish that inspired the exhibition.

A close up shot of a heaping plate of biryani was the inspiration for what became an multi-media exhibition premiering this Monday (April 25) at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. The project, named This is Evidence, was developed by documentary filmmaker and academic Professor Reena Kukreja (Global Development Studies) and depicts the experiences of South Asian migrant men living in Greece.

The picture that started it all came to Dr. Kukreja’s WhatsApp account from Anayat (pseudonym), an undocumented male migrant from Pakistan. Her curiosity aroused, she texted back, “yeh kya ha?” or “what is it all about?” He called right back and said, “Biryani. I made it. It’s my ammijan or mother’s recipe.” He appeared proud that he had made the biryani the exact way his mother had taught him and that it tasted just as if his ammijan had cooked it.

“The project really started in 2015 when I was visiting Greece with my family,” she explains. “I noticed a large number of South Asian men in the informal tourist economy and, when they approached my daughter and asked if they could buy her a gift, I realized they were lonely, they missed their families. I started to think about love, about family, and the project started to evolve from there. I saw them as people who deserved to be respected and for the world to learn more about their story from their perspective.”

The resulting multi-media exhibition, which took about three years to complete, puts together South Asian migrant men’s voices and testimonies, visual and oral, that they consider important to share with the larger world. All images and videos were taken either by the research collaborator, Dr. Kukreja, at the behest of the men who pointed out what needed to be documented, or by the men themselves with their cell phones which they then shared on closed WhatsApp groups for the project.

There are an estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan living in Greece—most of whom are young, poor men. Despite leaving their homes in search of a better life, their work as agricultural labourers or participants in the urban informal economy is characterized by low wages, and poor living and working conditions.

Compounding the exploitation that many migrant workers experience is the social and political exclusion. Prevailing discourses of Islamophobia and xenophobia have enabled an “us” versus “them” narrative in the Greek political landscape.

Reena Kukreja and an agricultural worker.
Reena Kukreja went to Greece to research the experiences of undocumented South Asian male migrant workers.

“I was able to get them to trust me,” says Dr. Kukreja when asked how she was able to develop the project. “My co-ethnic insider positionality as a diasporic South Asian woman with family roots in Pakistan and India and fluency in the men’s languages, Urdu, Punjabi, and Bangla, has proven valuable in building rapport and trust. It has also allowed me to bridge differences in migrant status, class, and gender identity, and to act as their cultural interpreter.”

This exhibition champions the concerns of migrant men to a wider audience and equips activists to advocate for policy changes to labour migration and family reunification laws. This is critical as the numbers of migrants increases globally while populist backlash against racialized poor migrants gains strength.

The exhibit first premiered in Athens on 11 April where some of the participating men came for the opening and spoke about their experience as undocumented migrant workers. It now moves to Canada, where it will be hosted by the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts from April 25 to May 3. Dr. Kukreja presents an opening talk on April 27 at 5 pm.

Dr. Kukreja’s work was funded by a Connection grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. At Queen’s University, various departments have collaborated for the realization of the exhibition. These include the Global Development Studies, Dan School of Music and Drama, Film and Media, and the Cultural Studies Program.

To learn more about This is Evidence, visit the website.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement in 2021.

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.


Queen’s secures second consecutive top 10 position globally in Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

Queen’s places 7th in international rankings out of over 1,500 institutions in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

[7th in the world - 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings]

Capturing 7th position globally, Queen’s is ranked in the top 10 of the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings for the second year in a row. The rankings measure the actions universities are taking to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both within and beyond their local communities. This 2022 international competition saw participation from over 1,500 post-secondary institutions (up from 1,240 in 2021).

Created in 2019, the THE Impact Rankings are the only international assessment to evaluate how universities’ programs and initiatives align with the SDGs. This set of 17 wide-ranging goals is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a universal call to protect the planet and its people.

"I am incredibly proud of the Queen’s community for this repeat stellar performance," says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University. "The ranking recognizes the sustained impact we are having in our local and global communities, but also serves to inspire future action fueled by our collective intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaboration – key to our mission and values."

Using calibrated metrics and indicators across four key areas – research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship – the rankings assess hundreds of data points and qualitative evidence that tangibly measure the impact of higher education institutions in addressing urgent global challenges. Since its inaugural year in 2019, participation in the THE Rankings has increased from 450 institutions to 1,500 participating institutions across 110 countries in 2022. This includes 400 first-time ranked institutions and 24 Canadian universities.

"The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are unique in examining universities’ impact on society, through each of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals," says Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education. "Canada is one of the outstanding performers in this ranking, with ten universities in the world top 50 – and it is great to see Queen’s among Canada’s leading institutions, making the world top 10 and excelling in its contribution to SDG 1, and SDG 11, and SDG 16, in particular. It is important to be able to identify and celebrate the work universities do to make the world a better place."

Queen’s performance

Queen’s results once again reflect the cross-university collaboration and partnership of dozens of units across faculties, portfolios, and departments. Highlights from the 2022 rankings include:

  • Queen’s was ranked across all 17 SDGs
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 1: 'No Poverty.' Queen’s strong performance acknowledged the Commitment Scholars program, which provides financial support for students who are members of underserved or underrepresented groups and who have demonstrated leadership in, and commitment to, racial justice, social justice, or diversity initiatives, and Swipe it Forward, a peer-to-peer program that facilitates the donation of meals to students facing food insecurity
  • 3rd worldwide for SDG 11: 'Sustainable Cities and Communities.' Queen’s supports public access to green spaces, including self-guided tours of the university’s Snodgrass Arboretum, free trail access at Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, and the castle gardens at the Bader International Study Centre in the UK. State-of-the-art cultural facilities – including the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre – showcase world-class performing arts and collections to the community
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 16: 'Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.' In addition to significant collaboration with all levels of government and training the next generation of policy makers though the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s supports academic freedom and is a member of the Scholars at Risk program, which arranges temporary research and teaching positions for scholars whose lives, freedom and well-being are under threat
  • Queen’s ranked in the top 100 of 12/17 SDGs and in the top 30 of 8/17 SDGs

Evidence of impact

[Report Cover - Queen’s contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals Advancing social impact | 2020-2021]
Read the report: Queen's contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Advancing social impact | 2020-2021 [PDF Report 13 KB]

More than 600 pieces of quantitative and qualitative evidence looked at Queen’s research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship and included:

  • Queen’s partnership with the Karta Initiative to provide educational opportunities to low-income youth from rural India
  • The new Queen’s Institute for Global and Population Health, created to boost research, education, service, and collaborative projects that will help advance and decolonize global health systems
  • Black Youth in STEM, an outreach program engaging Black elementary students in science, technology, engineering, and math programming through fun, hands-on activities in a Black-positive space
  • Leanpath Spark, a program to measure food waste and foster education and inspire action in Queen’s dining halls
  • A new Campus Map focused on accessibility to assists campus visitors in navigating Queen’s buildings and accessible routes, entrances, washrooms, and more
  • The Queen’s University Biological Station, one of Canada’s premier scientific field stations dedicated to environmental and conservation research and outreach
  • Supporting and connecting women of all ages through the Ban Righ Centre, dedicated to diversity and community building
  • Queen’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and meeting its goal for a 35 per cent reduction in emissions between 2008 to 2020
  • A website and report created to illustrate Queen’s commitment to the SDGs and showcase programs and initiatives that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges

The Queen's University’s community of exceptional students, researchers, staff, and alumni all contribute to making a positive contribution to social impact and sustainability. For more information on the THE Impact Rankings and how the university is contributing to the SDGs, visit the Advancing Social Impact website.

[Illustration of Queen's campus and collaborations]

Creating meaningful change through the arts

Queen’s researcher, Ben Bolden, UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning, is committed to improving access to arts education worldwide.

Ben Bolden
Ben Bolden, associate professor in the Faculty of Education and UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning.

For Ben Bolden, a musician, composer, researcher and associate professor in the Faculty of Education, arts have always helped to transform the world. Bolden is a passionate advocate for arts education and its possibilities for empowering people to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. Now beginning his second term as the UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning, he leads initiatives that aim to foster arts education – including music, drama, dance, and visual arts – in Canada and internationally.

His efforts align with some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4: Quality Education, which seeks to advance inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Arts education, believes Dr. Bolden, can be a powerful tool to help learners understand themselves and their relationship with the wider world. He recently spoke to the Gazette about his research goals, current projects, and how Queen’s can contribute to improving arts education globally.

Can you tell me about your mandate as the UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning?

A UNESCO chair is an individual or a team at a higher education or research institution who partners with UNESCO to advance knowledge and practice in an area that is a priority for both the institution and UNESCO. For me, that priority area is arts education.  The mandate of the UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning is to promote access to and quality of arts education through research, communication, and collaboration, in alignment with the UNESCO priorities for education, culture, and sustainable development.

The role is a good fit for me because I’ve had the privilege of benefitting from all kinds of arts education, since I was very young. While this education certainly didn’t make me into a great artist, it did make my life infinitely richer. And when I started teaching in schools I wanted desperately to help others tap into all the wonderful things the arts can offer. But as teachers we are constantly learning, and my goal is to figure out how I, and others, can be effective teachers in and through the arts.

You’re starting a collaboration with the UNESCO associated Schools Network (ASPnet) to develop materials that will support arts education within 11,500 schools worldwide. What are the main goals of this program and what are its main challenges?

UNESCO focuses on what is called transformative education, that is, education that can help students transform themselves and the world they live in. Through transformative education, we educate learners so that they can address real challenges – climate change, sustainability, promoting peace. We are developing a model to communicate and illustrate how teachers can support transformative education with arts learning experiences.

A major challenge is to do something meaningful for people across cultures. We plan to describe specific practices – things that teachers and/or students are doing in different contexts around the world – that will help illustrate what this kind of education can look like.

Mural shows a hand holding a small plant
Receiving and creating arts are both ways to build students' understanding of the world and their relationship with topics like climate change and conservation. (Jonne Huotari/ Unsplash)

How can arts education support the achievement of the SDGs beyond addressing access to quality education?

This is very much at the heart of the transformative education model: helping learners better understand what they can do to support the SDGs. Thinking about climate change, for example, arts education might lead to creating a mural that identifies negative effects of climate change, or how people can work locally to minimize its impacts.

Queen’s is committed to advancing the UN SDGs through our research, teaching, outreach and stewardship activities. For more information on the contributions the university is making to social impact and sustainability, visit the website.

That’s an obvious example. But there are also more subtle ones. The real value in arts education is to provide opportunity for learners to better understand themselves and their relationship with the world. The SDGs are all about that relationship, and the importance of nurturing it. Art is a brilliant tool for building understanding. By receiving art – listening to music, experiencing drama and dance, spending time with creative writing and visual artworks – we can gain new perspectives on all sorts of issues, and think about how to negotiate our own interactions with them. Mental health, inequality, peace, justice: What do those things mean to us? To others? How do we position ourselves in relation to them? What can we do? The arts tell the stories that help us find answers.

And arts education is not only about receiving art but also creating it. Let me offer an example. Dance students in Argentina virtually collaborated, during a recent Covid lockdown, to explore and communicate what it meant to them to be confined in bedrooms and apartments, dancing alone. The new relationships that developed with physical surroundings. Dancing in tiny spaces between the wall and the edge of the bed. In making the compilation video the dancers explored what it meant to be confined in this way and how to metaphorically step beyond those confines. By watching the video, I came to understand what that experience was like for those dancers, and I gained new perspective on my own lockdown experiences—the new relationships that I developed with my own physical surroundings, and indeed with myself.

Tell me about the arts education projects Queen’s has been supporting in Nigeria?

We have been working with three NGOs that support education in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa: 1 Million Teachers, Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative, and Girl Rising. Together they have established a fantastic teacher education program, online modules that people who are learning to be teachers can access on their cell phones. These is such a need for teachers, and so few resources to help them. I am now supporting the development of a new module on arts education.

This June, Kingston will be hosting an event and exhibition called Muna Taro to build awareness of the work that these three groups have been doing and to increase connections with the Queen’s, St. Lawrence College, and Kingston communities.

International group of arts education researchers
International network of arts education researchers gathered in Winnipeg in 2019.

You helped set up an international research group focused on arts education, gathering researchers and students from countries like Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, Colombia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Kenya, and others. What were the lessons you learned from this experience?

We are all researching and advocating for improving arts education around the world. But that looks very different from context to context. We did a global survey of expert art educators, trying to better understand how arts education, its benefits and its challenges are conceptualized and understood in different countries.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that there are many nuanced aspects to how we understand the arts and indeed education differently. That’s one of the joys I’ve experienced working with this international group —the opportunity to gain new perspectives over and over again.

Recently, I have also been organizing international seminars for graduate students working across the globe, where we become aware of the many approaches to arts education and to arts education research.

You’ve spoken about the role of the chair in advancing arts education worldwide. Are there similar initiatives in Canada?

My chair predecessor, Queen’s professor emeritus Larry O'Farrell, established the Canadian Network for Arts & Learning (CNAL) and I work regularly with this network on a number of initiatives.

One of these is a national campaign to increase awareness about the health benefits of engaging in the arts. Another project, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, aimed to build digital strategies for arts and learning in Canada. The project connected people within the sector to share and raise awareness about digital tools and resources that can support the work of artists and artist educators.

One such resource, that CNAL created, is an interactive tool to map arts education initiatives across Canada. It’s a central registry for the sector: people who are offering arts education activities can put themselves on the map, and people interested in arts education can look for opportunities. The map has already listed over 9000 organizations and professionals.

Architect selected for Agnes Reimagined

KPMB will oversee the design phase of the long-term, institutionally-engaged project to update the campus art gallery and bring a revolutionary vision of the role of the art museum to life.
Artist Tannis Nielsen in her installation of Creation in Lii Zoot Tayr (Other Worlds), at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 2021. (Emelie Chhangur)

An internationally recognized architectural firm that has won some of the top accolades in its field will be overseeing the design phase of Agnes Reimagined, an initiative that will breathe new life — and a revolutionary new mission — into the campus art museum.

Agnes Etherington Art Centre announced Thursday that Toronto-based KPMB Architects will oversee the design phase of Agnes Reimagined, the initiative to update the campus art gallery and bring a revolutionary vision of the role of the art museum to life. Georgina Riel, Indigenous Affairs Consultant of RIEL Cultural Consulting will work with KPMB to bring deep knowledge of Kingston and Queen’s University and guide Agnes’s commitment to Indigenization. Jennifer Nagai of PFS Studio will oversee landscape integration.

“The museum of the 21st century can no longer simply be a container of history, as if history has no bearing on our changing contemporary world,” says Agnes’s Director and Curator, Emelie Chhangur. “We are poised to emerge as an influential champion of museological change, advancing our capacity to foster and relay intersectional connections across the disciplines and communities that converge when a public, university-affiliated museum is both civically minded and pedagogically driven. Agnes will thrive equally on her deep community roots and global reach, and importantly, innovate within their intersection, mobilizing the transformative power of art to create more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable worlds.” 

KPMB has realized significant museums and galleries, including the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Remai Modern in Saskatoon, and the Ottawa Art Gallery. Their current participation in paradigm-shifting projects such as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is gaining positive attention. KPMB also has experience balancing Indigenous perspectives with heritage buildings, which will be a focus of the Agnes Reimagined project.

“Agnes Reimagined offers a rare opportunity for a paradigm shift in museums in Canada, and the world, through clear-sighted collaboration, a commitment to innovation, all through the journey of decolonization and the recovery of Indigenized worldviews,” says KPMB founding partner Bruce Kuwabara. 

A history of philanthropy

Agnes Etherington Art Centre has been a vital part of the Queen’s campus since 1957, when it opened in the one-time home of its namesake. Etherington, who was a longstanding patron of the arts in Kingston and member of the suffragette movement, planted the seeds for art centre as early as the 1920s and 1930s when she created a summer school for artists at Queen’s. Upon her death in 1954, she bequeathed her house to Queen’s University in order to “further the cause of art and community.” Since 1957, the Agnes has grown to be a gallery of national and international importance. 

Over the years, the museum expanded to include more than 17,000 works with strengths in Canadian contemporary and historical art in all media, Indigenous art, European paintings and works on paper from the 16th to the 20th century, historical African art, and Canadian decorative arts, quilts, and historical dress. Agnes is one of the largest and most significant university-affiliated galleries in Canada. 

Its collections grew thanks to the generosity of many loyal donors, including Dr. Alfred Bader, (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc;47, LLD’86) who donated more than 500 paintings, sculptures and works on paper that span the 14th through the mid-19th centuries, including three Rembrandt paintings. Alfred’s son Daniel, who, together with his wife, Linda, donated a fourth Rembrandt in 2019. Alfred’s wife, Dr. Isabel Bader (LLD’07) continues to donate works from her and her husband’s extensive collection, and recently funded the creation of a new Bader Chair in Art Conservation that will support the Department of Art History and Art Conservation become world leaders in the field of imaging science.

Continuing this legacy, in 2020, the family’s charitable foundation, Bader Philanthropies, Inc., made a transformational donation of $54 million to launch the Agnes Reimagined campaign. In addition, the foundation has funded a new Curator, Indigenous Arts and Culture, who will be responsible for Agnes’s significant Indigenous art collection of more than 700 works from all periods and its relationship to other collecting areas at Agnes. This curatorship will help the museum realize its commitment to working alongside Indigenous communities and fostering Indigenous-led access to collections.

Programming at Agnes will continue throughout 2022 but will move to a new location when construction begins in the summer of 2023. Watch the transformation unfold with Rehoming Agnes and Collection Count + Care, an integrated program that takes the public behind-the-scenes to explore the work that underpins Agnes Reimagined.

Mural project to illustrate unity and diversity at Queen’s

The Queen’s community is invited to a virtual open house to view presentations from three artists, one of whom will be selected to create a 23-metre mural.

The mural will be located on the south wall of the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre
Through a partnership between the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor and the student-led Queen’s University Advocacy Coalition, a mural will be located on the south wall of the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre. (University Communications)

Seeking to enhance climate and culture with a new initiative, the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor has partnered with the student-led Queen’s University Advocacy Coalition to commission a new piece of art.

The mural will be located on the south wall of the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre, providing an opportunity to visibly illustrate the diversity of the Queen’s community and signal a future that is focused on celebration, healing, resilience, cultural diversity, and optimism.

“As we work toward our goal of advancing equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization, it is imperative young people see themselves reflected at our university,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “We need to celebrate the diversity of our campus and art is a wonderful way to do this, visually representing our commitment to this goal.”

Three Canadian artists have been shortlisted for the project, which also is in partnership with STEPS Public Art. Queen’s will host a virtual open house on February 2 featuring presentations from artists Charmaine Lurch, Anna Jane McIntyre and Nuff. The open house will be held from 6 to 7 pm.

Following these initial presentations, everyone in the Queen's community will be invited to vote. The artists will then provide updated versions of their concepts which will be followed by another round of voting in early March to determine which design will become the mural, expected to measure approximately 23-meters x 8-meters (76-feet x 26 feet).

About the artists

• Charmaine Lurch is an interdisciplinary visual artist whose work draws attention to human-environmental relationalities. Lurch’s paintings and sculptures are conversations on infrastructures and the spaces and places we inhabit.

• Anna Jane McIntyre is a visual artist based in Montreal with a playful practice that combines storytelling, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, performance, installation and microactivism. Her work investigates how people perceive, create and maintain their notions of self through behaviour and visual cues and is an ever-shifting visual mashup of British, Trinidadian and adopted Canadian cultural traditions.

• Nuff works across new media, street art and digital design. He is a founding member of mural collective MRLTM and new media collective Gathering.

For more information on the Advocacy Coalition Mural, please visit the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor site. To register for the open house, please go to the Queen’s Eventbrite page.

Do small towns produce the biggest athletic talent?

Queen’s research featured in new Apple TV documentary assesses whether an athlete’s birthplace has a big impact on their likelihood of making the big leagues.

When you talk about a favourite hockey player in Canada, one of the first things that comes up is their hometown. And by this measure, the small city of Kingston, Ontario, has been getting more than its fair share of mentions over the years.

Kingston, (which is also home to Queen’s University), has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best hockey players, including Kirk Muller, Doug Gilmour, Jayna Hefford, and Mike Smith. Kingston has produced 70 National Hockey League (NHL) players, including five who scored Stanley Cup-winning goals. This is a hometown hockey record that still stands today.

But Kingston isn’t the only small city that’s been highlighted as a real hockey hotspot. Across the ocean, a small town in Denmark, has also achieved an impressive hockey-related feat. In just nine years, the city of Herning, with a population of 50,000, has produced five NHL players, including Frederik Andersen, Frans Nielsen, Oliver Bjorkstrand and former NHL forward Peter Regin and Nicklas Jensen. What makes this even more interesting, is that Denmark is a country with very little hockey tradition. It’s a phenomenon that has inspired a new Apple TV documentary, The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of No Where, and research led by Queen’s professor Jean Côté (Kinesiology and Health Studies) takes centre ice in helping to explain it all.

facing off in a game of ice hockey“The filmmaker Rasmus Ankersen and a small crew came to Queen’s four years ago to learn more about our research, which received a lot of press when it was published in 2006,” says Dr. Côté. “The filmmaker then wrote popular books about talent development in sport and our research was central to his story line that focused on the trajectory of these five NHL players that grew up in Herning.”

Research by Dr. Côté and collaborators that suggested small places are better than big cities at developing talent made media waves when it was published in the Journal of Sport Sciences in the mid-2000s.

“After studying professional athletes born in different cities in the USA and Canada, we found cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 present the best odds of producing elite athletes in hockey, basketball, baseball, and golf,” says Dr. Côté. “There are some things in the social and physical environment in small towns that are more efficient.”

The researchers found that the effect could be mainly due to factors related to the interaction of quality relationships, activities, and competitive settings that are favorable to young athlete development. For example, smaller cities present fewer safety concerns, better access to open spaces, and less competing sources of leisure time use by children.

Small cities might also present more opportunities for the type of developmental experiences and practices known to be associated with expert performance.

The Canadian data gathered for his research also suggests that rural areas with populations of less than 1,000 produced significantly less professional players than expected. This points to a lack of infrastructure that are usually common to a city, which may result in fewer opportunities to invest in physical activities and sports.

“I did talk at Kingston City Hall around a decade ago on the topic, and Kirk Muller responded to my presentation, discussing his upbringing in Kingston,” says Dr. Côté. “A lot of characteristics of Herning were shared in Muller’s story.”

The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of No Where is now available on Apple TV for subscribers. Dr. Côté and his team have a prominent role in the 45-minute film, which also includes scenic panoramas of Springer Market Square and the Queen’s campus. For a preview of the documentary, visit the website.

Q&A: Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad

Novelist discusses his award-winning new book, his time as a Queen’s student, and his upcoming role as the 2022 Writer in Residence in the Department of English.

Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad (Photo by: Anna Mehler Paperny)
Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad. (Photo by: Anna Mehler Paperny)

Earlier this month, Egyptian-Canadian author and Queen’s alumnus Omar El Akkad was awarded the coveted Scotiabank Giller Prize for his latest book What Strange Paradise. The book marks El Akkad’s second major fiction release — following his lauded 2017 debut American War — and centres on a young Syrian boy’s survival amidst the global refugee crisis.

El Akkad spoke to the Gazette about his book and its reception, about his experiences of learning and mentorship while a student at Queen’s, and about his upcoming role as 2022 Writer in Residence with the English Department’s Creative Writing program.

Congratulations on being awarded this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize for your book What Strange Paradise! How does it feel to have your work recognized in this way?

It’s a surreal thing, an honour I never thought about except in the abstract. Writing is a pretty lonely existence, and you never really know when you’re putting the book together if it’ll have any resonance at all. To be in this position, where a book I thought might never be published in the first place is now being mentioned alongside so many of my literary heroes on the Giller longlist and shortlist, isn’t something I’ve been able to fully process yet.

In What Strange Paradise, the main character, Amir, is caught in the throes of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. While his story is fictionalized, it is certainly representative of the true dangers faced by displaced people. As real-world social, political, economic, and environmental challenges grow to impact more and more people, what do you hope readers come to understand or feel through their engagement with Amir’s struggle?

I used to have a much more confident answer to this sort of question. I used to have a very specific set of hopes and expectations about what I want readers to take from my books, the ways in which I hoped the work might change them. But in truth, those expectations are indistinguishable from delusion. The book the reader reads is a million lives removed from the one I wrote, and that’s something to be celebrated. If any piece of literature, mine or otherwise, does anything to expand a reader’s conception of what it is to be human, that’s more than enough. I certainly hope people will come to see the need for a more humane and just approach to global refugee policy, but that’s something I hoped well before I wrote this book.

In an interview on CBC’s Q you said that, upon learning of your win, one of the first calls you made was to Carolyn Smart, a creative writing professor you had here at Queen’s. Why was she one of your first calls, and what about her mentorship — and mentorship generally — contributed to your growth as a writer?

A very long time ago, Carolyn decided to admit me to her prose class, which ended up changing my life. It was the first time I was being taught by a writer, surrounded by other student writers. It made this sort of life seem like something I could actually do. She was also my first publisher, when she put together an anthology of student writing called Lake Effect. I say without hyperbole that there are more than 30 years’ worth of Canadian writers who owe her an incredible debt. People don’t usually associate Queen’s with a robust creative writing program, but over the years, Carolyn did more for Canadian literature on her own than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

In an August 2021 profile in the Queen’s Alumni Review, you touched on some of the notable inflection points along your early path toward becoming a novelist. You enrolled in (and ultimately graduated from) computer science at Queen’s mostly out of feelings of familial expectation, and instead honed your writing through elective or extracurricular means — reporting for the student newspaper and connecting with the creative writing course. Along the way, did you learn anything that may encourage current Queen’s students as they seek to identify and nurture the things for which they are passionate?

I think for me, Queen’s served two invaluable purposes. First, it allowed me to fail, repeatedly and consistently, in relative safety. I had so many terrible, uninformed opinions and I screwed up in every conceivable sense and I learned, from my teachers but also from my peers, how to be better. The other thing my time at Queen’s afforded me was the opportunity to dabble in a million different pursuits, to try things out and see if they made for a good fit. You don’t get that kind of opportunity many times in life, a million doors flinging open all at once, and what I’d encourage all students to do is walk through at least some of those doors; the thing you end up making your life’s work could be on the other side.

Queen’s students may soon have a chance to garner your advice and mentorship directly, as you were recently welcomed by the Department of English as its Creative Writing 2022 Writer in Residence. What about this role do you most look forward to? How does it feel to return to Queen’s in a mentorship capacity?

I’m looking forward to some dedicated writing time and to meeting students. It’s been more than 20 years since I first showed up as a frosh, and I suspect I’m going to feel old as dirt as soon as I set foot on campus, but that little stretch of land from the water up to Morris Hall was the site of so many of the best memories of my life. It’ll be bittersweet to come back, but I think more sweet than bitter.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Queen’s community before we close out our chat?

I’ll be camped out in a little office in the English building at all hours of the day and night, wrestling with an absolute mess of a novel manuscript, from mid-January to mid-March. If you’ve got time, come by and say hi.

New internship supports diversity in art conservation

​Queen’s, National Gallery of Canada partner to engage students from Indigenous, Black, and other cultural communities in art conservation and restoration.

A partnership between Queen’s University and the National Gallery of Canada is aimed at engaging Indigenous and Black students, and students from other cultural communities from across Canada in art conservation and restoration.

The National Gallery of Canada’s Diversity Internship, initiated by Stephen Gritt, NGC Director of Conservation and Technical Research, and in partnership with the Queen’s Art Conservation Program, allows four students to prepare for their studies after their acceptance into the graduate program at the university.=

Queen’s offers the only Master’s in Art Conservation program in Canada. Each intern will be provided with a $25,000 bursary and a placement in Ottawa in the summer prior to their first semester. The internships are funded by an anonymous philanthropist.

Diversity in art conservation is a special focus for Patricia Smithen, Director of the Art Conservation Program at Queen’s, so when she was presented with an opportunity to support future Black, Indigenous and people of color conservators at the entry level, she was delighted to play an important role.

“The goals are to give students a unique and welcoming entry into the field of conservation, provide mentorship which would support them throughout their careers and give them the best opportunity for success at graduate school and beyond,” says Dr. Smithen.

Interns will have the opportunity to learn about the complexities of conservation and restoration work, including research, technical examination, and the historic and ethical dimensions of interaction with art and artefacts. From three to five months, they will be paired with various experts from the National Gallery’s Restoration and Conservation Laboratory and will follow them in their daily work as observers.

They will also be introduced to Conservation Science and broader heritage preservation issues at the Canadian Conservation Institute, also in Ottawa. The students will also visit Queen’s for a week of activity – most likely to work on a mini-project.

“Like many professions within the museum field, conservation is a discipline which can greatly benefit from different perspectives from various fields of study, and different voices from diverse backgrounds and cultures,” says Stephen Gritt. “The National Gallery of Canada is happy to partner with Queen’s University in this effort. This is a natural fit.

Rewilding the estate

How sustainability and biodiversity initiatives are core to the mandate of the Bader International Study Centre.

[The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land]
The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land. (Supplied Photo)

This spring, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University had placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Queen’s earned its Impact Ranking after successfully implementing programs to improve sustainability within and outside of the local Kingston community. But these efforts also extend “across the pond.” On the grounds of Queen’s UK campus, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England, sustainability and biodiversity are combined to help nurture and preserve the natural environment, while providing a living lab for students, staff, and members of the public. 

The BISC estate encompasses more than 600 acres of land containing medieval parklands, ancient woodlands, meadows, ponds, marshlands, and formal gardens. Over the centuries, numerous changes, both inside and outside the castle walls, have resulted in a loss of biodiversity and preservation of these lands. In order to improve and restore the estate’s surrounding environment, Grounds and Gardens Manager Guy Lucas and his team of gardeners and grounds staff are implementing sustainable ecological practices such as rewilding to repair damaged ecosystems and restore the grounds to their original state through natural processes. 

  • [Photo of the bluebells among the ancient woodland]
    The ancient bluebell woodland set within the BISC's historic parkland.
  • [Photo of a woodland path on the estate]
    The woodlands form part of the castle's historic parkland supporting over three hundred acres of diverse wildlife and plants including ancient oaks and sweet chestnut trees.
  • [Photo of the wildflower meadow]
    Explore the winding paths among the five-acre native wildflower meadow dedicated to conservation at the BISC.
  • [Photo of Temple Field]
    Temple Field is enclosed by woodland and leads to the Folly with its own walled cottage garden within the castle grounds.

Supporting biodiversity

Lucas and his team’s efforts to rewild large areas of the estate are at the forefront of BISC’s biodiversity initiatives. A major part of this process will include the removal of non-native and invasive species and the planting of native varieties to provide a mixed species and age structure within the woodland. Also integral to the rewilding project is monitoring the species within the woodland and the management of trails to ensure they have adequate light, and the correct woodland edge flora, as these act as highways for wildlife.

In efforts to restore the lands to their original state, the estate team has adopted the ancient practice of 'coppicing' which has been practiced in the United Kingdom since the Neolithic period. 'Coppicing' involves cutting an acre of broadleaved trees down during the winter, on a rotation of 20-30 years, and allowing them to regenerate. Opening these areas of woodland mimics the actions of Neolithic ancestors and the auroch (an extinct wild cow) who carried out this process for centuries, allowing woodland flora and fauna to thrive.

Lastly, as 98 per cent of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost, the team has dedicated 20 acres of the estate to create and protect an environment where wildflowers can thrive, acting as a vital food source for bees and butterflies and as a habitat for invertebrates and small mammals. In the winter, the sheep on the estate graze the dense thatch of grasses, which enables fresh seeds to come in contact with the earth and grow the next year’s wildflowers. 

[The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers.]
The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers. (Supplied Photo)

Advancing sustainability

The BISC’s commitment to sustainability extends inside the castle walls where numerous waste reduction efforts have been implemented.

Recently, a Sustainability Working Group was formed to bring together employees from across the institution to drive sustainability initiatives. These include working with the Aramark food services team to ensure that 100 per cent of in-house green waste is composted, enhancing recycling facilities within the castle, removing disposable food packaging, and increasing availability of electric travel methods.

On a larger scale, the estate team maintains sustainable reed beds that address sewage waste through natural filtration, making the water safe and clean. To generate renewable energy, a heat recovery pump system located in the castle moat is estimated to generate up to 35 per cent of the castle’s heating requirements, and a proportion of the electricity needed for the estate is generated via the use of around 200 solar panels.

[Aerial photo of the estate]
The Estate’s renewable energy initiatives leverage the existing historical features and natural environment to support modern technology for sustainability. (Supplied Photo)

The environment as an education tool

Allowing students and the public to interact with and learn from the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity agenda is an integral part of the BISC’s mandate. The BISC Skills Award (BSA), which encourages students to participate in university events and programs for personal development, presents an excellent opportunity for student engagement. Recently, this program has incorporated the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity initiatives into the curriculum by allowing students to partake in projects including invasive species removal, pond maintenance, rare species seed planting, and the designing of a new student services cottage garden.

The BISC is also dedicated to sharing the estate’s biodiversity and sustainability efforts with the public. One program that showcases this relationship is the Herstmonceux Castle Forest School. The Forest School allows members of the public to engage with the natural environment in the estate’s ancient woodlands, offering all learners opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on experiences in a woodland environment. This program allows the environment itself to serve as an educational tool. 

Improving biodiversity and the adoption of a sustainable mindset at the BISC is reflective of Queen’s steadfast dedication to advancing sustainable development through pursuing the UN’s SDGs. By way of its community and student outreach programs, the BISC has consistently shared its advancements and knowledge in sustainability and biodiversity with the public, providing education and enjoyment to the larger community.

For more information, visit the BISC and Herstmonceux Castle websites.

Learn more about Queen's University's Climate Action Plan.


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