We are using storytelling and art to engender bigger conversations about the good and the bad, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the real and the possible for collective action and life-long learning.
We have been developing our partnership since 2017. We are two civil-society organisations based in Verdun, Montreal, Suspicious Fish Literacy and Arts Program and Literacy Quebec, and researchers from McGill University from, the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office, students and faculty in the Schools of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Desautels Faculty of Management. We are exploring the possibilities for developing an experimental university-community hub for social innovation and community engaged learning. The Southwest Storytelling Hub will be a space for community events, literacy programs, knowledge and skill exchange, job training and research.
Developing lifelong literacy to support community capacity
Driving this collaboration is a complex challenge: how to build soft skills including basic literacy among populations that have historically been on the margins of Montréal life, both socioeconomically and linguistically. The English-speaking citizens of central Verdun are working with members of the McGill community to develop capacities, institutional structures, and fun processes of deliberating what kind of city we can make together for resilient, socially-inclusive, healthy futures in which local populations respond effectively to the challenges of climate change, sustainability, and the creep of gentrification that is insidiously transforming many of the historically-mixed central neighbourhoods of Montréal.
In Verdun, we are using storytelling and art to engender bigger conversations about the good and the bad, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the real and the possible… anchoring our process in an exciting form of grassroots education represented by Suspicious Fish (SF)—which started as an after-school programme for schoolchildren that has continued to flourish on only a shoestring budget with a group of dedicated volunteers.
Temporarily housed at Verdun Elementary, Suspicious Fish needs a new home, and it has thus teamed up with Literacy Québec (LQ), an umbrella organisation for 13 community-based civil-society organisations that build resilience among English-speaking populations within French-speaking Québec. Beyond the work of improving literacy levels among children and adults, both SF and LQ seek to build ‘soft skills’ for leadership, effective civic engagement, and capacity for local self-determination (i.e., building subsidiarity).
This is not simply an ‘outreach’ programme, however; the pedagogical and research aims of the collaboration are to develop transdisciplinary courses that test methodologies of experiential Critical Service Learning and Community-Engaged Scholarship with discrete outcomes of design, policy, and social innovation (Coar, 2014; Forsyth et al., 1999, 2006; Hardin et al., 2006; Mitchell, 2008; Neuman, 2016; Winkler, 2013).
Through the collaboration with McGill (underway since January 2017), a strategic plan has been developed for an ongoing collaboration that can also investigate the quality, impact, and scalability of the university-community hubs of this sort, evaluating its pertinence as a model and precedent for other ‘city-making hives’ elsewhere.