Creating a Better Today

Sarah Bay-Cheng, Ph.D. Dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, York University

In 2020, the shift from text-based communication to visual design accelerated.

Since COVID-19 emerged in Canada, video conferences have replaced meetings and social media consumption increased as people connect by exchanging shared images.

Over 50 billion photos have been uploaded to Instagram. The effects of the pandemic have been challenging, but this time has also demonstrated extraordinary new opportunities –
and needs – for creativity in society.

Even before COVID, trends toward visual communication could have been seen in diverse areas ranging from health care to public spaces.

Effective communication through design and visual images has become important not only for sustaining pandemic era social connections but also for future well-being. Today, health officials agree that visual communication and design are essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and may be key to tackling the world’s most pressing problems.

As the Dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University, I have seen up close how art and design faculty and students create use their skills to create positive change in their communities.

In our Bachelor of Design program, for example, Dr. Shital Desai guides students through a program to tackle real-world problems in health care by designing more effective processes for patients to understand and access their care.

Most recently, she collaborated with colleagues in Australia and Germany to design better training models for CPR instruction. In these kinds of projects, students can create their own original projects in design research. AMPD students and alumni have won awards from Adobe and other industry leaders for their creations, including opportunities to design unique Canada Post stamps in honour of the lunar new year.

York alumni are also leading positive change in news and information design and data at major news outlets in New York, Beijing and downtown Toronto. Of course, the significance of visual art and culture is not only about information.

As the last year has demonstrated, the arts and culture remain important for our communal prosperity and a collective sense of well-being. In a world filled with uncertainty and change, finding moments of reflection, contemplation and beauty are essential for our shared sense of health and happiness.

Supported by internationally recognized artists, students at York experience the close attention of small studio courses with access to all of the resources of a global research university.

Through a hands-on approach to learning and close mentorship opportunities, fine arts students prepare for rewarding, multi-faceted careers as creative professionals who will create the connections needed to enhance the world around them.

We know how hard it is to remain physically distanced from our friends and family. Art and design can help our communities to reconnect and rebuild.

As Ontario and Canada look to the work of recovery and rebuilding post-pandemic, art and design will ensure good health and prosperity in all our communities. The important work is not just about the future, but about creating a better today.


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