On Monday, Kitchener City Council unanimously backed the creation of the Kitchener Studio Project, a centre meant to facilitate the intersection of art, design and technology, to be located at 44 Gaukel Street.
Council has agreed to lease the building for a nominal fee to an educational conglomerate comprising Conestoga College, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University, with Christie Digital, the Communitech Hub and Electronic Arts declaring their involvement as well.
In its inaugural year, approximately 70 students will take up the craft of wedding artmaking, tech, video games, music, websites and media creation in what promises to be a heady lunge towards the future. City council is treating the project as a pilot, with a re-evaluation due in five years.
“This is a unique approach to creating entrepreneurs and exciting digital content the tech sector is craving for,” said Councillor Paul Singh.
Leasing the existing empty space to Studio Project is a win-win for the city and universities, as the space, if leased to a business, would have required between $600,000 to $1 million to renovate. With the current agreement, the city will spend $200,000 on renovations with the conglomerate footing the remaining bill and ongoing costs.
The digital media program is already the fastest growing within Conestoga College’s curriculum, according to its dean, Mark Derro. One course that has already been announced features Bob Egan, Blue Rodeo’s steel guitar player, teaching a course in digital recording. “Virtually every different project pulls in a different type of skill set,” said Derro. “It’s almost like self-organizing systems where you take the best from different disciplines and then meld them together for one specific type of application.”
“The Kitchener Studio Project provides space for collaboration among major post-secondary academic partners and the technology industry,” says Silvia DiDonato, Kitchener’s manager of arts and culture, adding, “This really gives us a competitive edge as a community.”
The announcement of the new facility follows a year of encouraging actions and statements from Canada’s tech community, with OMERS Ventures’ John Ruffolo discussing the importance of failure and risk taking to the development of a healthy economy (this was crazy talk coming from a VC just two years ago), followed by Mike Lazaridis putting his own money into the development of the formerly pie-in-the-sky field of quantum computing, and Deloitte’s Jim Currie saying things like, “Business people who have a fine arts background are more innovative and creative and take more risk.”
Perhaps after decades of a monoculture business climate, Canada is ready to create the environment in which disparate forces can inspire one another to great things.