Oct. 10, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Jordan Baylon BA'07 (English)

Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.

Jordan Baylon is a Community Investment Manager at Calgary Arts Development. He is the person to talk to when you have questions about the resources you can access to thrive as an artist or arts organization in Calgary—resources like Calgary Arts Development’s investment programs!

Jordan has a BA (Honours) in English from the University of Calgary. He is also a poet and is working on his first manuscript. These days he finds himself practising a lot of tai chi, cold crushin’ to a ton of funk and consuming copious amounts of pork belly. Most of all he loves learning about what you do, so don’t be a stranger!

What is your favourite University of Calgary memory?

It never occurred to me before being asked this question, but my favourite UCalgary memories have been more recent, many years after graduating. When I was a student I had no idea that the Rozsa Centre played host to such a wealth of cultural offerings, such as the concerts put on by the Calgary Chinese Orchestra or Sarb Akal’s recent Indian Classical Music Festival. But if I have to name one moment from when I was a student, it would have to be participating in a Japanese language speech contest hosted by the Japanese consulate. I remember despite having memorized my speech on bullying by rote, I had not anticipated my own stage fright and stammered facing the crowd. I have grown a lot in terms of my own confidence addressing larger groups of people since then, though I’m still no toastmaster.

What was your favourite campus hang out spot?

My favourite campus space was the indoor garden in the middle of the Administration building. I found the energy there very calm and grounding, and it was seldom busy. If I was going to fall asleep when I should have been studying I preferred to do it there.

If you could give one piece of advice to a student completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?

I studied English Literature because I wanted to be a novelist and poet, but in hindsight I feel that I would have served that aim better having studied as many other subjects as I possibly could, as well as volunteering and gaining hands-on practical life experience. That being said, I have deep gratitude the rich critical and discursive environment created by deep study of literature. Now that I am working in the arts sector, which currently exists at the intersection of many emergent social discourses with various artistic practices, it is extremely useful to be able to interrogate an idea and explore all of its subtleties, nuances and contradictions. I think this is why many people with a BA in English Literature go on to work in the non-profit sector or in law. If I had known that at the time I would have definitely spent more time whetting my criticality in service of social causes that are dear to me, such as equity, diversity and inclusion. 

How has your career evolved?

Like many who end up working in the non-profit arts sector, I knew that I wanted the arts to be central to my life but I wasn’t sure what that looked like, or how I would make a living. After graduating and living abroad for a few years, I came back to Calgary yearning to be connected to community and so I volunteered a lot through the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers doing critical writing and jurying film festival selections. Deepening the relationships I garnered through that work put me in the fortunate position to get hired as an assistant at Calgary Arts Development. After almost eight years I now oversee the design and implementation of all of the granting programs we run for artists and arts non-profits. 

What is the best thing about your job?

There will never be a replacement for the feeling I get when I get to delve into a complex idea, challenge or opportunity - and there is no mind more bursting with questions than that of an artist, no matter what discipline.  Over the last several years I have enjoyed the great satisfaction of working closely with artists from diverse, equity-seeking communities. The more I learn alongside these individuals and groups the more I come to appreciate how overcoming systemic inequities like racism and poverty will allow us to have the full benefit of each other. Every day that my job offers the opportunity to share a space for another person’s lived experience and to learn new ways of knowing is a chance for me to build community. Interestingly, this isn’t even a matter of pure altruism – my greatest epiphany so far has been that community building allows for deep personal healing. Through my work with diverse communities that I am a part of I have found insight, support and validation for my own identity as a queer, racialized artist.

How did your arts degree help you get to where you are now/your current career?

I’m not sure that that I can fairly connect the dots between my arts degree and my current career. My first entry point into an arts community had nothing at all to do with the rigorous and scholarly study of literature. I would say that an arts degree gave form and fuel to a deep curiosity and an abiding care for how we all tell our stories differently. This will be something that I will carry with me no matter where my career path takes me.

Do you have advice for students looking to pursue a similar career path?

Don’t wait for an invitation or permission to get involved in anything that you’re even remotely interested in or curious about. Earning a degree does not have to be a hoop you jump through before you start to live the life you want to live. You don’t have to have everything figured out – instead roll up your sleeves, get dirty and have some skin in the game! Allowing yourself to be implicated in what actually gets you excited will not only deepen and enrich your university experience, but it will create connections and relationships that will set you up to be poised to put everything you’ve learned into action when you graduate.

Do you have any other thoughts or memories you would like to share?

Nothing, except to take this time to thank A&W and Manchu Wok for unofficially sponsoring me for my entire degree... Also, I’m exceedingly proud that the obscenely juicy lips painted at the entrance to the art department are mine ;)