The communicative power of art

PUSH 2015 digital painting entitled ‘Exploration’ by Graeme Howard (painting purchased by Chancellor Thirsk!)

PUSH 2015 digital painting entitled ‘Exploration’ by Graeme Howard (painting purchased by Chancellor Thirsk!)

Along with several of my Senate colleagues and other art aficionados, I attended the opening reception of PUSH 2015 this evening in the Contemporary Calgary (C2) gallery at City Hall. PUSH is an exhibition of artwork from senior Bachelor of Fine Arts students at the University of Calgary. 36 emerging artists showcase their art to the community – art including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking, installations and digital art. The name PUSH comes from the notion of pushing viewers to engage and react to the work of today’s creative minds.

The exhibition is entirely organized by students. The students find a venue for the exhibition; fundraise; frame and hang their work; and design and produce an exhibition catalog. The exhibition is adjudicated by faculty and all of the artwork is for sale to attendees.

The University of Calgary Senate is a proud sponsor of the Exhibition. Linda Shaikh, one of our Senators, has been a strong supporter of the exhibition for several years. The Exhibition is well aligned with our Senate mission and values. We believe that a fine arts education is a means to greater understanding of the world around us. We believe that the sharing of ideas between our students and the broader community is of benefit. And we believe that recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of our students is the right thing to do. Supporting the PUSH Art Exhibition is a no-brainer for Senate.

Today’s art students are society’s communicators of tomorrow. One of the challenges that I continually face, for instance, is the effective communication of the value of space exploration. In actual fact, there are solid pragmatic reasons – scientific, technical, social and economic reasons – for the Canadian public to invest.

But if I were to communicate the benefits of space solely in terms of scientific discoveries, technology developments and spin-offs, I would not be able to effectively engage all members of the public. However, everyone relates to art. We are all artists at heart. We all have a favourite poem, a favourite music album, a favourite image, a favourite piece of art.

I have learned to use a variety of art forms to communicate the benefits of spaceflight. For instance, astronauts commission artists to design crew patches for our flight suits. The artistic elements of the patches symbolize our mission objectives. We use onboard video to capture the personal experiences of the flight. My ISS Expedition 20/21 crew provided Bono with onboard video footage that he and his U2 band mates subsequently incorporated into their 360° worldwide concert tour. And Chris Hadfield made masterful use of social media to convey the personal experiences during his expedition. Although most astronauts have scientific or technical backgrounds, we have learned the communicative power of art.

(BTW, I note that West End and Broadway star Sarah Brightman is now in training in Star City, Russia for a 10-day mission that will launch to the International Space Station in September of this year. I will pay attention to her mission because she will undoubtedly use her musical talents to convey the magic of spaceflight.)


PUSH is now in its fifth year. It has become a University of Calgary tradition. I am proud of and thank our senior art students for organizing the Exhibition. It was a very polished and professional event. Our students are creative. Their exhibition pieces are inspiring. These emerging artists are already being seen and heard in our community.


By profiling the next generation of artists in the PUSH Art Exhibition, the University of Calgary enhances the students’ awareness of and support for our city culture. At the same time, the opportunity to communicate their ideas can begin to shape our future.

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