Community Projects

Sarah builds relationship with diverse communities, develops an understanding of their strengths, needs and resources, and works in collaboration with these communities to design and implement strategic communication initiatives that empower these communities to tackle complex challenges while building their community connections and growing towards their potential.


UpCYCLEd Stories (Vancouver, BC, 2015-2016). Artist in Community residency made possible through the sponsorship of the Vancouver Parks Board and the Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association.

Description & Objectives: In collaboration with diverse people who live/play/work/visit the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant (Vancouver), Van Borek oversaw the creation of a musical movie that has music and dance components and that tells the story of the Mount Pleasant community using a focus on bikes and cycling as artistic inspiration, art materials (recycled bike parts) and presentations. The UpCYCLEd Stories movie is a docu-drama incorporating documentary style video with dramatized scenes based on true stories from the neighbourhood. The “drama”-tizations are made using imaginative approaches including marionettes made of recycled bike parts. The movie was made through a variety of workshops, events and collaborations (interviews, puppetry, video, dance, sound recording and design, and music-that was performed by community members and that included some instruments made from recycled bicycle parts). The film explores the larger theme of belonging.

Part of the musical score was performed live during a community screening/concert that had a bike pedal-powered pop-up projection and that took place inside the local Kingsgate Mall. The live musical performances were recorded and later edited into the video. The project culminated in the premiere community screening of the full musical film on Thursday, September 15th, 7:30pm. The film won Best Documentary at the Canada Golden Maple Film Festival (Sept. 2016).

Pieces of an Estuary (Comox Valley, BC, Spring 2016). Instructor for “Community Projects” course North Island College (collaborative BFA program with the Emily Carr University of Art + Design) in partnership with Project Watershed.

Description & Objectives: A dynamic environmental art and public education project in consultation with Canada’s leading environmental organization, the David Suzuki Foundation. Students shared outdoor adventures and collaborated with musicians to create original songs and music videos celebrating and raising awareness about the economic and cultural values of a local ecological oasis: the Courtenay River Estuary. Estuaries are the most productive ecosystems on the planet and the ecological processes of an estuary are mostly hidden and subtle. Students in the course had a direct hand in making visible these essential ecological processes that provide approximately 40 million dollars a year in services or about 1.5 times the operating budget of the Town of Comox. Students learned the basics of sound recording and editing while creating soundscape compositions from the field. Songs included a storytelling component developed from interviews students conduct with local experts (biologists, restoration volunteers, etc). Students also learned basics in cinematography, art direction and video editing while working collaboratively in teams to produce music videos that further developed key messages of songs. The course culminated in a public screening and concert event at the Courtenay & District Museum as a catalyst for community dialogue.

Pieces of a Forest (Vancouver & Gibsons, BC, Fall 2015). Instructor for “Community Projects” course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation and Deer Crossing the Art Farm.

Description & Objectives: A dynamic urban-rural creative exchange program in partnership with Canada’s leading environmental organization, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Gibsons-based community engaged arts non-profit Deer Crossing The Art Farm (DCTAF), and the Town of Gibsons (Sunshine coast, BC). Drawing on fields of experience design and behaviour change communication, students built site-specific, multimedia installations that infiltrated the urban environment with projections of the wild while challenging the ways in which humans value nature both inside and outside the city. These installations included creative elements resulting from an exchange with emerging youth artists involved in DCTAF’s The Woodlands Project. Students did field work in a specific urban forest in Vancouver, took a day trip to a rural forest near Gibsons, and explored their wider self-community-nature relationships through video and sound recording tools. The installations included a storytelling component developed from interviews students conducted with “local experts” (biologists, park staff, tour guides, etc) in the communities of Gibsons and/or Vancouver. The program culminated in a public exhibition of students’ work in both the Town of Gibsons and in Vancouver.

EcoMUSICology: Howe SoundZ (Vancouver, Canada, Spring 2015). Instructor for “Community Projects” course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation and the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Description & Objectives: The Howe Sound region of British Columbia is experiencing a remarkable ecological rebirth.  Marine life is returning after decades of low numbers. This recovery is an incredible and all too rare good news story – not just for the residents of the Sound or the urban and tourist centres around it, but also for marine scientists worldwide who want to know more about the dynamics of marine recovery.

Empowering students to become future community leaders in sustainability, the project is taught by Sarah Van Borek, Faculty of Culture + Community, as part of the university’s Social Practice and Community Engagement (SPACE) program. The project’s over-arching goal is to create public-friendly messaging through songs and music videos to promote the ecological importance of the Howe Sound region. Stories of people who live, work and play in the Sound show the connectedness of communities to a shared geographic space. The focus is on sound and the inter-relationships between music and nature sounds in the region.

Working with a sound engineer, students married clips from their interviews with Howe Sound community members with sound effects, such as underwater recordings. The pieces are then fit with original musical recordings by local Brazilian world music guitarist, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist, Celso Machado. Students then created videos with both filmed and sourced footage to accompany the musical score to create further awareness around habitat protection and conservation. The project culminated in a screening, concert, community dialogue and exhibit of students’ process work at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Verena Wedde, EcoMUSICology student

EcoMUSICology (Vancouver, Surrey & North Vancouver, Canada, Fall 2014). Instructor for “Community Projects” course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in partnership wit the David Suzuki Foundation and the Roundhouse Community Centre.

Description & Objectives: Students collaborated with professional musicians (steel pan virtuoso Kenrick Headley, master of the dizi Charlie Lui and Cuban jazz piano prodigy Ilhan Saferali) and a sound engineer (Jeremy Therrien) to create original songs combining music and nature sounds, and music videos that highlighted the benefits of networks of connected green spaces in creating a livable and sustainable region. The focus was stand-out initiatives in three Lower Mainland municipalities: Surrey for its Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, North Vancouver for its Green Necklace greenway project and Vancouver for its Bird Strategy. The project culminated in a screening, concert, community dialogue and exhibit of students’ process work at the Roundhouse Community Centre.

Rewilding Vancouver (Vancouver, Canada, 2013/14).Instructor for “Community Projects” course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation and in affiliation with the Museum of Vancouver.

Rewilding Vancouver Community Projects Course
Rewilding Vancouver Community Projects Course

Description & Objectives: A dynamic community mapping, storytelling & visioning project. Students have exciting outdoor adventures and use technological innovation to create a “virtual urban safari” that will help reconnect Metro Vancouver residents with the city’s “wild side” (the historical natural environment) while inspiring various municipalities to follow the lead of some best practices. Students build relationships with community experts and local wild places while learning how to direct, shoot and edit short documentaries that include site-specific multimedia (photographic, video, illustration and sound-based) documentation of healthy & productive natural environments.

We Are BC (Vancouver, Canada, 2013).Visionary, director, production manager, web copy writer and video editor. Premiered at Vancouver’s the Orpheum Theatre and webcast live Oct. 3, 2013.

We Are BC. Photo by Doepp Jakab
We Are BC. Photo by Doepp Jakab

Description & Objective: A video portrait of the economic life of the BC economy as told in images, some of which were provided by BC residents themselves through crowdsourcing content. BC residents were invited to submit 30 sec film clips (incl. in S. Van Borek’s TV interview on BCTV1), in which they would share their stories, hopes, dreams, and concerns for the future of BC’s economy. The video was shown at the Orpheum Theatre and webcast live Oct. 3, 2013 as part of SFU Public Square’s 2nd annual community summit, “Charting BC’s Economic Future.”

One Voice musicians perform surprise finale at Vancouver’s The Orpheum Theatre during opening night of “Alone Together: Connecting in the City” community summit hosted by SFU Public Square. Photo courtesy of Emily Ross.

SFU Public Square ONE VOICE Music Project (Vancouver, Canada, 2012)Artistic Director/Production Manager/Videographer/Editor. Featured in the MY HERO International Film Festival (2012 – Award Winning), Alone Together Film Festival (2012), Vancouver’s The Orpheum Theatre (2012), Sustainability Television (2012), Faculty Show – Emily Carr University of Art + Design (2013).

Description & Objective: The SFU Public Square ONE VOICE Music Project is an exciting initiative that harnesses the power of music, media, performance and collaboration to bridge across differences and inspire meaningful connections between (and an appreciation for) our diverse community members. The project includes a music video featuring the internationally-acclaimed song “One Voice” written by Juno award-winning Canadian singer/songwriter, Ruth Moody. Artistic Director: Sarah Van Borek; Musical Director: Adam Dobres.

Host organization:SFU Public Square, a signature initiative of Simon Fraser University.

Additional: Essay “Alone Together” by Sarah Van Borek published (2012) by the Blue Rock Review, Volume Eight: VOX.

Emily Carr University of Art + Design students explore Kits Beach as part of their ‘Natural Capital’ community projects course.

Natural Capital (Vancouver, Canada, 2012/13) Instructor for “Community Projects” course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

Description: An interactive community mapping & storytelling project. Through a dynamic and collaborative approach to documentary practices, students created a series of digital narratives for a “Natural Capital Map App” that bring to life research DSF launched on the ‘Natural Capital’ (economic value of ecosystem processes) in the Vancouver region, while digging into the meaning this has for people in their day-to-day lives. The course culminated in an exhibit, launch, artists’ talk and school workshop at The Gulf of Georgia Cannery museum in BC’s historic fishing village of Steveston. The Cannery is an important cultural institution with approximately 50,000 visitors annually.

Objectives: These digital narratives feature stories from diverse community members who, by sharing their unique relationships and experiences to specific natural areas, will highlight the priceless Natural Capital of these areas. By promoting the concept of Natural Capital, this project aims to shift public consciousness towards advancing a green economy: an economy that not only considers the carbon footprint of its economic activity, but one which places the environment at the foundation of what defines and directs that economic activity.

Additional: Article “Natural Capital: Illuminating the True Value of Nature’s Services through Community-Engaged, Site-Specific Creative Production and Exhibition” by Sarah Van Borek published (2013) in Sustainability: The Journal of Record.

Peace it Together 2011 Summer Program

Peace it Together (Vancouver, Canada, 2011)  Film Production & Summer Program Manager

Description: A 28-day intensive summer program bringing together 30 University students (10 Israelis, 10 Palestinians and 10 Canadians) to live, share dialogue and create short films together to promote peace-building in the Middle East. The program culminated in a large-scale public screening at Vancouver’s The Vogue Theatre.

Objectives: To promote peaceful dialogue, friendship and cooperation between diverse youth participants, to empower youth with skills to translate their thoughts and visions into films, to oversee youth producing powerful films that can transmit their visions for a peaceful future to their communities and beyond.

Host organization(s): Program part of the Peace it Together Conflict Transformation Society‘s activities. The 2011 Summer Program was hosted in partnership with the University of British Columbia.


ForeignPolicyCamp (Vancouver, Canada, 2009) Community Outreach Coordinator

Description: Canada’s first national media-infused hybrid conference (a combination of an ‘unconference’ and a traditional conference) on foreign policy that engaged non-traditional voices in dialogue about Canada’s role in the world. The event took place in Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, featured more than 20 sessions and 6 case studies, and incorporated a variety of interactive media tools (live notes wiki, Twitter discussion, Flickr photo pool, online survey, and multimedia mashboard).

Objectives: To engage diverse, non-traditional voices in shaping Canada’s role in the world.

Host Organization(s): Part of a project called Canada’s World, based at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue. The event was organized through a collaboration with more than a dozen organizations across Canada.

Connecting Africa and Canada in ‘Creative Conversation’

The Reel Pan-AfriCAN SoundsCAPE (Canada & South Africa, 2008) Artistic Director/Producer

Description: Event using internet video-conferencing to link North/South ‘sister audiences’ (in Cape Town, South Africa and Vancouver, Canada) to view 5 short music documentaries, share in post-screening dialogue on critical issues as well as collaborate in thematically-relevant cultural expression guided by skilled facilitators.

Objectives: To address xenophobia and related issues of migration while exploring the role of the arts in promoting cross-cultural understanding.

Host organization(s): Presented at Simon Fraser University on behalf of the School of Communications, as part of the 2nd Annual Vancouver Pan-African Film & Arts Festival.

Additional Notes: The first of the 5 short documentaries directed/produced by Sarah Van Borek, entitled Xenophobia Unplugged, was screened at the Montreal World Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival and Silverware Film Festival (New Brunswick) in 2008 as part of a CBC Radio Canada International (RCI) Special Project, and was also officially selected by CBC’s RCI to participate in an international online film competition Migr@tions.

HmMTV (South Africa, 2005) Director/Producer/Facilitator

Description: Television pilot, including 2 original songs and music videos produced by youth through workshops facilitated by S. Van Borek; utilizing teleconferencing to connect ‘sister audiences’ in rural and urban South Africa, for youth to share facilitated dialogue on gender-based issues raised in the music videos.

Objectives: To empower youth with skills to translate their ideas into music and videos; to engage urban and rural youth in exploring gender-based issues experienced in their communities; to advocate for the girl child within the broader community.

Host Organization: The Children’s Movement (S. Africa).

Additional Notes: Masters Degree thesis project; presentation of project at Plan International’s Youth, Media & Development Forum in Bamako, Mali (2006).

SeSotho-English Colouring Storybook (South Africa, 2003) Coordinator/Facilitator

Description: Income-generating illustrated storybook addressing child rights; stories told by daycare children through puppetry workshops facilitated by Sarah; illustrations by Sarah; translation by community members.

Objectives: To engage daycare-aged children in age-appropriate processes of telling stories about a day in their lives, as a tool for gauging the extent to which their needs and rights are being met; to provide cost-effective, socio-culturally-relevant educational materials; to provide a fundraising tool for sustainable operations of the daycare.

Host Organization: Child and Youth Care Agency for Development (CYCAD), Circles of Care program supporting vulnerable children & youth, QwaQwa, South Africa.

Additional Notes: Self-initiated project as part of Canadian government (DFAIT)-sponsored international internship hosted by the International Institute for Child Rights and Development, Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria, Canada.

Hot Shots! Video Project (Vancouver, Canada, 2002) Coordinator/Facilitator

Description: Music video intervention program for high-risk, inner-city youth combining youth music and music video production through workshops (facilitated by Sarah Van Borek) with four youth groups representing distinct cultural communities, building to a community music video screening event.

Objectives: To empower youth; to provide technical and creative support and facilitation of youth voices on issues that affect them; to create an event for sharing youth issues and expressions with their broader communities.

Host organization(s): Vancouver Moving Theatre in partnership with the Urban Native Youth Association, the Multicultural Family Centre and the Strathcona Community Centre.

Additional Notes: A music video produced in the project by African youth entitled, Let’s Come Together, was featured in the African Heritage Film Festival at the University of British Columbia (2003).  Sarah Van Borek’s report on this project was requested by the International Institute for Child Rights and Development for consideration in research resulting in a publication prepared for the Canadian International Development Agency’s Child Protection Unit focusing on Child Participation – Best Practices.

UN International Children’s Conference on the Environment

Kids’ Vids Rock The Planet! (Victoria, Canada, 2002) Co-Coordinator/Lead Facilitator

Description: Music video workshop series using forum theatre, prop and costume-making using recycled materials, still photography, shadow puppetry and video to engage 100 children from around the world in identifying problems and suggesting solutions regarding sustainable development.

Objectives: To empower children to identify problems and suggest solutions that affect them and their communities; to challenge participating children to utilize scarce resources responsibly in consideration of “future generations”, symbolized by sequential workshops and workshop participants.

Host Organization: United Nations’ International Children’s Conference on the Environment.

Additional Notes: Co-designed and co-lead workshop series.  Team facilitating workshop referred to as Y.E.A.H! (Youth Empowerment through Art for Humanity).  Workshop visited by Minister of Environment Canada.


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