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Emily Carr President Ron Burnett on his knighthood, parents, and the ideal school

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VO: So you’re saying that we’rechoosing what we see?
RB: No, you’re not choosing all the time. But when you realize what you’ve chosen, you’re thinking about what you’ve chosen...
you are constantly in this process of evaluating, thinking and seeing. And at some point, I realized here was a really powerful metaphor, for human beings and what we do and how we understand ourselves.

What were your parents like? Did they expose you to the arts?

Yes. They were very cultured. Opera was on in the house all the time, and we’d go to the theatre and to films. Very early on, I had a strong interest in photography and the cinema, which then became my major passions. They were very supportive in all accounts and my father is still alive and continues to read three or four books a week.


Who was the bigger influence, your mother or your father?

They both were strong, but in different ways. My mother was a very powerful influence because she was a very kind, generous person. She was traumatized by her experiences on the kindertransport, trains,which the Nazis used to let children leave Vienna – but without their parents. And the children were not given any details about their trip; they just travelled through Europe to England without knowing whether they would be killed along the way.

And how old would she have been?

She would have been 14 or 15.

Had your father avoided the camps also?

My father’s family got out in 1936. But, most of the other members of his family perished in concentration camps.

Coming from parents who had been through something like that, did that give you the sense that you had to do something that really mattered in life?

Absolutely -- I think the fact that I’ve spent close to 40 years in the public post-secondary area was largely a function of the desire to have an impact, combined with my deep love for Canada.

I think a great deal about change in the context of history, both personal and public. All of the influences we are discussing have contributed to the ways in which I see the world and my job.

On Emily Carr's future

VO: What are you proudest of at Emily Carr?
RB: The community, that makes it up, honestly. The faculty, staff, and at an equal level, the students...

They're a remarkable group of people and very deeply and profoundly dedicated to the mission here. People work at Emily Carr because they love the place, and because they are passionately dedicated to the arts.

VO: What do you think your strongest department might be?
RB: Well, a good arts school of this kind, with its history – it is an 87-year old institution, so it's the second-oldest post secondary institution in B.C. – the strengths are actually across the curriculum, and I would say that we are as strong in digital media as we are in painting or design or illustration and 3D filmmaking.

We are very strong in design, and equally as strong in an area like ceramics... So it is very much is a cross-disciplinary space with strengths evenly distributed across many areas.

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