Julie Barton

Julie Barton in Victoria, BC | Photo: Carell Bayne

Julie Barton

Connecting young minds and creativity affords the best job in the city

Julie Barton doesn’t just live a creative life; she helps thousands of Calgary school children discover ways to live one as well.

That’s because Barton’s creative life is every bit as much a part of her day job—she’s the Fine Arts Off Campus Specialist for the Calgary Board of Education—and she nurtures that with her own personal art appreciation.

In her own unique way, Barton considers herself, first and foremost, as a creative collector—of artistic voices, visions, perspectives and provocations of every imaginable variety.

That search for beauty in all its forms dates all the way back to when Barton was a child, growing up in British Columbia.

“I would go to the beach and collect glass,” she says. “Typical glass [that you find while combing the beach] is brown, and clear and green—and then if you’re really lucky, you find that coveted piece that’s blue.”

As an adult, Barton spends almost every night of every week combing Calgary’s musical venues, galleries and theatres for bits of artistic blue glass.

“It’s the hunt,” she says, “the finding and the intrigue of what might be or could be, I think, that’s for me, living a creative life.”

What does she look for in an artist or an arts organization? Usually, something that makes her look at reality in a new way.

“I tend to like the really odd, peculiar and weird,” she says. “Things that are the most curious.

“I certainly appreciate the traditional arts and things like classical music,” she adds. “In my job, I work with all the disciplines—art, dance, music, drama, literary arts, digital media and film. So, in all those things, I appreciate the knowledge, skills and techniques required of every art form. I’m lucky enough that I get to immerse myself in it all. What excites me is when the disciplines converge in ways that have never been seen, heard or known.”

The good news is that as the educational curriculum evolves in the province to meet a demand for more innovation-minded students, exposure to arts is growing in importance.

Educational jurisdictions are partnering more and more with arts partners to offer students authentic encounters with art, artists and art making; partnerships such as Alberta Theatre Projects and Theatre Junction, ACAD and at Arts Common’s Campus Calgary Hub for Inspired Learning where students do their learning in the heart of the city’s largest, busiest arts hub.

Students from CBE’s Central Memorial, Robert Thirsk and Lord Shaughnessy’s Career and Technology Centre read through a script by Matthew O'Connor as part of the BOTZ production rehearsal workshop | Photo: Julie Barton
Students from CBE’s Central Memorial, Robert Thirsk and Lord Shaughnessy’s Career and Technology Centre read through a script by Matthew O’Connor as part of the BOTZ production rehearsal workshop | Photo: Julie Barton

Barton believes that learning in, through and about the arts is an essential way of knowing.

“Locally, we’re just beginning our own research now,” she says, “but what we do know, is that kids who work on projects connected to art that are relevant to them, and those who work with real experts in the field who can offer professional feedback, are capable of accomplishing amazing tasks. They’re able to tap into [the experiences and insights of those] experts and able to make a difference, and contribute substantially.”

That engagement extends all the way to creating themselves, whether it’s original artwork, writing, or technology-driven innovations.

“In these instances, intellectual engagement is up,” Barton says, “and students feel engaged and socially empowered. Students show up when they can learn in these ways.”

Every time you add an element to the experience of learning it increases the impact.

“If you add an artist—it pumps it up. If you add an authentic place like a theatre or gallery, it pumps it up,” she adds. “The creme de la creme [of the learning experience] is if students are immersed in the arts, they can construct their knowledge that way, and also share it.”

Sometimes, as well as having off campus experiences, Barton invites Calgary artists into the schools.

The CBE/ACAD’s studio artist in schools program invites visual artists to set up their practice at a school for a protracted period of time.

“By watching artists in process,” Barton says, “students recognize the freedom [of creativity].

“A studio artist is very different in a school [from everyone else],” she says. “They have the freedom to truly play with their own creative processes and design thinking. The kids love it. They see what the artist is doing—and want it for themselves.”

Digital culture itself has become part of the curriculum; in addition to the fine and performing arts, most schools teach some aspect of animation, design and filmmaking.

“What I try and do is come back to content and layering,” Barton says. “How do you add performance alongside something digital? How do you add music? What happens when the arts converge? There’s such huge potential!”

Whatever the challenge, Barton has a deep pool of amazing Calgary artists to choose from in Calgary, with over 190 artists and arts organizations. Barton works with many esteemed and emerging Calgary-based professional artists, dancers, actors, writers and musicians. “These artists are real treasures.”

“They’re [all] severely talented,” she says, “and brave and innovative. I think that’s what really turns my crank—being with people like that and being inspired by them and then connecting them to other people so they can have those same experiences of being inspired.”

Calgary’s art spaces are littered with plenty of blue glass.

“Literally” Barton says, “I have the best job in the city.”

That passion for the fine and performing arts is being passed along to a new generation of Calgarians.

“We’re coming to know the great capacity of kids,” Barton says. The creative industries and business are asking our graduates to be more creative and innovative and therefore teachers are expected to design learning with creative and innovative tasks for their kids, but they’re not [always] sure how to do that.

“The art world can provoke and teach them how,” she says. “I’m always out there hunting for provocations, that’s my job and that’s what I like to do.”

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

Have a story to share? Email us at news@calgaryartsdevelopment.com.