Artist. Storyteller. Space changer.
A few years ago, Robert Harpin created the ultimate “office with a view”—an idea traditionally associated with career success, of “making it,” in the professional world.
Tucked amongst the trees of the river valley, just off the beaten path, the cubicle—an art installation for the Works Festival—looked to the bustling city in one direction and the serene Louise McKinney Park in the other. It held the everyday office paraphernalia one would expect—binders, pens, a stapler—but the cubicle also included survivalist gear, and guides on animal tracking and how to ski intermingled with business books on the cubicle’s shelves.
“I was kind of riffing on the idea of somebody who wants to leave it all behind, but can’t,” explains Robert, a Fine Art alumnus. “Someone who thinks, ‘Well, I’ll just take this … and this … oh, and this’—the idea that you bring your baggage with you no matter how you try to escape it.”
“ I feel like I really fought over the years to get to the position where I could be directly involved with the arts, and also still make art.”
Any person who has worked the daily grind, yet yearned to chase their dreams instead could understand the conflict stationed within Robert’s cubicle in the forest. As an artist, the struggle between day job and dream job was a familiar one to Robert—and a fight he’d promised himself he wouldn’t lose as he molded his own career.
“I remember hearing all these stats about artists and what it means to “make it”—that if you’re an artist, you need to have a day job. But I was always determined that whatever that day job was, it would involve the arts. I feel like I really fought over the years to get to the position where I could be directly involved with the arts, and also still make art.”
Now a public art officer with the Edmonton Arts Council and an active artist himself, Robert credits his education with providing him the means to pursue both careers without compromise.
“When you’re a fine art student, you’re not making works of art—you’re making projects. But that’s critical to your ability to start making works of art down the road. You work on becoming very technically proficient, learning how to use your tools, gaining a work ethic and practicing critical thinking skills, and then you’re pushed out into the world where you really start thinking about how to apply that knowledge and use those tools.
“Having those skills is absolutely key to surviving as an artist and not becoming one of the statistics.”
Robert Harpin is an alumnus of the Fine Art program. Find out more at MacEwan.ca/FineArt.