She is one of Canada’s most respected opera and theatre directors, with an enviable career working with the most prestigious performance companies in Canada. She’s been the artistic director of two theatre companies of national repute, was the head of the Opera as Theatre Programme at the Banff Centre and has conducted courses at such diverse locations as UVic, UBC, the Victoria Conservatory of Music and William Head Penitentiary. Also the recipient of Canada’s Commonwealth Medal for her contributions to the arts, Glynis Leyshon can now add the distinction of University of Victoria Distinguished Alumni to her already impressive resume.
2016 Distinguished Alumni Glynis Leyshon
But surprisingly for someone so closely associated with Canadian theatre, her academic career culminated in 1973 with a BFA from History in Art. “Who knew that having an art history degree would be so incredibly useful for a theatre director?” Leyshon says with a good-natured chuckle. “In many ways, I can think of no better background—the eye training alone was incredibly useful, but also having the insight and vocabulary to work with designers on sets and costumes.”
Leyshon was honoured as the 2016 Distinguished Alumni for the Faculty of Fine Arts at a special Alumni Week event on February 2 at the Royal BC Museum, alongside 11 other alumni from various faculties. (It was doubly rewarding to have her present at the awards, given that she had survived a harrowing stabbing in Toronto less than eight weeks prior.) Leyshon now joins the likes of previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), Carla Funk (BFA ’97), Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), Deborah Willis (BA ’06), Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).
Dr. Susan Lewis, acting Dean of Fine Arts, applauds Leyshon’s achievements and her selection as a Distinguished Alumni. “Glynis Leyshon exemplifies the best qualities of a Fine Arts alumna,” she says. “Based in Art History, she also performed onstage at the Phoenix while a student and experienced the full value of studying across the arts. Glynis honed what she learned at UVic to become one of Canada’s top opera and theatre directors. Bravo and congratulations!”
Seeing the world through new eyes
Indeed, it was the then-called History in Art department that originally brought Leyshon to UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts from her home in North Vancouver. The first in her family to even consider getting a university degree, she says she came to UVic seeking “a classic liberal arts education more than theatre training. My parents weren’t viewing this as a trade school, but as a true educational experience for me.” She speaks highly of her art history training, describing it as being “key to my work.”
“In Art History, they wanted you to take German in translation and to have a basis in English, History and many other cultural disciplines, so when you were looking at a work of art it wasn’t an isolated aesthetic event, but a culmination of the life and history of the people who were making it, why and how they were making it, and what they wanted to say with it,” she says. “The importance and the power of what we do and why we do it, how looking beyond surface aesthetics in a work of art, can be powerful and meaningful beyond a fleeting sense of interest.”
A scene from Leyshon’s production of Where the Blood Mixes
It was also while taking museum conservation classes at the Royal BC Museum that Leyshon became aware of the importance of cultural diversity. “Being introduced to the extraordinary First Nations collection and the richness of that culture at the RBCM started what has become an arc in my ongoing career—to the point of working with Margot Kane and Kevin Loring on his Governor General’s Award-winning play Where the Blood Mixes.”
“Truly inspiring” is how Dr. Erin Campbell, current Chair of the Art History & Visual Studies department, describes Leyshon. “Glynis affirmed for me the value of studying art history,” says Campbell. “Her example showcases the essential truth of the discipline—that it not only enriches our lives but is also at the heart of all things cultural, encompassing literature, history, theatre, design, and languages. It develops the mind, the eye, and the heart, enhancing our our ability to engage with the world of culture. Her outstanding career as a theatre director demonstrates that a degree in art history can have surprising results, leading one to embark on unexpected career paths and unforeseen adventures.”
All the world’s a stage
While pursuing studies in art history and museum conservation, Leyshon also took some theatre classes back in the pre-Phoenix days when Theatre operated out of the old army huts on campus. “Of course, this was in the era when you could take a degree in one department and work in another, and that served me very well,” she continues. ”Because while I was in that building a lot, I was never officially in the theatre department.” She did, however, spend a couple of years working with Theatre professor Carl Hare in his famed Company One. “It was one of those magical experiences you never forget,” she recalls.
Given that she was studying in the early 1970s, it was also a time when the importance of Canadian content was emerging. “We had the passion and excitement of developing insight into Canada’s own cultural identity, rather than simply studying work from Britain or the US. We were really trying to create work from our own experiences and Carl Hare’s Company One was an important part of that exploration.”
A familiar name to longtime Victoria residents, Leyshon served as Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre for 11 seasons, from 1986 to 1997. (Indeed, she was even one of less than 10 people in the room when the idea of naming it “the Belfry” came up in the late 1970s.) She directed over 25 productions at the Belfry, and was instrumental in heading a capital campaign that allowed the theatre to purchase and renovate their landmark heritage building. She also reduced the company’s accumulated debt and helped refine the Belfry’s artistic mandate by focusing on contemporary and Canadian work by the celebrated likes of Morris Panych, Dan Needles, Michel Marc Bouchard and fellow UVic alumna Joan MacLeod, among many others.
Following her Belfry tenure, she became Artistic Director of the Playhouse Theatre Company in Vancouver from 1997 to 2009, and has since directed for the likes of the Shaw Festival, the National Arts Centre, Citadel Theatre, Canadian Stage, Tarragon Theatre, Bard on the Beach, Theatre Calgary, among numerous others. On the opera front, she’s directed acclaimed productions for nearly every Canadian company—including Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Opera, L’Opéra de Montréal, Calgary Opera, Opera Hamilton, Edmonton Opera, Ottawa’s Opera Lyra, among others—and has created over 20 new productions for POV alone.
Words of wisdom for students
Leyshon delivering her popular speech at the Distinguished Alumni Awards
With all that cultural work behind her, does she have any advice for current (and future) Fine Arts students? “If you’re ambivalent in any way, do something else,” she says with characteristic frankness. “Only enter this arena if, in your heart, you can’t see yourself doing anything else. It is going to be difficult . . . but if you have a passion for it, then follow that dream with every bit of discipline you have. Then, if the stars align—and they need to, because it’s always going to be a challenge—then you to may have the gift of working in the arena of our emerging Canadian culture.”
Currently working on the world premier of a new opera—Ours, chronicling the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s tragic WWI Battle of Beaumont Hamel, set to debut in summer 2016 at St. John’s Opera on the Avalon—Leyshon, was back on campus as recently as November 2015 directing a new version of the POV WWI opera, Mary’s Wedding. And watch for her to be back at the Belfry in April 2016, directing the 40th anniversary production of Puttin’ on the Ritz.
When asked if it’s easier or harder for Fine Arts students to find their way these days, Leyshon doesn’t pull any punches. “It’s never been easy and I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy. Truthfully, I didn’t get my degree in History in Art as a career move. I wanted to learn as much as I could about something I was passionate about.” She pauses and chuckles again. “But I don’t think a lot of guys at IBM have a solid career path right now either.”
The business of the arts
Leyshon also highlights the importance of entrepreneurial thinking.
“Life is about listening intently not just to the logistics of finding a job but the passion of making a life—if you listen hard, you’ll find your way,” she says. “Be brave about it, because nothing today is a done deal for reliability; there are no cradle-to-grave job opportunities anymore. You have to make your work as you need to; artists have to be entrepreneurial and business people, and if you have the talent and heart for it, you will find your way. There are more opportunities in a more diverse range of the arts than ever before—BC is a centre for a lot of digital technology—which are open to people. But you need that talent, passion and discipline to move forward.”
Looking back on both her academic years and career in the arts, Leyshon muses about the importance of Victoria as a cultural centre. “We’re very lucky in this community that you don’t feel totally lost in a huge landscape,” she says. “We are fortunate to be part of a really passionate community that supports music, theatre and opera, as well as literary, visual and performing arts. There’s an appetite and interest in the work we do, which is quite different than how people feel across the country.”
Considering that UVic continues to add an impressive number of figures to Canada’s ever-increasing cultural canon—from the established likes of pianist Eve Egoyan, playwright Joan MacLeod, sculptor Kim Adams, artist Robert Youds, director Dennis Garnhum and novelist WP Kinsella to next-generational names like novelist Esi Edugyan, composer Rodney Sharman, playwright Janet Munsil, artist Althea Thauberger, and actor Sara Topham, to name but a few—does Leyhson feel there is something about UVic that fosters such extraordinary creativity?
“I do,” she says. “UVic has fostered something beautiful here. Sometimes it feels like Canada is a wasteland filled with beer and hockey, but all those Canadian clichés—the poetic ads where kids play hockey—that’s not us. We’ve had to find other ways to express ourselves as Canadians. That critical foundation came from UVic and was absolutely vital to where I’ve been able to develop my craft.”
A creative community Welcome to week two of The Fine Arts Connector, your weekly listing of news, resources, activities and other shareable content from the Faculty of Fine Arts, specifically compiled for distribution during the current health crisis. One thing...
He’s written in almost every genre imaginable and seen his work adapted for film. He’s won multiple awards and inspired a new generation of writers. He’s been a student and a teacher, and now internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author Richard Van Camp can add the designation of Distinguished Alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts to his list of accolades.
No stranger to UVic since his graduation with a BFA in 1997, the Edmonton-based Van Camp returns to campus during Alumni Week to offer the public talk “My Life As An Author”, receive his Distinguished Alumni Award, visit undergraduate classes and have a frank conversation with current grad students. But before all that happens, he took time to chat with us about his life in words.
2020’s Distinguished Alumni Award winner Richard Van Camp (photo: William Au)
All are welcome to join Richard Van Camp at his public talk, from 2:30-4pm Monday, February 3, in room 159 of UVic’s Fraser building.
A near miss into politics
A proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT, Van Camp came to UVic’s acclaimed Writing department as a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, before later getting a Master’s in Creative Writing at UBC. But his original intention was not to become a writer, but to go into politics instead.
“I was studying land claims at Aurora College in Yellowknife but had started writing book and music reviews for the Yellowknife newspaper, The Prss Independent,” he recalls. “I was also writing poems and short stories that my English instructor, Ron Klassen, was reading in his spare time. I owe Ron so much because he told me not to get into politics because I was a writer.” (Ron, the Canadian literary scene owes you a debt!)
It was Klassen who encouraged him to attend the En’owkin Centre: not only has their program specialized in Indigenous writers and artists for the past 30 years, but En’owkin also has a vibrant partnership with UVic, which smoothed the path to Victoria for Van Camp.
Once here, he studied with some of the department’s literary legends like WD Valgardson, Marilyn Bowering, Jack Hodgins and Stephen Hume, but was also inspired by his fellow students — many of whom went on to literary acclaim themselves, including Billeh Nickerson, Aislinn Hunter and Teresa McWhirter.
A story for every genre
Given his vast — 24 books in 24 years — and diverse literary output — including two novels, five collections of short stories, two children’s books, four baby books (the first of which, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns was given to every newborn baby in BC in 2008), six graphic novels and four seasons with CBC TV’s North of 60, plus a feature film adaptation of his novel, The Lesser Blessed, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival — Van Camp seems to revel in taking on new challenges. Was that something he learned as a student?
“It was the En’owkin Centre that encouraged all of us to work in every genre,” says the award-winning writer. “I am continually surprised that so many creative writing institutions limit you when selecting the genres you wish to explore. The one thing I always mention when I teach is, ‘The story is the boss.’ It’s up to you to help decide if the story that’s chosen you is best relayed as a short story, novella, graphic novel, movie, poem, prose piece, mind blur, photo, video, etcetera.”
Between writing contracts, Van Camp has taught creative writing at UBC, Emily Carr University and has held writer-in-residence positions at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. He’s also been quite diverse in the delivery of his works: all of his children’s books are available in Braille for free, anywhere in the world, and his baby book, Little You, was published in Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey.
Helping the next generation
As the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Van Camp now joins the ranks of previous Fine Arts DAA winners, including Banff Centre managing director of performing arts Nathan Medd (BFA ’01), country music stars Twin Kennedy (BMus ’08), visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).
And while many of his works feature strong characters mentoring youth — notably his graphic novels, which have tackled issues ranging from gangs, sexual health, restorative justice, peace-making, mental health and suicide prevention — Van Camp also feels it’s important to give back himself.
“Alumni should be looking out for and promoting other alumni,” he says. “We’re a family and we deserve to help new writers the same way I was helped while on campus. I’m also grateful for [UVic’s Torch] alumni magazine that arrives to our home in Edmonton. I find I’m starving to see what everyone’s up to.”
With his latest short story collection, Moccasin Square Gardens, released in 2019 from Douglas & McIntyre, and his public DAA talk titled “My Life As A Writer”, does Van Camp have any advice for current Writing students?
“With 24 books out these past 24 years and five books on the way, working with 12 different publishers and working with two different literary agencies, I feel I can share my experience of how to make a great living as an author today and, at the same time, talk about the challenges writers can face balancing family, touring, writing and deadlines,” he chuckles. “I can’t wait to share the story about how I was fired by one of my publishers . . . only to return years later with a book that changed all of our lives forever.”
And what does it mean to him, personally and professionally, to be named a Distinguished Alumni?
“I wouldn’t be the writer or human being that I am today had it not been for UVic,” he admits. “I’m so grateful for the mentorship, the friendships and the guidance I received while there. I will always say yes when UVic calls me to return to help.”
From the nation’s capital to one of the world’s leading creative spaces, the career of Department of Theatre alumnus Nathan Medd has gone far and fast since his graduation with a BFA in 2001. Now named the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient for the Faculty of Fine Arts, Medd has made a name for himself as one of Canada’s brightest young arts leaders.
Back on campus during Alumni Week to attend the Distinguished Alumni Awards night, visit Theatre classes to speak with current students and to hold a public talk about the importance of creative placemaking, Medd took time out of his busy schedule to reflect on his career to date and the state of the arts in Canada today.
Living his dream
A cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada, Medd is currently Managing Director of Performing Arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works, a position he took up in August 2018. Prior to that, he was the Managing Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, where his team successfully championed Canadian creators and initiated a new national stage for Indigenous performance (launching September 2019).
Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)
But prior to those key positions, he was Managing Producer of Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre, where he produced original works for Vancouver’s 2010 Cultural Olympiad and co-founded Progress Lab 1422, the performing arts creation studio in East Vancouver, in 2009. And before that, he was the Operations and Development Manager for Victoria’s Intrepid Theatre, where he co-founded Metro Studio — still a flagship venue for Vancouver Island — and also held positions with both the BC Arts Council (programs officer and policy analyst) and the Belfry Theatre (front of house manager), where he started right out of university.
“When I left the Phoenix I had an usually clear sense of direction,” says Medd. “Before I turned 30, I knew I wanted to be leading a mid-sized theatre organization, and before I was 35 I wanted to be leading an A-category theatre organization.”
Any way you look at it, moving from graduation to managing the nation’s leading arts centre in just 18 years is quite the career arc. And that doesn’t even mention the Master’s degree in management from Harvard University he recently completed, or the global pilot run of Harvard Business School’s first digital learning program in which he was invited to participate.
“[Theatre alumnus] Ian Case once told me he felt called to the theatre, the way a priest might say they were called to the church, and I’ve caught myself saying that now too,” he says. “Performing arts is definitely a calling. By the time I was about 13, I knew I only wanted to be in a theatre — it didn’t matter if I was in the booth, behind the curtain or centre-stage. It was quite a surprise to my parents.”
It was no surprise to the Qualicum Beach-raised Medd, however, at least once he got involved with the ECHO Players at the local Village Theatre as a young teen. “It was a place where adults treated children like adults and children treated adults like children — everyone was equal, everyone respected each other,” he recalls. “It was a bit bohemian and I’d never been in a club like that before. It didn’t matter how old you were, we were all just grooving on the idea of making a performance.”
Rising to the Phoenix
Medd (centre) returns for the Phoenix 50th anniversary in 2016 with classmates Jeff Glenn (left) & David Schumann
Given his up-island upbringing, and perhaps the fact that he was his high school valedictorian, applying to UVic’s Theatre program was a no-brainer for Medd; what was surprising, however, was his realization that, after four years in the acting program, acting wasn’t really what he wanted to be doing.
“I had a moment in my fourth year where I started to recognize that acting wasn’t my highest and best use in the theatre,” he says with a chuckle. “I was looking forward to a steady paycheque, making the rules and being in a position to work with and hire my friends — to say nothing of the talent I didn’t have to be acting. But I did have a love for organizing other people and produce work.”
For that, he credits the long-running Student Alternative Theatre Company, or SATCo, which was started by the afore-mentioned Ian Case and the late Tim Sutherland and continues to this day. “[SATCo] gave us a lot of space to try out theories and concepts from class with no one supervising us . . . we learned so much through that, and I learned so much about managing theatre through trial and error.”
While Medd may be well known behind the scenes, his Phoenix classmates included a number of people better known for their roles in the spotlight — including Erin Karpluk of CBC TV’s Being Erica fame, Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, The Office), Meg Roe (Onegin, and a frequent face on stage and directing with Bard on the Beach), Annette Reilly (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), plus the likes of David Schumann, who is now one of the top trailer editors in Hollywood — many of whom he still sees, whether in person or on screen.
He also points out the value of having a purpose-built facility like the Phoenix building itself. “As I visit more and more schools now, I realize just what a dream the facility is — the three stages are the real asset of the program. A lot of theatre schools across North America have the opposite infrastructure: well-equipped studios but, if they have any performance venue at all, it’s just a ramshackle stage. There’s no facility quite like UVic.”
Medd is a familiar face at conferences and arts gatherings across Canada
As part of the overall Alumni Week activities, Medd will be participating in a free public talk about creative placemaking from 12:45-1:45pm Wednesday, Feb 6, in the Phoenix’s Bishop Theatre. Joining him will be fellow Phoenix alumni and Metro Studio co-founders Ian Case (former Intrepid Theatre general manager, now Director of UVic’s Ceremonies & Events) and Janet Munsil (former Intrepid Theatre artistic director, current MFA candidate in Writing), plus Kevin Kerr, co-founder of Vancouver’s Electric Company and a professor in the Department of Writing.
“My work these past 10 years has been about building infrastructure and altering practices that were built in the 1960s but no longer serve everyone who wants to work in or attend the arts,” Medd explains. “It’s not just a question of physical space, but programmatic space too . . . we’re making space for communities I wasn’t thinking of 10 years ago. With NAC, it was the idea of becoming the living room of the capital: you start with the idea that we’re all artists and we all need a space to be creative.”
He points to next-generational shifts that reflect a new state of mind, as much a sense of place. “Young people get the idea that colonial institutions like the NAC or Banff need to be reversed engineered or disrupted to be relevant and inviting to a wider range of communities than they were originally set up for,” he continues. “And it’s the people who are coming out of school now who’ve never had any other sensibility who will make that change. We’re in a moment where we’re correcting for history — at times, that correction may exclude people who have been in the spotlight for a long time, so maybe someone like Shakespeare needs to be set aside for a generation.”
To best understand the idea of creative placemaking — and the changes in the Canadian arts scene in general — Medd thinks of gardening. “I had a lot of time at NAC to till the soil, and that’s the best analogy for arts management: you spend your days quietly working the soil, then once a year something blooms and it’s glorious.”
The power of place
His new role as Managing Director of Performing Arts at the Banff Centre finds Medd overseeing a wide range of educational programs and residencies, ranging from theatre, dance and opera to classical music, jazz and contemporary music.
The Banff Centre’s iconic location
“It’s really the perfect job for me,” he says. “I’m having a wonderful time learning the ins and outs of other performing arts disciplines and industries and trends. The world of dance is very different from the world of theatre or classical music or jazz — and how they’re different is how they’re each responding to the great questions of our time: intersectionality, climate change, cultural appropriation and sexism.”
Known and recognized worldwide as a leader in creative development, the Banff Centre is an ideal place to have those conversations, says Medd. “Because we care so much about the artistic health of these industries, these are some of the most urgent and compelling work that’s being done today. It’s a great privilege to represent 85 years of tradition in the fine arts, and to represent Canadian culture at events around the world. The big mantra of the Banff Centre is ‘the power of place’—the value of Banff Centre is being here, feeling the power of the territory.”
Howard Jang, the Banff Centre’s vice president of arts and leadership, says he’s “thrilled” by their latest hire. “Nathan is one of the country’s brightest stars in cultural management and his leadership in working with our Performing Arts directors and Arts programs will strengthen Banff Centre’s place as Canada’s leading resource for the advancement of arts and culture.”
Between Banff and his time at the NAC, Medd is intimately aware of the emerging — and authentic — Canadian theatre aesthetics: multicultural, Indigenous, interdisciplinary and site-specific. “We’ve got great spaces all across Canada, but they don’t work for everyone I work with or want to work with. A lot of the work to come is about the underlying assumptions and structures that manage those spaces.”
Advice for the next generation
Medd on the cover of Arts Manager magazine
As the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Nathan Medd now joins the ranks of previous Fine Arts DAA winners, including country music stars Twin Kennedy (BMus ’08), visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).
As such, does he have any advice for either recent alumni or soon-to-be graduates?
“I’m in no position to give anyone advice, but one thing that worked for me was reckoning with the need to prioritize my career, and the work within, above everything: romance, nutrition . . . everything,” he admits. “I did that out of a fear of not getting a foothold in my chosen industry if I didn’t give it everything I had. But I think if we’re going to spend four years doing something, we owe it to ourselves to give it everything you have. Nothing’s guaranteed.”
That said, he does credit his UVic education with giving him the skills to achieve his chosen goals. “The great value of a fine arts education is gaining the tools of self-expression, self-examination and group process,” he says. “Those skills serve every possible direction you could take in your career, whether you end up in the performing arts or not.”
Looking ahead, Medd accepts that there be more change to come in his life, but feels ready to accomplish whatever task he sets his mind to.
“I’ve been forced way out of my comfort zone every time I’ve made a change, but it’s driven by a conviction that our important artistic institutions need custodians from my generation,” he concludes. “I want to help these institutions work in an evolving, contemporary world.”
There was certainly no shortage of Fine Arts news in 2018, given that we tracked nearly 300 local, national and international media stories about the creative activities of our faculty, alumni, students and staff . . . and those are just the stories we know about.
From our new faculty members—including Rick Leong, Sasha Kovacs, Deborah Campbell, Katharina Clausius and Michael Elliott—to a new batch of websites for our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and the School of Music, Fine Arts continues to grow and evolve as we move closer to our 50th anniversary in 2019/20.
While it was hard to choose favourites from amongst the many stories that appeared in both traditional and social media, here (in no particular order) are our choices for the top 10 Fine Arts stories from our faculty blog.
Benjamin Butterfield named to the Royal Society of Canada
Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)
Three UVic faculty members received the country’s highest academic honour by being named 2018 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in September—and among those joining the distinguished ranks was School of Music professor Benjamin Butterfield.
While Butterfield has won international plaudits as one of Canada’s best operatic tenors, he is equally passionate about his role as head of voice for UVic’s School of Music.
“With a performance career, the more you’re in the game, the more you’ll be asked to be in the game,” he explains. “But my obligation is really to teaching . . . for me, it’s less about pursuing my ‘career’ and more about being here for students who sing, and who want to learn to sing—that’s my day job, that’s my real life, that’s what’s most important.”
Butterfield is now the eighth Fine Arts faculty member to be inducted into the RSC, including Fellows Mary Kerr (Theatre), Harald Krebs (Music), Tim Lilburn (Writing), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Sandra Meigs (Visual Arts), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).
Read more about Butterfield’s RSC appointment here.
Esi Edugyan wins second Giller Prize
Fine Arts has no shortage of alumni success stories, but it’s hard to top internationally acclaimed Department of Writing alumna Esi Edugyan, who won her second Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2018 for her latest novel, Washington Black.
Edugyan won $100,000 on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s richest literary award, and also earns the distinction of being one of only three authors to twice win the Giller Prize, alongside M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro.
Washington Black was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize—as was her previous 2011 Giller Prize-winning novel Half-Blood Blues. Indeed, having only published three novels (including her debut, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne), Edugyan’s back-to-back wins for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues is doubly remarkable, especially when you consider both were shortlisted for the coveted trifecta of fiction awards.
Read more about Edugyan’s Giller win here.
Carey Newman is the new Audain Professor
Carey Newman receiving his Order of BC from
Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan in September
When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department.
“This is breaking new ground for me,” said Newman in June. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”
It’s been a big year for Newman: on top of being declared the Audian Professor for the next three years, he was granted the Order of BC, was named the inaugural recipient of the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria’s Regional Arts Award, played a role in the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs program with the Gustavson School of Business, received a Saanich150 art commission and debuted his new “Witness Blanket” documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Read more about Newman’s Audain position here.
Carolyn Butler Palmer advises on new $10 bill
When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”
While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.
“It was a real honour to be asked and to be able to work on such an important change in our currency,” Butler-Palmer said in this recent interview with the Martlet. “I think the change is really reflected too, [particularly] that they changed the orientation as well . . . to signify the change in the way that they represent Viola Desmond on that bill.”
Find out more about Butler Palmer’s involvement in the $10 bill here.
The Drowsy Chaperone a stunning success
Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair (photo: Dean Kalyan)
The response to Phoenix’s fall mainstage production of The Drowsy Chaperone, directed by Jacques Lemay, was fantastic. Audiences and reviewers alike praised this production as one of the finest in Phoenix’s 50-plus year history.
“This is one of the best shows staged by the university’s theatre department in recent years and should not be missed,” notes thisTimes Colonist review by Adrian Chamberlain. “Everything about this elegant, detailed production works well: the excellent costumes, set, acting, dancing, choreography . . . . [this is] a truly superior piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season.”
It was such a hit, in fact, that they ended up adding two additional shows after the entire run was essentially sold out in November!
Read more about the amazing success of The Drowsy Chaperone here.
The Orontes Guitar Quartet welcomed as Visiting Artists
(l-r) Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh & Mohammed Mir Mahmoud in front of UVic’s Fine Arts Building, November 2018. (UVic Photo Services)
The dramatic story of four musicians escaping daily violence in Syria for a fellowship in UVic’s School of Music caught the attention of The Globe and Mail in December, and became one of UVic’s top news stories of 2018.
Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and UVic music instructor for nearly three decades, played a vital role in bringing the guitar quartet to UVic by working for the past 18 months with two US-based organizations—the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River.
Now safely in Victoria as the recipients of a prestigious Artist Protection Fund Fellowship grant, the Orontes quartet offer a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination. The quartet told the Globe and Mail that their peaceful lives in Syria had been disrupted by the civil war, and violence and terror became commonplace. But when the ensemble started to play together, “we forgot everything because we just focused on what we are doing,” as recounted to The Globe’s arts reporter Marsha Lederman in a December 8 article in the national edition of the newspaper.
Read more about the Orontes Quartet here—and be sure to watch this Globe and Mail video of the quartet playing together.
Colton Hash named Artist in Residence for Ocean Networks Canada
Colton Hash with his full-size sculpture of an adolescent female orca (photo: Ashton Sciacallo)
Victoria-based artist Colton Hash became the inaugural recipient of an Artist-in-Residence program by the Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. The new ONC residency will strengthen connections between art and science, and broaden perspectives on major issues ranging from technology and the environment to biodiversity and healthy communities.
A recent graduate of UVic’s combined undergraduate program in Visual Arts and computer science, Hash was selected for the residency from a field of nearly 70 local, national and international applicants. He will hold the position from November 2018 to March 2019 and, following his residency, will provide a public exhibition of the resulting body of work.
“I see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with ocean scientists and experiment with digital media to communicate some of the dynamic processes that play a critical role in coastal waters,” says Hash. “Whether it’s how a kelp forest responds to climate change or how the thawing of frozen methane affects sediment stability of submarine slopes, I hope I can use interactive art to inspire viewers to care more about what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface.”
Read more about Hash’s ONC residency here.
Fine Arts hosts Reconciliation & the Arts forum
There was a capacity audience for the Nov 15 forum at the Baumann Ctr (photo: Fiona Ngai)
The fourth annual Building Reconciliation Forum was hosted at UVic in November and, as part of the two-day event, Fine Arts hosted a panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation.
Presented in partnership with Universities Canada, the Building Reconciliation Forum brought together close to 250 thought leaders from universities, Indigenous governing bodies and communities, and federal and regional government officials from acorss Canada to consider how universities are answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
As part of the Forum, Fine Arts Dean Dr. Susan Lewis hosted a near-capacity panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation at downtown’s Baumann Centre, featuring a range of local artists, administrators, activists and alumni discussing how Victoria’s arts community can advance decolonization and reconciliation.
Panelists included Visual Arts MFA alumna and the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence Lindsay Delaronde; the Belfry Theatre’s Indigenous cultural advisor Kristy Charlie and executive director Ivan Habel; Pacific Opera’s director of community engagement Rebecca Hass; Open Space board member and Visual Arts sessional instructor Charles Campbell; Legacy Gallery director Mary Jo Hughes; and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria curator of engagement Nicole Stanbridge.
Also during the forum, the Theatre department hosted Nomad, a musical and visual journey through Inuit history with Inuk singer-songwriter and Order of Canada recipient Susan Aglukark.
Find out more about the First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation event here.
Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize
Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre). Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.
2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague and Dean’s External Advisory Committee member Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).
Gaston is also one of 10 authors nominated for the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for his 2018 memoir, Just Let Me Look At You (Hamish Hamilton).
Read more about Gaston’s win here.
Twin Kennedy win Distinguished Alumni Award
Twin Kennedy are now Distinguished Alumni (UVic Photo Services)
It’s only been 10 years since sister duo Twin Kennedy graduated from the School of Music, but during that short decade, the acclaimed country/roots duo already released two albums, toured across North America, moved to Nashville and won the hearts of country radio and fans alike. The sisters headed back to UVic in February to be honoured as the Fine Arts winners of UVic’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award—an award that’s doubly special this year, given that it was presented during the School of Music’s 50th anniversary.
Know for their distinctly “Canadiana” country roots sound, seamless harmonies and heartfelt songwriting, Carli and Julie Kennedy (BMus ’08) have been dubbed “the next big thing in country music” by the Nashville Music Examiner and Twin Kennedy’s 2017 winter single “Cold Weather” was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the “10 new country and Americana Christmas songs to hear right now!”
“We’re very proud of years at UVic,” says Carli. “Not everyone in the popular-music world has a degree, and it’s an important part of our story. To be recognized for that side of our career is a huge honour; it means a lot to us.”
“And we did it together!” laughs Julie.
They now join the ranks of our previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award winners: visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), director and filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).
Find out more about Twin Kennedy’s award here.