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Academic leader champions diverse and dynamic arts at UC

08 July 2024

Students who opt for the arts and humanities are learning vital, relevant skills for a changing world, says University of Canterbury Professor Kevin Watson. 

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Photo caption: Professor Kevin Watson, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Canterbury, is a champion for an arts-based education. 

Professor Watson is Amo Matua | Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) and is, unsurprisingly, a proud champion of the social sciences, humanities and creative arts. He challenges the perception that doing an arts degree isn’t a smart career move.

“The question, ‘And what will you do with that?’ when you’re talking about an arts education is often asked,” Professor Watson says. “But I believe that in order to really understand how the world works and how people work, we need a range of expertise. We need people who are able to understand lots of different points of view and different ways of investigating a problem. 

“I think the UC Faculty of Arts is the place where that kind of diverse and dynamic education is provided.”

The faculty is also home to UC’s popular Bachelor of Digital Screen with Honours degree. Professor Watson is the Academic Lead for the course which launched in 2023 and has seen him immersed in the world of green screens, studios and stop motion animation.

He says it’s the kind of exciting programme he would want to be involved in if he was a student again. 

“It’s a real privilege to be part of the Digital Screen development, which is a whole university enterprise at the cutting edge of film and sound production, screen writing, game development and animation.

“The interest from students has been really high and I think that’s because we’ve built the degree with a lot of input from the industry about the skills they need.”

The world-class facilities at UC are continuing to develop as the current cohort of students advance through the four-year degree, he says. “We’ll soon have a new sound hub that’s about to open which has sound edit suites and mixing facilities and a Foley sound effects stage. I’m very excited about that because it touches on my interest in sounds from a linguistics point of view and how you can make fake but realistic sound effects from weird and wonderful things.”

Professor Watson moved to New Zealand from Britain in 2011 to become a linguistics Lecturer at UC and has been at the University ever since. In his teens he wanted to become a journalist, but when his application to a journalism school was unsuccessful, he chose to study linguistics instead because of a fascination with language and how it relates to understanding people and society. It was the Linguistics programme at UC, which is internationally known for its groundbreaking work, that ultimately attracted him to New Zealand. 

While arts and humanities subjects are often seen as opposite to science, technology and maths, he argues that developing skills across all of these areas is valuable. 

“We need people who understand things from a humanities perspective, plus those people who can generate new technologies. Both of those things are important. And I think we need to not lose sight of that important partnership.”

Professor Watson says the Arts faculty is inherently interdisciplinary. “I’m proud of the connections UC Arts has made across disciplines within the university and with our partners in the wider community. It’s a really diverse, exciting faculty. We have, for example, Music both at the Ilam campus and at the Arts Centre, where we also have the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities which is connected to our Classics programme in the city, as well as the Digital Screen initiative across our Dovedale and Ilam campuses. 

“I think it’s important for universities to be part of their communities and at UC we’ve been really successful at building those relationships and our connection to Christchurch and the people here. Digital Screen is a nice example too because we’re making strong connections with the film and gaming industries.”

Professor Watson still teaches linguistics courses at UC and enjoys being connected with students so he can keep in touch with their needs and any challenges they are facing.

He sees his role as Executive Dean as making sure students are ready to take opportunities that come to them in the future. The Bachelor of Arts at UC has been updated in recent years to make sure it's well-designed for today's graduates and helps them seize opportunities, he says.

“We've built in skills that are relevant for employment and also ensured that students can choose subjects which they can directly apply when they go out and look for jobs.”

While he travels back to the UK with family when he can, Professor Watson has put down roots in Ōtautahi Christchurch. Outside of work, he is a busy father of two young children who play a lot of sport. “That's actually one of the things I really like about New Zealand as a country is that almost any park you go to on a weekend is filled with some sport, sometimes many sports, and that really is something that lots of people here lean into as an expected part of their week.”

Professor Watson enjoys meeting prospective students and their families at open days and information evenings, and he encourages them to follow their interests in arts-based subjects. His message to them is, ‘Do what you love, and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that will present themselves to you’.

“If when I finish my role as Executive Dean, we’ve managed to convince some people of the real value and the real skills that social science, humanities and creative arts students have, then I'll be pretty pleased with that,” he says.

Kevin Watson Professor Watson enjoys watching his children play sport on the weekend.

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