Aidan Rowe

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 38

Job Title: Assistant professor, Visual Communication Design/Interactive New Media, University of Alberta

Why He’s A Top 40: He champions Edmonton art and design to the world through the Edmonton Arts Council, the University of Alberta and his own commercial design work.

Key To His Success: He is not afraid to be controversial or to challenge conventions in order to ignite dialogue and confront social issues.

Aidan Rowe was always “that kid who could draw.” His talent led him to a bachelor of fine arts in visual communication design from the University of Alberta and, shortly after, a job managing the university’s online presence, as well as teaching design.

That made it a very difficult decision to leave a burgeoning career in Edmonton to pursue his master’s in London, England. “That, by far, was the most intimidating, going to a world centre for art and design and culture,” he recalls.

But it paid off. In London, Rowe got involved with the global design collaboration WAVE, or World College Art Vision Exchange. He worked for luxury clothing retailer, designing for international fashion moguls Jimmy Choo and Marc Jacobs. And he renewed his passion for teaching.

Eventually, that led him full circle, back to a post in the U of A’s faculty of art. Now, he brings his wealth of experience to teaching and engaging his students in charitable and community-building projects around the world. These have included the Giving Voice to Hope CD fundraiser for Liberian refugees and Breakdance Project Uganda, on which he collaborated with U of A instructor Leslie Robinson. Rowe’s students have also created designs for the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence and helped brand the Global Youth Assembly, communicating important social messages through visual media.

Rowe credits his U of A instructors for showing him that art and design “is a very serious, important cultural endeavour that has a great opportunity to effect change. To me that was massive, to see that you could not only do something you love, but that it has real consequences.”

Rowe is committed to promoting the Edmonton arts community. He was one of the first members of the Edmonton Arts Council’s public art committee when it was founded in 2008. This year, he was elected to the council itself. The City of Edmonton has earmarked one per cent of the construction projects of eligible municipal building projects for public art. As liaison between the council and the arms length Public Arts Committee, Rowe helps determine how that money is spent and champions the installation of new, progressive – sometimes controversial – works of art in public spaces. Among the projects he has advocated for are Immense Mode at the Southgate LRT station and Overflow at the Callingwood Recreation Centre.

The aim, says Rowe, is “to have a conversation about the role of public art and design with everyone – artists, community members, politicians.”

In his roles with the EAC and the university, Rowe promotes Edmonton’s arts community at home and abroad. He has coordinated five international U of A courses for students to study design in Europe and New York. This summer, he curated the university’s submission for a WAVE showing, sending 20 pieces – most of them students’ work – to an international exhibition in London.

“One of the biggest challenges is self-recognition,” says Rowe. “We’re very Canadian, very modest. In Edmonton, we always tend to look at other places. Sometimes we just need to realize how good [we] are here.”

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