With over 150 public events a year here in the Faculty of Fine Arts—not to mention classes, research, guest lectures and the kind of creative activity that defines who we are and what we do—the year always just seems to fly by. As always, there was no shortage of things to keep everyone busy in 2016. Here’s part one of our annual wrap-up featuring some—but certainly not all—of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

A whole new Dean

Dean Susan Lewis

Back in July, we were proud to announce that Dr. Susan Lewis had been selected as the new Dean of Fine Arts—the ninth Dean since Fine Arts became a faculty in 1969. Her five-year term will continue the momentum already begun by her term as Acting Dean for the 2015/16 academic year. “With Fine Arts being one of only a few freestanding faculties in the country whose focus is entirely devoted to performance, arts scholarship, and creative expression, this gives us an edge as we look to enhance synergies across the faculty, campus and into the community,” she said at the time.

Lewis originally joined the School of Music as an Assistant Professor in 2001, and has since served as the School’s Acting Director (both in 2010 and 2012) and Director. She holds a PhD in Musicology from Princeton University, a Master of Fine Arts (Princeton), Master of Music (University of Arizona), and Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees from Queen’s University. Her international experience includes a year of study at the University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh, and active research networks that span North America and Europe. Her extensive experience serving on a number of regional, national, and international organizations — including the American Musicological Society, Canadian University Music Society, Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, the Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans, and Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences — is sure to benefit the Faculty in the years to come.

“A core mandate of my first year as Dean is leading the collaborative development of a strategic plan for Fine Arts,” she says. “It has been an exciting few months as we work together to develop a vision for the future of the Faculty that builds on our strengths and brings us to new levels of achievement, opportunity, and possibility.”

A monumental donation

Jeffrey Rubinoff (right) with UVic President Jamie Cassels

When BC sculptor Jeffrey Rubinoff and the Jeffrey Rubinoff Foundation presented the Department of Art History and Visual Studies with the largest donor-funded endowed award in UVic’s history in September, he created exceptional opportunities for future doctoral students to study the complexities and richness of the history of modern and contemporary art. The Jeffrey Rubinoff Scholar in Art as a Source of Knowledge Endowment establishes a recurring four-year PhD fellowship in the area of modern and contemporary art history.

“My own sculptural work is completely dedicated to art history,” says Rubinoff. “Original ideas grow out of original work, which led me to see art as a source of knowledge. Since these insights form the context within which the work becomes meaningful, it is imperative that the general public, artists and art educators understand them if the work is to be fully appreciated.”

After receiving his MFA in the USA in 1969, Rubinoff returned to Ontario to pursue his artistic career before moving to a 200-acre farm on Hornby Island in the early 1970s. Living and working on the northern Gulf Island for nearly five decades, he has built the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park and the annual Company of Ideas forum held at the park. This remarkable 200-acre site is home to over 100 of his steel sculptures, which he has created unassisted using his one-man steel foundry.

“Jeffrey’s sculptural work is monumental in its scope and his legacy will now create a monument to future scholarship,” Dean Susan Lewis said at the time. “This extraordinary contribution underscores the crucial cultural work done in the Faculty of Fine Arts and reaffirms once again that UVic is a key player in creative innovation and the exchange of ideas about social change.”

AHVS department chair Erin Campbell was equally excited by Rubinoff’s donation. “In our 50th Anniversary year, as we look forward to the next 50 years and beyond, Jeffrey Rubinoff’s generous gift to the department allows us to envision a brighter future for our vibrant and diverse graduate students, who will use this legacy to deepen the impact of art history both at home and around the world.”

Read more about the Rubinoff Endowment here.

50 years of Art History

It was a full house for the Bob Wittman lecture

As Campbell noted, the 2017/18 academic year is the 50th anniversary of the Art History and Visual Studies department. And while the Rubinoff Endowment may well be the most significant event of their anniversary year, it’s certainly not the only one. AHVS began its celebrations with a sold-out guest lecture by former FBI art crime special agent Robert K. Wittman in October, which saw well over 300 people packed the Bob Wright Centre to hear his true-life tales of art adventure, as well as supporting comments from Kilshaw’s Auctions owner and alumna Alison Ross.

“Bob Wittman is the ideal choice for our 50th anniversary event,” said Campbell in October. “He demonstrates the impact art history can have on the world, and his participation in two of our classes during his visit is typical of the kind of exciting, expert-based, hands-on learning that happens in AHVS.”

Wittman signing copies of his books in October

Dubbed “the most famous art detective in the world” by The London Times, Wittman recovered millions of dollars worth of stolen art and cultural property during his 20-year career — including paintings by Rembrandt, Goya, Norman Rockwell, and one of the original 14 copies of the U.S. Bill of Rights. He was instrumental in the creation of the FBI’s rapid deployment Art Crime Team, and has since instructed international police and museums in investigation, recovery and security techniques. Now the New York Times bestselling author of Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, Wittman also signed copies of both Priceless and his latest book, The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich.

AHVS was also involved in the special naming dedication of UVic’s Williams Building (formerly the Administrative Services Building) in November, and will continue their 50th anniversary celebrations throughout the first few months of 2017, with an anniversary exhibit at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery in the Mearns Centre/McPherson Library, and a special event during IdeaFest in March.

Read more about Wittman’s visit here.

Feeling distinguished

Leyshon delivering her popular speech at the Distinguished Alumni Awards

The history of AHVS was also in the spotlight back in February, when celebrated director Glynis Leyshon was honoured as a Distinguished Alumni. One of Canada’s most respected opera and theatre directors, with an enviable career working with the most prestigious performance companies in Canada, Leyshon has also 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—not to mention the recipient of Canada’s Commonwealth Medal for her contributions to the arts.

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 said 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.”

It was doubly rewarding having her present at the special Alumni Week event at the Royal BC Museum, considering 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) and Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

Read more about Glynis Leyshon here.

Art on view

Cedric Bomford

It’s been an especially good year for exhibits by Visual Arts professors—notably Cedric Bomford, who exhibited at both Calgary’s Esker Foundation and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and is working on a major public art project in Seattle. Bomford, who joined the Visual Arts department in September 2015, also received the Canada Council’s $15,000 Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award in July, honouring outstanding artistic achievement by Canadian mid-career artists in the disciplines of dance, inter-arts, media arts, music, theatre, visual arts, and writing and publishing.

“I’m extremely pleased on behalf of the Visual Arts department to congratulate our colleague Cedric Bomford on having his research recognized with this national award,” said Visual Arts chair Paul Walde at the time. “Over the past year, Cedric has proven to be a tremendous asset to both the department and the UVic community and we are delighted to have him with us. He has a number of high profile research creation projects underway which will no doubt bring further accolades and recognition in the months and years to come.”

Exhibits were also mounted by sessional instructors Laura Dutton (at Victoria’s Open Space), Jeroen Witvliet (at Victoria’s Slide Room Gallery) and Tara Nicholson (at Kingston’s Modern Fuel artist-run centre), as well as professors Jennifer Stillwell and Paul Walde. Stillwell’s New Work: Smokestacks, Spills and Figures appeared at Toronto’s Pari Nadimi Gallery, while Walde participated in a pair of high-profile group exhibits this year: The View From Up Here at Alaska’s Anchorage Museum—which made USA Today’s “12 must-see summer museum exhibits” list—and The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography & Video at Toronto’s Ryerson Image Centre. Walde’s work from the Alaska exhibit will also be heading off to Denmark in early 2017.

Visitors at the Audain Exhibition in October

And in his second year in the Audain Professorship of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific NorthwestRande Cook presented his exhibit Accumulation in October at the Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building. Timed to coincide with Intersections, the national conference of the Canadian Society for Education through Art, Visual Arts hosted conference delegates who were able to experience Cook’s exhibit, as well as hear him as a presenter. Also presenting was keynote speaker Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, a former Audain Professor himself.

In other Visual Arts news, four of the eight nominees for the inaugural Philip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize in March had connections with the department: graduate student Kerri Flannigan, undergraduates Brandon Poole and Anna Shkuratoff, and alumna Emily Geen. Flannigan was named runner-up, winning a $1,000 prize.

Stay tuned for part two of our best of coming up next!