Eliza Robertson book launch

Rising Canadian literary darling and one of the Writing department’s most amazing recent undergrads, Eliza Robertson will be launching her debut short story collection Wallflowers in Victoria on Thursday, August 21.

wallflowersDescribed by publisher Penguin as “quirky and masterful, Wallflowers is a bouquet of unconventional delights from a powerful new voice.” And if that seems like high praise, consider that Robertson was also named to National Post‘s list of “The 25 most anticipated (Canadian) books of 2014.”

More from Penguin: “Robertson has created a cast of unique and wholly engaging characters. Here there are swindlers and innocents, unlikely heroes and gritty survivors; they teach us how to trap hummingbirds, relinquish dreams gracefully, and feed raccoons without getting bitten . . . . Robertson smashes stereotypes even as she shows us remarkable new ways of experiencing the world—and of relating to our fellow human beings.”

Born in Vancouver, Robertson was a clear standout here in the Writing department. Already a talent to watch before she graduated in 2011, Robertson picked up The Malahat Review’s 2009 Far Horizons Award, won the 2010 PRISM International fiction contest, was shortlisted for 2010’s acclaimed Journey Prize, and was also one of the student creators of the 2011 Leo Award-winning web series, Freshman’s Wharf. Not bad considering her original major was political science and she didn’t even transfer to creative writing until her third year at UVic.

RobertsonShe then went on to pursue her MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer. In 2013, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Journey Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize.

Check out this quirky interview with Robertson on the 49th Shelf site.

Eliza Robertson launches Wallflowers at 6pm, Thursday August 21, at Smiths Pub, 777 Courtney Street. Come for the reading, stay for the beer—and take home a great new book! Find her on Twitter at @ElizaRoberts0n.

 

 

Back to the future

It’s the typical sessional’s dilemma—what to do with all that course material you so painstakingly prepared once your course is over?

A crash course on time travel

A crash course on time travel

Longtime sessional instructor and Fine Arts communication honcho John Threlfall found a solution: he’s flipped the viewing list from his summer Fine Arts popular culture elective “It’s About Time: Time Travel in Popular Culture” into the summer recommended viewing wall at stalwart Cook Street Village video store Pic A Flic.

With a selection of 42 films and television shows in a variety of genres offering a romp across the time-space continuum, word is the wall has been quite popular with Pic A Flic’s loyal customer base. (And we’re sure it’s just a coincidence that the Victoria Film Festival‘s annual Free B-Film Festival kicked off on August 1st with the campy time-travel classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)

TardisIn fact, this is the second time that Threlfall has been a guest programmer for Pic A Flic: to mark the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise in 2012, he assembled a selection of films that never would have been made without the influence of Bond. (Think The Incredibles, the Bourne series, the hilarious French series OSS-117, etcetera.)

Indeed, one of the reasons Pic A Flic has managed to survive in the digital direct era is not only because of their knowledgeable staff and fantastic selection, but also because of their relationship with their loyal customer base. Much like a favourite independent book store or record shop, it’s important for film fans to help keep Pic A Flic afloat.

But if you don’t have the time (ha!) to rent a movie right now, here’s the master list for future reference:

What's on your summer viewing list?

What’s on your summer viewing list?

The Twilight Zone: “Walking Distance”, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Time Machine (1959), The Time Machine (2002), Time After Time, Warehouse 13: “Time Will Tell”, Back to the Future (1, 2, 3),Frequency, Meet the Robinsons, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Timeline, Army of Darkness, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, La Jetee, 12 Monkeys,Peggy Sue Got Married, Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever”, Heroes, Life on Mars, Donnie Darko, Les Visiteurs, Just Visiting, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Triangle, Slaughterhouse Five, Timecrimes, Safety Not Guaranteed, Source Code, Primer, About Time, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Black Adder: Back and Forth, Quantum Leap: “The Color of Truth”, Being Erica, Southland Tales, Time Bandits, The Navigator, Fringe: “White Tulip”, The Terminator (1, 2, 3, 4), Free Birds, The Time Tunnel, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Cosmos, A Brief History of Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Kate & Leopold, Star Trek: The Next Generation “All Good Things”, The Simpsons “Time and Punishment”, Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife”, Next, Source Code

Threlfall’s time-travel selections were up throughout July and will likely be on view until mid-August. If you’re a time travel fan, be sure to pop down to Pic A Flic at 328 Cook Street and peruse the selection.

 

Last week for Heaven

If you haven’t been to Heaven yet, you’ve still got time. No need to bother St. Peter, however—simply pop into the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown for the final week of the  exhibit Windows Into Heaven: Religious Icons from the Permanent Collection.

Co-curator Regan Shrumm explains the significance of some of the icons

Co-curator Regan Shrumm explains the significance of some of the icons

Running through to Saturday, August 9, Windows Into Heaven is a result of the graduate research of History in Art MFA and exhibit co-curator Regan Shrumm.

Featuring Christian Orthodox icons and crucifixes from the permanent collection of the Legacy Gallery, this exhibition examines religious, historical, and cultural meanings past and present. “A lot of people don’t know what icons are or what they’re used for,” says Shrumm, who originally started exploring the Legacy’s collection for the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award in 2012.

Frequent readers of this blog may well remember Shrumm’s name as the winner of the 2013 Victoria Medal—awarded annually to the student with the highest GPA in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Describing her as “a remarkable student” with “a lively, vibrant spark,” History in Art chair Dr. Catherine Harding noted Shrumm “made these precious items come alive through her focus on their materiality and their special relationship to other artistic traditions, such as the close visual connections between Greek Byzantine and Russian religious culture.”

Eva Baboula speaks to a packed house at the curator's talk in April

Eva Baboula speaks to a packed house at the curator’s talk in April

Windows Into Heaven is co-curated HIA professor and recently appointed Associate Dean of Fine Arts, Dr. Evanthia Baboula, who also led Shrumm’s directed studies course which led to the creation of this popular exhibit. Over a hundred people turned out for the curator’s talk and tour back in April, showing the continuing interest in this kind of religious iconography.

Just a few of the icons on display

Just a few of the icons on display

The 18th and 19th century icons—created from egg tempera, enamel and silver metalwork—are from the eastern Christian tradition and show how religious imagery maintained a central role in orthodox Christianity. Many of the icons are from the donated collection of Dr. Bruce and Mrs. Dorothy Brown.

Icons were venerated in churches, private homes or during a journey to provide protection to body and spirit. Images of saints, Christ and the Virgin that date back to the Byzantine tradition, the medieval empire of Constantinople, are also a concrete remnant of how the religious communities of imperial Russia built on these traditions to create a recognizable, yet distinctive and lively art.

Viewers at the exhibit

Viewers at the exhibit

“The icons in this exhibition are similar in age and importance to others found in major galleries and museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, and the Ashmolean,” says Baboula.

Windows Into Heaven must close on August 9 at the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown, 630 Yates. Admission is free and the gallery is open 9am to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday.

Sounds like art

Most artists aren’t very pleased when their work receives a chilly reception. But when Visual Arts professor Paul Walde created a four-movement orchestral requiem for an audience of one—the Farnham glacier in the Kootenays—he was expecting to get the cold shoulder.

Paul Walde recording on Farnham Glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

Paul Walde recording on Farnham Glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

Accompanied by a 70-person choir and orchestra, Walde and a film crew trekked up the icefield in July 2013 to bring awareness to melting glaciers in general, and to the Jumbo and Farnham glaciers in particular. The glacier area is the site of a controversial resort development.

While composing music for a glacier may seem a bit odd, it’s simply part of Walde’s wider practice as an artist exploring the boundaries between sound, landscape and art.

“Is listening a natural act? Is perception a cultural act? What does it mean to overlay something completely natural with something overtly cultural?” asks Walde. “Those are the kind of questions I deal with.”

As an artist, Walde believes the combination of visual material with natural sounds allows for a different kind of listening experience. “If you can convince your brain that what you’re hearing is music, you’re going to listen to those sounds very differently,” he says.

Growing up in northern Ontario, Walde was influenced by his experiences with nature and landscape art. “On a larger scale, Canadian identity has always been wrapped up in landscape,” he says. “But I have a strong interest in science, and a lot of science is centered on the investigation of the natural world and how it works.

“Then there’s the larger socio-political dimension of climate change—if you consider the environment somehow integral to our Canadian identity, what does it mean when it’s threatened?”

Paul Walde (photo: Times Colonist)

Falling pine needles bring a piano to life (photo: Times Colonist)

As an acclaimed intermedia artist, Walde has fused his passion for nature and art by transforming mushroom spores, flitting moths, falling pine needles, beaver-gnawed trees and improvised soundscapes into numerous gallery pieces over the years—including Requiem for a Glacier.

Originally commissioned by the Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo, Requiem received international media attention. Conducted by UVic Symphony director Ajtony Csaba, the performance was filmed as the basis for a video installation.

The soundtrack also incorporates field recordings taken on top of (and beneath) the glacier’s ice field. “The natural resonances of the glacial sounds almost elicit another melody,” he says.

The volunteer orchestra on the glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

The volunteer orchestra on the glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

The final 9 x 32-foot, 40-minute projected video installation—which also includes material recounting the history of the glacier, the advent of electricity and climate change, and the government’s announcement of a year-round resort community in the Jumbo Glacier area (which Walde translated into Latin and used as the choral parts in his Requiem) has already appeared in two Kootenay-region galleries.

As the proposed $1-billion Jumbo Glacier Resort continues to generate controversy, Requiem for a Glacier has created new awareness about the issues of global warming and the development of wild spaces. “I offer information and allow people to draw their own conclusions,” he explains. “The video isn’t simply a documentation of the performance. I didn’t want to make a music video, I wanted to make a unique art work which operated more like a painting.”

As always, Walde leaves it to his audience to discover the impact of the art.

Walde's "Interdeterminacy" offers art from mushroom spores

Walde’s “Interdeterminacy” offers art from mushroom spores

“I love leaving a gallery and seeing information in ways I never noticed before,” he says. “That’s one of the great experiences you can have with any art form—literature, theatre, film, visual art—the artist gives you a lens to understand the world.”

Walde is the new chair of UVic’s Visual Arts department and an old hand at engaging students in the contemporary creative process. “I try to convince them that their first idea isn’t always their best idea,” he says. “Consider that first idea an initial impulse and see where else it can go.”

He’s also excited by new opportunities in the art world. “There are great opportunities in technology,” he says. “We’re also seeing the development of an art market that’s unprecedented; it’s enormous compared to what it used to be. Really, it’s a great time to be an artist.”

Requiem for a Glacier runs September 11 to November 1 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam, then at Laval University Art Gallery in Quebec City until the end of December.

This piece originally ran as part of the KnowlEDGE UVic Research series.

“History in Art” soon to be history

Change is afoot in the Department of History in Art . . . a name change, to be precise. Starting next year, HIA will become the Department of Art History and Visual Studies.

“[The name] History in Art is unique—there is no other department in the world with that name,” explains department chair Catherine Harding. “[Department founder Alan Gowans] wanted to signal that we were not about the elite practice of art, but it’s honestly been the bane of our existence. People hear the name and they ask, ‘What’s that? Is it some different branch of history or art history?’”

HIA film listShifting to “Art History and Visual Studies” isn’t just about making fewer explanations, however; Harding says it’s also about being more inclusive within the department itself. “We’ve had people teaching with us for years who are film historians, not really art historians, and they’ve always felt like a bit of a sidecar.”

A new name also provides the opportunity for curriculum revision. “Instead of being focused on geographies and chronologies, we’re now going to have three streams: visual literacy, including all the film courses; intercultural/cultural understanding; and our experiential community base. We’re retooling what we offer, and the name change will be huge for that.”

Medieval coursesHarding points to the recent brouhaha when US president Barack Obama took an offhand swipe at art history: “Folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree”—a remark for which he later apologized. (“As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school.”)

Ironically, she has been looking south of the border for examples of the increasing importance of visual literacy in society. “They do visual literacy In the American secondary school curriculum, but there’s no visual literacy in BC secondaries,” she says. “We can do an important job here advocating for visual literacy in BC’s schools. “

Now that all the planning and paperwork is completed, Harding is looking forward to their new designation. “It still has to go through Senate, but the signs are that everyone really supports it,” she says. “But it probably won’t show up until next year’s calendar—let’s say September 2015 to do all the administrative changes.”

New degree for Music

Over the past few years, the School of Music’s string faculty has been working with the university to establish a program for young musicians to study intensively—not as individual artists, however, but as a quartet. The School of Music is now proud to announce the launch of the Masters Degree Program in String Quartet Performance—a first in Canada.

The Lafayette String Quartet

The Lafayette String Quartet

While there are other institutions where individual musicians can earn graduate degrees in string performance, UVic is now the first Canadian degree-granting institution to offer a Masters with a string quartet emphasis. This new program will allow previously formed quartets the opportunity to study both as a group and individually with the Lafayette String Quartet, UVic’s acclaimed Artists-in-Residence.

“This will bring an outstanding student quartet to UVic to work directly with the Lafayette String Quartet for a two-year residency,” says School of Music director Susan Lewis Hammond. “The program will bring the high level of the LSQ’s creative activity directly to students. The result will be an innovative student experience that builds directly on the creative and research expertise of the Lafayette String Quartet.”

The LSQ's Ann Elliott-Goldschmid with students at QuartetFest West 2013

The LSQ’s Ann Elliott-Goldschmid with students at QuartetFest West 2013

For more than two decades, the LSQ has taught some of Canada’s finest young string players, and also used their residency to enhance local performances and community involvement.

“Not all universities have a resident string quartet, and there’s a real mentoring by having all of the string teachers in one ensemble,” says LSQ violinist Sharon Stanis. And as the renewed success of their annual QuartetFest West summer teaching program for string quartet players proved, it seems only natural to create a Masters in String Quartet here at UVic.

Biró’s Mediterranean voice

School of Music professor and internationally recognized composer Dániel Péter Biró will be spending the 2014/15 academic-year at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, thanks to the prestigious Fellowship he recently received—a first for the University of Victoria. But he is also currently engaged with his latest round of international projects as well.

Dániel Péter Biró

Dániel Péter Biró

Biró’s new composition Al Ken Kara (That Is Why It Was Called) will be performed on July 26 at the Teatro Fondamenta Nuove in Venice, Italy. It was originally composed as part of the film project Mediterranean Voices, which premiered in February 2014 at the Eclat Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. Biró was one of 12 international composers invited to participate in the ambitious undertaking.

“It’s a project that incorporates video, architecture and music,” he explains. “There are six rooms, so in between pieces they go to these rooms where there are 12 video screens. The video artist traveled for eight months through 12 countries shooting different themes.”

Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the video of the premiere of Biró’s composition Al Ken Kara Kara as part of the Mediterranean Voices project.

Biró in Tunisia

Biró in Tunisia

Mediterranean Voices explores themes like “public places” (religious buildings, demonstrations) and “borders” (both political and physical). Biró himself traveled to Tunisia in December 2013, where he visited the ancient El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, an island where the oldest Jewish community outside of Jerusalem has existed for 2,500 years.

Click here to listen imam Slah Ben Daoued’s amazing recitation.

“My piece dealt with the problem of language in the Mediterranean. It’s based on the Tower of Babel, is written for seven voice and uses 36 languages,” he says. “It was quite intense at times in Tunisia due to the tense political atmosphere. We witnessed a major demonstration just in front of our hotel.”

Biró also just returned from Istanbul in June, where he was participating in the Fourth International Workshop on Folk Music Analysis at Bogazici University. The conference dealt with computational ethnomusicology, the study of indigenous musical cultures using cutting-edge technology.

When asked how he gets involved with so many global projects, Biró chuckles. “People actually know about Victoria through our contemporary music scene,” he explains. “Last year I was in Vienna and just met someone by chance on the street and they said, ‘Oh, you run the SALT New Music Festival.’ So people know Victoria is a place for contemporary music composers. There’s a long history of this also—Victoria has always been known as kind of a weird place, a place for experimentation. Our students also go out into the world and they continue, and come back here.“

Biró and students

Biró and students

Biró feels the School of Music‘s alumni also enhance our reputation. “We just had our interviews with potential student composers and we asked them why they came here to Victoria and a number of them said, ‘I met this former student who said I should come here.’ So our students in the world are spreading the word that this is a place where students can develop a voice, experiment and do things.”

Ultimately, Biró sees the School of Music—and the Faculty of Fine Arts as a whole—as something of an incubator. “It’s small enough and lively enough that people are able to develop things here and not get too distracted,” he says. “That’s also a strength we have in our program too—a lot of people go to McGill or other large schools and they say it’s really a factory out there. But we’re not a factory; we’re small and personal and that’s necessary for not only acquiring skills but for incubating material.”

Four on the Floor

New faces will soon be seen in the faculty boardroom, as four departmental mainstays step into fresh administrative roles for three-year terms. Three new Chairs have been announced: Allana Lindgren in Theatre; David Leach in Writing; and Paul Walde in Visual Arts. Not to be left out, Evanthia Baboula of History in Art has been named the new Associate Dean.

Baboula

Baboula

“As we welcome the new leadership team we should also remember to thank those who have been serving in these jobs over the past few years,” says Dean Sarah Blackstone. “These individuals—Lynne Van Luven, Bill Gaston, Daniel Laskarin, and Warwick Dobson—have been working very hard on behalf of the Faculty, sometimes sacrificing their own scholarship and creative activity to be sure everyone else had the proper support to be successful in their own endeavours.”

“Good leadership is key to everything we do and all we want to accomplish as a Faculty,” Blackstone continues. “We have been very well served by the outgoing team, and I am looking forward to working with the new team.”

Lindgren

Lindgren

While appreciating the amount of work the position will entail, Lindgren is clearly looking forward to her new post. “I am grateful to my colleagues for their support and encouragement, and buoyed by our collective desire to solidify our reputation as one of the best theatre departments in Canada,” says Lindgren, a specialist in theatre history. “We’re going to continue to produce exciting theatre while preparing our students to be creative leaders.”

For his part, Leach is “thrilled and honoured” to lead the department he first joined as a student 25 years ago. “Every day, we hear good news about the creative success of our alumni,” says Leach, currently the director of both the Professional Writing and Technology and Society programs.

Leach

Leach

“I hope to increase the awareness of our program, nationally and internationally, so that any student seriously considering a career in the literary arts will put UVic on the top of their wish list . . . I also hope my hair doesn’t turn completely grey until after my second year!”

Both Leach and Lindgren highlight the importance of interdisciplinarity—in Fine Arts and across campus—as well as UVic’s core values of experiential learning, socially engaged research and community outreach. (Walde was out of town as of this writing.) Lindgren also notes the importance of the Phoenix as one of UVic’s most public faces. “In the coming years, I encourage everyone to catch a show and see our ideals in action!”

Walde (photo: Pat Morrow)

Walde (photo: Pat Morrow)

When asked for some words of advice, outgoing Theatre Chair Warwick Dobson offered this sage wisdom to the new Chairs: “Visit your Dean briefly and infrequently,” he quipped. “And know that you can usually help students—but faculty is trickier.”

Dean Blackstone also appreciates the time and effort taken by those who assisted with the appointments. “Join me in thanking the search committees who undertook this important work and congratulating the new administrative team,” she says.

Theatre grad already in good company

It’s safe to say few students would be proud of being called a scam artist, but Department of Theatre graduate Max Johnson’s pride comes from the spelling. Johnson, who has been working for local professional theatrical company Theatre SKAM since 2011 (whose associates are charmingly dubbed “SKAM artists”), is graduating with a double major in Writing and Theatre. But it’s the practical experience he learned at Phoenix Theatre that has made him such a valued member of SKAM’s team.

Max Johnson (photo: Pamela Bethel)

Max Johnson (photo: Pamela Bethel)

As with many students in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Johnson didn’t wait until graduation to put his experiential learning to work. He was hired into a part-time position as the Administrative and Communications Assistant for Theatre SKAM while only in his second year.

“Theatre is a department where you absolutely get out of it what you put in,” says Johnson. “My entire time at university was spent stepping sideways into things that would lead me places I never expected—which is how I got into marketing and Theatre SKAM in the first place.”

Daniel MacIvor (seated, left) with the cast & director of Inside (photo: Travis Bower)

Daniel MacIvor (seated, left) with the cast & director of Inside (photo: Travis Bower)

Even though marketing and communications wasn’t his first choice as a specialization, that’s where he was placed in his second year. “They needed someone with writing experience—and I was part of a group where I needed to solve a lot of crises,” he recalls.

One of those crises? Helping to market Phoenix Theatre’s 2011 production of Inside, a world premiere by Daniel MacIvor, one of Canada’s leading theatre artists. But when Johnson’s communications team of three lost two members due to illness and the Tohoku earthquake (“one of my group was an exchange student from Japan, so she was out of the picture making sure her family was okay”), he soon found himself as a solo act. “It was a crash course on marketing, publicity, photography and media relations,” he says. “It definitely acclimated me to the whole trial-by-fire scenario.”

Johnson at Theatre SKAM HQ

Johnson at Theatre SKAM HQ

No surprise, then that Theatre SKAM thought Johnson would be a good fit when they found themselves in a similar situation: just as SKAM was beginning to plan a tour of their show Cariboo Buckaroo, a medical crisis and an unexpected resignation left them bust in the dust. “To say Theatre SKAM was desperate for good help would be entirely accurate,” recalls alumnus Matthew Payne, SKAM’s Artistic Producer. Payne contacted Adrienne Holierhoek, Marketing & Communications Manager for the Department of Theatre, who recommended Johnson; as a Phoenix grad, Payne well knew the potential Theatre students had for putting learning into action. “I just wished a tour in Max’s general direction and somehow he pulled it off—a three-week tour in rural B.C. A true SKAM artist was born.”

While it sounds funny now, Johnson recalls it as being anything but. “I had never planned a tour before, but suddenly I was the sole person responsible for finding venues,” he says. “Then while the show was on tour, I was the only person left in the office. But it turned out to be a very harmonious fit—I got the vibe of the company very quickly.” While he started as a tour coordinator, Johnson is now SKAM’s full-time Administrative Assistant, and soon to be Artistic Associate.

Johnson dressed for success at SKAM's Bike Ride

Johnson dressed for success at SKAM’s Bike Ride

Given the current drumbeat of practical employability, does Johnson ever worry about pursuing a career in the arts? “I took a couple years off after high school to try and come up with something more practical than the arts, but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to study outside of that,” he admits. “I could have become an electrician, but that’s not where my skills lay.”

Ultimately, says Johnson, studying Theatre at UVic revealed his true passion. “I wanted to better myself, and I’m a better person now for having come here. I understand the need to be practical, but we clearly want to live in a society that values creativity. That needs to be encouraged.”

Theatre SKAM’s annual Bike Ride mini-theatre festival runs along the Galloping Goose trail July 12-13 & 19-20. Full details here, and be sure to say hi to Max.

Growing the Concrete Garden

If you’re like many of the Garden City’s residents, you’ll be spending part of your summer getting your hands dirty. But whether you have a backyard garden, community plot or simply grown tomatoes on your balcony—or are part of one of the more serious urban agricultural projects like the Mason Street City Farm, City Harvest Co-op, Lifecycles Project Society or the Compost Education CentreConcrete Garden is the magazine for you.

The latest issue, on sale now!

The latest issue, on sale now!

Now heading into its third issue, Concrete Garden originally began as a project in the Department of Writing’s Magazine Publishing class but has since evolved into an actual hard copy magazine that’s now for sale around the city.

With its focus on sustainable urban agriculture, Concrete Garden is Victoria’s first magazine to focus on sustainable urban food production. As their website notes, “Concrete Garden showcases the agricultural ingenuity of communities, organizations and individuals . . . [and] walks a fine line between activism and educational entertainment.”

Concrete Garden is a magazine that focuses on how an urban population is feeding itself,” says editor Kimberley Veness. “That’s everything from growing your own food in a planter box to learning about city problems like the current food composting issue.”

“We’re also interested in the ‘culture’ aspect of agriculture—architecture, green businesses, the political structures that make us need to feed ourselves and create a better system—because you can’t have community gardening without community,” says senior editor Quinn MacDonald. “We want to engage younger people, young families who are worried about sustainable agriculture. It’s a best-solution oriented magazine too.”

Urban beekeeping (photo: Hugo Wong)

Urban beekeeping (photo: Hugo Wong)

With two issues already under their belt, 500 copies of the latest issue are due to come out near the end of July. A sneak-peek at their story list reveals features on urban beekeeping, land-based salmon farming, the Pedal to Pettle composting company and the problems with urban deer.

Both Veness and MacDonald are enthusiastic about the magazine’s future. “It’s had such a good reception,” says MacDonald. “We already have people watching for the next issue. And instead of just students, we now have a few professionals working with us.”

Do you know where your compost goes? (photo: Hugo Wong)

Do you know where your compost goes? (photo: Hugo Wong)

“It’s really nice to see it expand beyond the university,” says Veness. “We don’t just want it to be a student publication. We want good writing, whether that’s good student writers who we can help grow or people on more of a community engagement level.”

Concrete Garden was showcased during this spring during UVic’s IdeaFest, where they presented as part of the “So You Want To Launch A Magazine” panel alongside other UVic-created publications like The Warren, This Side of West, Plenitude and the online Coastal Spectator. Right now, Veness is focused on the magazine’s business plan. “We’re looking at getting long-term funding so we can focus on the magazine and not on the business side of things,” she says.

With that in mind, Veness just completed a fellowship at UVic’s Centre for Cooperative and Community-Based Economy. “I was looking at the transformative effects of modern print media, specifically magazines, and how they influence communities. Ideally, I’d like Concrete Garden to be a catalyst, a system-changer.”

MacDonald (left) and Veness

MacDonald (left) and Veness

As part of her fellowship, Veness interviewed professional magazine editors locally and in Vancouver about the recent changes in the print industry. “But what are doing well are the niche magazines that focus on one thing and are hyper-local in their content” she says. “That really brings people together and creates a community. That’s good for advertisers and good for content.”

And good for Concrete Garden, of course.

“We distributed more than 400 copies of the last issue all over the place—mostly downtown, but also up in Mill Bay and out in Sooke—so the demand is there. The Compost Education Centre in Fernwood took a stack of copies, and Swan’s even put them in their rooms for their guests,” says Veness.

“We’ve always been really focused and our aesthetic quality has always been really high,” says MacDonald. “That’s been important to us since the beginning. Our audience are the people who are out there in the community, the ones with green thumbs who want to talk about these kind of things.”