As the last act wrapped, Department of Theatre undergraduate student Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume looked around the great hall of UVic’s First Peoples House with tears in her eyes. “I still get choked up thinking about it,” she says. “Elder Vic Underwood, a residential school survivor, addressed the settler children as if no one was in the room and thanked them for caring.”
As the final project in her theatre degree with an applied theatre focus, Fiona—under the mentorship of Education’s Phil Duchene—worked with Royal Oak Middle School students to perform the play No Stepping Back during UVic’s 2018 IdeaFest.
Written by Duchene and Theatre professor Warwick Dobson, No Stepping Back addresses the complex history of residential schools and their catastrophic effects on Indigenous communities, families and individuals. “Theatre is a powerful tool that can bring about social change and help to build a stronger community,” says Fiona.
Not your typical student
As a young military wife and mother, Fiona joined theatre groups in every town where her family was transferred. “It helped me learn to adapt to change and express my feelings,” she explains. ”And the people I worked with became like my extended family—people I could lean on.”
It was that experience that led Fiona to UVic to study theatre at the age of 48. “Despite being older than my peers, I immediately found my place in the theatre department. It seemed everyone shared my belief that theatre could help heal people and communities.”
Her passion and hard work on projects like No Stepping Back didn’t go unnoticed; her professors nominated her for the Muriel Conway Memorial Scholarship. “I was sitting in a coffee shop when I received the email,” Fiona recalls. “It was like a scene in a television show: my knees buckled, and I was overcome with shock and happiness.”
Fiona in an applied theatre play during 2015’s Diversity Forum
Fiona’s decision to pursue her degree meant she would have to live separately from her daughter and husband, who was still in the military and stationed in Yellowknife. “Receiving donor support not only took some pressure off my family financially, but it meant someone saw promise in me and I can only hope to live up to that promise.”
One of many to receive support
Fiona is one of 3,052 UVic students who received a donor-funded scholarship or bursary in 2018/2019. UVic surpassed its fundraising goal by $3 million this year, raising $18.9 million from 4,795 donors. The funds increased the number of students supported by donor-funding by 2 percent with 89 new awards.
“The UVic community should all be extremely pleased that donors are willing to invest in our university at this level. It is a clear indication of their confidence in the quality of research and creative pursuits of our faculty and the calibre of our students.” says Associate Vice President of Alumni and Development Tom Zsolnay.
Donor-funding not only helps students, 44 percent of the money raised this year funded programs, infrastructure and library resources.
“Donor investment in UVic is critical to the university’s ability to pursue excellence in research and teaching that has a meaningful impact on our world,” says Zsolnay.
“I can’t say thank-you enough”
For Fiona, who graduated in spring 2019, the support she received from donors is inspiring her to give back. “I can’t say thank you enough,” she says. “I hope to use theatre as a learning tool to address social issues and build stronger communities.”
What’s the difference between making art for art’s sake and creating art for social change? Find out when Visual Arts eight students present this exhibit of work created in Audain Professor Carey Newman’s “Art for Social Change” studio seminar.
The new exhibit Shift 352: Art for Social Change showcases a mix of painting, sculpture, text and installation, with the pieces offering a considered look at the intersections where art can shape ideas for social change through the process of engagement and interactivity. All the work has been created by third- and fourth-year students and will be on display at the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill from July 30 to August 18.
Kwagiulth/Coast Salish artist and master carver Carey Newman is the sixth Audain Professor with the Visual Arts department. Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket installation, Newman brings ideas around reconciliation and contemporary art into his classes. He also received a commission through Saanich’s Canada 150 public art competition in 2018, and his winning exhibit Earth Drums will be installed at the same location later this summer.
“Carey invited the class to show works in conjunction with the opening of his public art piece Earth Drums: Music for the Land as a way of broadening the conversations we had in the classroom,” says participating artist and fourth-year student Kiki Paterson.
“Of course, we are really honoured to be part of that: Carey is inspirational as a teacher and artist, and having his support is a real step beyond the confines of the classroom—which is the whole point of art for social change, to move beyond and broaden our concepts of relationship.”
Work by student Lindsay Budge
“Social engagement is critical for works on social change, and getting our art seen outside the university or the ‘gallery cube’ widens the conversations, allowing people who might not otherwise attend conventional gallery spaces,” explains Paterson.
“Student shows are often not taken seriously—like we aren’t artists yet—but this is an essential part of our development of an arts practice, the vulnerability to put your voice out there—especially with works that are meant to confront or highlight issues that might be challenging.”
Paterson says art be a motivator for social change by giving people the opportunity to consider a topic from a new perspective.
“Art is a language of symbols and our symbolic right brain can often override our logical mind so we can access different ways of thinking,” she says. “Art-making and experiencing art—of all kinds—can allow us to re-imagine our understanding and relationships with ourselves and our world and to challenge us to make a shift towards something better.”
Kiki Paterson’s “The Romance of Canada 2”
One of Paterson’s pieces in the show is “The Romance of Canada 2”, an installation featuring a pair of chairs specifically designed to “trip” the viewer into looking—and thinking—differently about the piece.
“I try to make work that speaks viscerally about things people don’t want to talk about,” she explains.
“My piece is a kind of discomforting of the nostalgia around the idea of Canada as a nation, and the story of nation building. The real lives of Indigenous people were—and still are—largely ignored or romanticized, and as an uninvited guest to this land it is part of my work to confront our complicity and the complicity of our ancestors in a way that acknowledges our roll in that. It isn’t the job of Indigenous people to have to educate the whole populace; it’s important for settlers to have conversations about the colonial legacy too.”
Shift 352: Art for Social Change runs from July 30 to August 18, with a 6-8pm opening reception on Friday, August 2. The exhibit is open 6:30am-9pm Monday-Friday, and 8am-4:30pm Saturday-Sunday, at the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, 3220 Cedar Hill Rd.
Kiki Paterson (left) with Carey Newman (centre) in their 352 class
Back in 2015, then-Visual Arts student Kyra McLeod was commissioned to paint a mural on the walls of the Campus Bike Centre. Her abstract design livened up a visually neutral space, and set the stage for future mural expansion.
Meaghan Crow with her completed Campus Bike Centre mural
Now fast-forward to spring 2019, when third-year Visual Arts student Meaghan Crow was commissioned to expand the mural by campus sustainability coordinator Susan Kerr. But Crow’s mural wouldn’t just be an expansion of the original—it was also conceived of as a participatory community art project that would engage a group of UVic employees during the biannual Connect U staff conference.
“A mural is an excellent way to celebrate the interconnection between art, sustainability and community building and to actually experience those connections in a tangible way,” says Kerr.
“I wanted to provide an experiential learning opportunity for a Visual Arts student to design and coordinate a community mural, which further develops their art portfolio and project-managing skills. The mural would also build UVic community pride and further enhance the Campus Bike Centre and as a recognized cycling hub on campus—it was a win-win-win situation all around.”
One issue right off the top for Crow? By her own description, she’s not exactly “an avid cyclist” and wasn’t even aware of the Campus Bike Centre before tackling this project. But that’s not to say she isn’t aware of the larger issues around commuting and minimizing our collective carbon footprint.
“I do think it’s important to consider how our lifestyles affect our environments, and consider if our daily practices are sustainable or if we could consider other options like biking instead of driving, which can benefit lessening the footprint we leave and also our health,” says Crow.
The entrance to UVic’s Bike Centre
The Campus Bike Centre is open 24/7 and offers over 230 indoor bike parking spots, plus lockers, racks, air pumps, electric charging stations and a bike kitchen with basic DIY repair tools. It’s also home to the SPOKES bike loan program where, since 2003, volunteers have been giving new life and use to old bikes by diverting waste from the landfill, improving community health and taking action on climate change.
UVic is very much a bike-friendly campus, committed to creating a campus environment that’s both convenient and safe for cyclists, with showers and changing rooms in 10 buildings on campus. With our award-winning Campus Cycling Plan and the continuing upgrades to bike lanes in both Saanich and Victoria, UVic is dedicated to being a leader in cycling infrastructure and active transportation.
Expanding one mural into two
But more than just the philosophical connection between cycling and community, Crow’s ambition was to visually unite her mural with the pre-existing one.
The point where the original mural meets the new mural
“I knew I wanted to have some aspect of the two murals line up to connect them, and decided on the point midway up the wall,” she explains. “I used it in a way in which transitions the abstract into a more representational image. One of my initial ideas was a path like one or the larger ones at UVic going to the library with the rows of trees. I kept developing it and simplifying it until I had an image that represented a clean Victoria-esque environment.”
Kerr is particularly pleased with how the two murals connect. “I love the dynamics,” she says. “At first impression one might not see the connection, but if you stand back, you’ll notice Meagan’s cyclists are actually emerging from Kyra’s original mural.”
A group project
Conceiving and designing a mural is one thing—but part of this commission was working with nearly 40 different employees who weren’t artists.
“This was the first time I have worked on a public mural project, and I really enjoyed it,” says Crow. “It was a great opportunity to connect with many people from UVic that I otherwise would not have crossed paths with, and it was great to see so many people take a look back at what they’d contributed to the mural and feel good about it.”
The concept was simple: Crow would sketch her design on the wall, then apply daubs of paint for the participants to fill in—almost like a paint-by-numbers design. But successfully pulling it off meant a great deal of preparation, as well as careful managing on the day-of, when small groups of six painters were coordinated in 30-minute sessions to avoid overcrowding.
“I was surprised to see how smoothly the process went,” says Crow. “I think part of that came from assigning a specific job with a specific tool to each individual so there wasn’t much confusion of where people were supposed to paint, and trying to space people out around the mural where possible. It was great to be able to see the bulk of it come together through the day, and to see the painters express how they enjoyed the experience as a break from their normal schedules.”
Crow then spent a few days doing finishing touches on the mural: outlining the trees, cleaning up the edges and touching up a few spots that had been mis-painted.
Finished . . . for now
Sustainability’s Susan Kerr is thrilled with how the overall project worked out.
“Meaghan did a wonderful job all the way through—this was one of those projects that was fun and exciting from start to finish,” she says. “I really enjoy working on projects with students, and it’s even better when the campus community is involved . . . especially when they can see firsthand the wonderful work and presence our students bring. It’s one of the reasons why we work here.”
Crow is similarly pleased. “If an opportunity to do another mural project arose, I would love to continue with it!”
Opportunities like this are one of the reasons why the artist from Brentwood Bay chose UVic. “I decided to take Visual Arts at UVic because attending a university rather than an art college would allow me to explore other areas I may be interested in: business classes that could help me gain skills to start my own art -elated business, or education classes to pursue the route of becoming an art teacher,” says Crow.
Ultimately, Kerr hopes everyone who uses the Campus Bike Centre will feel the same way she does. “It makes me smile—both murals do,” she says. “I can’t wait for the next campus mural!”
Be sure to check out this album showing the progression of the mural, from original concept to finished project:
You can see more of Meaghan Crow’s work on her website or @meaghancrowsartwork on instagram and Facebook.