Alberta’s ‘economic philosopher’ believes corporate Canada has much to learn from the Arts
Todd Hirsch (’89 BA Honours) is Alberta’s economic philosopher. Hirsch is a man who relishes numbers, but more importantly, he is determined to find the story behind those numbers. As chief economist for ATB Financial and columnist with theGlobe and Mail, Hirsch believes that the Arts community has a significant role to play in Canada’s economy, especially in terms of corporate partnerships. Todd recently sat down with Curious Arts to talk about Arts in the public and corporate spheres.
Q: In Edmonton, 1% of the eligible construction budget of any publicly accessible municipal project is used for the acquisition of public art – a policy not without its detractors. What do you say to the folks who don’t see the value of public art?
A: The esthetics of our cities and communities have never been more important than they are in the 21st century. We live in a globally connected world. The best and brightest citizens of the planet can live and work and play in any city they wish. If (our) civic leaders want a utilitarian-looking city with no visual interest, they will end up with a city that can’t attract or retain those citizens.
Q: How does public art play a role in this?
A: I like to think of a city as a cookie that you bake. You need flour (the infrastructure of roads, bridges, water mains), butter or oil (the houses, schools, shopping malls that we inhabit), and an egg or two to hold it together (police, EMS, fire departments). That will give you a cookie — but it won’t be a cookie anyone would want to eat. It lacks flavour! There’s no sugar yet in this cookie. Public art and interesting architecture is the SWEETNESS in the cookie. It is that element that may be structurally unnecessary, but entirely necessary if you want people to enjoy living in the community.
Q: Ideally, what would corporate partnerships with the Arts look like?
A: Arts organizations can sometimes undersell themselves to corporate donors. For example, giving free tickets to performances in exchange for corporate financial gifts is not enough. What should be offered is a chance for corporate employees to work alongside the artists, dancers and performers to see how they approach problem solving. There is so much to be learned by taking yourself out of the beige corporate board room and exposing yourself to other systems of critical thinking and problem solving.
Every one of us — the tax lawyers and the painters, the engineers and the fashion designers — are trying to solve problems in our everyday work. Taking those abilities to solve problems and see the world as a set of complicated shades of colour will help all industries become better.
Q: What is the value of an arts degree?
A: An arts degree isn’t intended to land you a job. If it’s only a job you’re after, a polytech school is where you want to be. Rather, a liberal arts degree is intended to make you a more complete thinker. It’s intended to teach you how to absorb complex information and make reasoned arguments. It is, quite simply, intended to teach you how to learn. Those are skills that you’ll use in any field of work.
Q: Do you have any advice for Arts students or recent Arts alumni?
A: Open your mind to all sorts of job possibilities. Don’t be too proud to start out in the service industry, or where you might get your fingernails dirty. Talk to as many people as you can about their career paths. Go live overseas for a year or two. But never, ever, allow yourself to think you’ve wasted your time in university getting a liberal arts degree. It will go much further than you’re able to see at the moment.
Todd Hirsch (’89 BA Honours) receives an Alumni Honour Award at the 2015 University of Alberta Alumni Awards ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 24. Read the full profile about Todd Hirsch on the Work of Arts blog
Join the University of Alberta Alumni Association for an inspirational evening celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of U of A graduates. The ceremony is followed by a reception, where you can meet the award recipients while enjoying dessert reception and sparkling wine. This is a free event open to all. Everyone is welcome.
Event title: University of Alberta Alumni Association’s Award Ceremony
Date: Thursday, September 24
Time: 7 p.m. (Award recipient meet-and-greet and reception to follow)
Location:Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (11455 87 Ave)
Dress: Business attire
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Photo credits: Phil Crozier.