The Creative School’s Dean Charles Falzon on empowering the next generation of strong, creative thinkers
Plus details on the faculty’s prized International Hubs
Blurring the binary of academic and practitioner, Dean Charles Falzon says that his appointment to lead The Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) felt much less like a goodbye to his work in the entertainment industry as much as it marks a new chapter in his long and distinguished career. His objective: To open the minds of his students and enable them to be innovative thinkers. “I realize that from this point of view, my impact on the media sector and society is much deeper and much more profound,” he says.
The Creative School at TMU houses 26 media, communication and design-related programs including journalism, performance, interior design, and film, among others. Renowned for its distinctive and vibrant culture of scholarly research and creative activities, its innovation spaces make up a dynamic ecosystem in which faculty and students work closely with community and industry partners to engage in path-breaking initiatives dedicated to real-world transformation.
The industry veteran first joined as Chair and Professor of Media Production in 2010, bringing global experience in television production, international distribution and brand development to the faculty’s RTA School of Media. Today, his pioneering work in experiential design is reflected in The Creative School’s interdisciplinary philosophy, global scope and international hubs—where students explore research in the world’s top creative cities, network with local industries and learn about international markets firsthand.
In conversation with Toronto Life, Dean Falzon discusses his profound career, harnessing creativity in entrepreneurship and the importance of introducing students to dynamic perspectives.
What did your career journey look like, and what led you to The Creative School?
I actually studied at RTA School of Media within The Creative School, where I focused on media and entrepreneurship. Not long after my studies, I moved to New York and worked with American entertainment companies like Universal Pictures. Here, I was able to discover a world outside of Canada that was available to me.
I decided to eventually build several ventures of my own, including a production company that had international distribution and marketing at its core. During this time, we produced hundreds of television programs and distributed a large library of programming as an agent for other outlets. This also led to many areas of audience transmedia experiences including toy manufacturing, book publishing and even theme park design. These included the opportunity to help build superbrands such as Thomas and Friends, Guinness World Records and more.
While the products were often different from one another, the passion was always the same: developing creativity and connecting the work with audiences internationally. I eventually began teaching around these themes as academic disciplines.
What prompted your move into the world of academia?
I always looked at creativity on a global scale and my passion has always been experiential design. When I realized that I could do so much more and have an even greater impact on this area from an academic lens, I embraced it. To be honest, there were many interests of mine that were not being met until I entered academia. I also started studying media ethics which allowed my interest in the philosophies around media to round off my scholarly perspective. I’m still very much passionate about show business and commerce of course, but when I connect students to international viewpoints or help them think about branding in creative ways, I help bring awareness to the impact this has on audiences and on society as a whole. This is much deeper and much more profound.
In your role as professor of Media Production, how do you incorporate entrepreneurship and branding into your course work?
If you consider yourself a creative person, you are automatically an innovator. By nature, you’re someone who thinks outside of the box. My approach to entrepreneurship and branding is rooted in this creativity; it’s about enabling students to determine how to communicate their ideas and their passions not just from a marketing perspective but from something much more personal.
Since you entered the entertainment industry, how has it most changed?
There are a lot less barriers to prototyping, and the opportunity to explore innovative creativity is definitely more accessible. With virtual reality (VR), social media and other technology, there are rich ways to test ideas and make room for new and exciting concepts. I also think we are more global and international in scope, more so than ever before, which makes things exciting but also feels like uncharted waters. Now, we need to determine how we can best prepare young people to live in a much richer, but incredibly uncharted, world.
How do The Creative School’s International Hubs set graduates apart from those of other media schools?
When it comes to designing experiential learning for our students, it goes back to the objective of opening their minds. There is a whole world outside of the 416 area code, and bringing in an international component to the curriculum (through travel or virtual experiences) allows students to start thinking globally, even when they are acting locally. This is why we created four international hubs for The Creative School in the UK, USA, Italy, and Egypt, and invested in short-term intensive models for global learning and collaboration both in-person and virtual.
Strong creative thinkers are born out of exposure to different points of view. Whether we’re able to demystify the often over-politicized Middle East or challenge the Canadian inferiority complex to the large U.S. entertainment market, these international hubs allow for a unique learning opportunity and design approach. There are roughly 1,600 new students in the faculty annually. Seven years ago, only about 130 students would have graduated with an international experience; today, about 1000 of them do so.
Why is it especially important for students to have access to the global market?
It is crucial that our students understand how cultural boundaries are constructed, and that there is an exciting world to discover. This hopefully results in not only a willingness, but priority, to collaborate internationally and across different disciplines in their professional careers.
At The Creative School, we may have journalists working with video game designers, photographers with dancers and more to resolve common and complex problems. These interdisciplinary exercises allow for an incredibly informed outcome. Ultimately, we’re excelling in giving a more diverse perspective.