Since Dr. Marcia Ostashewski’s first academic inquiries in Cape Breton in 2008, there has been a strengthening bond between academics and local ethnic communities—between the people, their histories and practices. In a place where Scottish ancestry (particularly its music and dance) is widely perceived as the prevailing cultural impulse, Dr. Ostashewski’s work is novel. Supported by a Visiting Research Fellowship with the Centre for Cape Breton Studies and then a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Dr. Ostashewski first worked with local Ukrainian communities but has since expanded her research program to include a greater diversity of Eastern and Central European communities in Cape Breton to include Cape Bretoners of Polish, Croatian, Jewish and Hungarian descent; Nova Scotians of African ancestry, and other local, ethnocultural communities. Since 2005, Ostashewski has been involved in collaborative projects with First Nations and Métis, particularly ones that explore encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. In 2015, she expanded her research beyond ethnocultural communities to work with at-risk youth and other local interest groups.
In all of her work, she brings together – as co-researchers – scholars and students from across disciplines, artist-practitioners, professionals from across heritage and other public sector institutions (including public libraries, schools, cultural centres and social service providers) and private industry. These are cross-sector actors, advocates and activists who understand the relevance of sound, movement and multimedia studies in addressing social, political and environmental issues of urgent importance who come together to communicate their perspectives, co-create knowledge and develop best practices of collaboration, communication and policy formulation.
In her most recent (and most comprehensive) project, diversitycapebreton.ca, Dr. Ostashewski worked with an international interdisciplinary team of scholars, students, community members, digital media and education specialists, to create a publicly accessible web portal and archive that constitutes a virtual Cape Breton Island where visitors can tour heritage buildings, hear interviews and musics of cultural activities that were shared in these actual locations. An online archive showcases information shared with the program’s researchers, such as stories, songs, photos, videos, documents and other materials. A variety of curricular and other educational resources provide users with learning opportunities about the research gathered and items stored in the archive. School teachers can also access curriculum materials prepared for various grade levels. Online users are also invited to become involved in the ongoing creation of exhibits and resources on the website. This type of wide collaboration between researchers, community members, organizations, government bodies, institutions and other stakeholders helps to further the goals of community sustainability and research that is both collaborative with, and beneficial to, local community groups. Dr. Ostashewski explains, “My aim, in working with communities, is to find ways in which I can contribute, and I am very grateful to those communities who have welcomed me, my students and colleagues to work with them as they build on their strengths, address their challenges and celebrate their communities.”
In the of fall 2014, Dr. Ostashewski’s celebrated Singing Storytellers partnership with the Celtic Colours International Festival saw her hosting a symposium that, along with a scholarly conference on campus, involved a highly-attended full day of workshops at the McConnell Library. The symposium featured musicians and bardic practices from five continents including two Malian griots who led workshops with hundreds of schoolchildren in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and an off-Broadway theatre company that performed at CBU’s Boardmore Playhouse. Noting the widespread attention this event garnered, Dr. Ostashewski says, “This event gained national attention from libraries across the country and around the world, and I, along with representatives from the McConnell Library, have been asked to speak in Toronto about the collaboration. Educational film materials produced for this project are also currently being featured in exhibits at the British Library in London.”
The epicentre of these, and several other public engagement research projects, is the Collaborative Music and Movement Laboratory at Cape Breton University (The CoMM Lab).
With the support of The Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Nova Scotia Research Innovation Trust, Dr. Ostashewski’s lab will help to foster the collaborative creation, presentation and critical scholarly inquiry into innovative, creative music and dance projects to address concrete social problems together with the communities that face them. Using the technology available at The CoMM Lab, Dr. Ostashewski’s work will emerge at the forefront of digital humanities research. When it is realized, the CoMM Lab will be an essential tool for dissemination and knowledge mobilization, as well as an accessible entry point for the communities of people to whom Dr. Ostashewski’s research is devoted.
Read more about the research at CBU in Research Matters 2016.