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A catalyst for collaboration

At The Catalyst, the Faculty of Communication and Design’s scholarly, research and creative activities come together in one space
By: Will Sloan
December 07, 2018

Located at the RCC building, The Catalyst at FCAD houses labs, projects and centres from across the faculty. Photos by Alia Youssef.

Ryerson Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) houses cutting-edge work in everything from journalism and documentary media to diversity, fashion, live entertainment, and much more. What if FCAD’s thinkers, creators, and researchers worked side by side?

That’s the thinking behind The Catalyst at FCAD, a new, large-scale space for the faculty’s scholarly, research, and creative activities. Located on the second floor of the Rogers Communications Centre and housing a variety of labs, projects, and centres, the Catalyst is fostering a community of creative thinking, with interdisciplinary collaboration from across sectors.

“The idea is: how do you take all these wonderful instruments that FCAD has and allow them to play music without conducting them?” said Charles Falzon, dean of FCAD. “We’re just allowing them to play music in the same place, and that’s what excites me.”

Falzon envisions the Catalyst as a centre where research, education, and new ideas intermingle… and a thought-laboratory that eliminates the barrier between the university and the world. “Name any school—students already know that they’ll get a great education at FCAD. But what we’re pushing is that they’ll get a great education from people who are actually the thought-leaders.”

The Catalyst is already home to 14 residents, with more on the way. Established FCAD projects/institutions like the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, external link, the Centre for Free Expression, and the Documentary Media Research Centre exist alongside new and emerging disciplines: the Audience Lab (a research centre that examines media consumption and user/audiences experiences), the Centre for Fashion Diversity & Social Change, external link, the Future of Live Entertainment Lab, and more.

“It’s a fundamental change in research culture for us,” said Greg Elmer, director of The Catalyst, who is a professor in the School of Professional Communication. “I’ve been here for almost 15 years, and most active researchers have been allocated space here, there, and everywhere, strewn across the university. Now, most of our research-active faculty are housed here; the research centres attached to the school are housed here; and there’s a lot of common space, which is very new for FCAD researchers.

“It’s a change, and a lot of people are very excited about it. Graduate students are particularly excited about it, because they’re able to work alongside their peers and learn from each other and faculty. It’s also a very flexible space, and the use of it is very dynamic and efficient.”

Louis-Ettienne Dubois (professor, School of Creative Industries)  sees the space’s collaborative nature as an ideal fit for the next generation of creativity. “None of the creative industries are siloed anymore,” said Dubois. There’s no such thing as ‘pure’ fashion; there’s no such thing as ‘pure’ radio and television. “It’s always a mix of transmedia, and across multiple platforms. It makes no sense for us to be conducting research in our different corners without seeing each other, and perhaps at times realizing that we’re actually working on the same problem from different angles.”

Laurel Walzak (professor in the RTA School of Media) is director of the Global Experiential Sport Lab, external link, and has also thrived off the communal atmosphere. “This place is modern and forward-thinking, and the energy is contagious. There are many researchers here working on technology, which isn’t necessarily my area of expertise. I can reach out to other researchers and say, ‘What are you doing in this area?’ Maybe there’s an opportunity to collaborate, or just ask questions.”

She added, “I was working here late the other night, and there was an event going on, and students were playing music. I liked the energy of the student body being here—there was something very comforting about it. It was also very motivating.”

For Charles Falzon, “The soul of the place is the dynamics that are already happening. When I have faculty members already saying to me, ‘I just connected with this person, and we’re talking about this…’—this to us is so much more important than just, ‘We’ve got so many square feet and we’re using it for research.’

“Catalyst is a space, but it’s also a mindset.”

For more information, visit The Catalyst at FCAD.

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