2019 was another exciting year in Fine Arts, with the spotlight turned on our faculty, students and alumni locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. Here are just a few of the top stories from the year that’s gone by.

Orontes Quartet completes their fellowship

At the time of their arrival on campus as Artist Protection Fund fellows in November 2018, the Orontes Guitar Quartet—Gaby Albotros, Orwa Alsharaa, Nazir Salameh and Mohammed Mir Mahmoud—offered a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination in the face of the ongoing violence of the Syrian civil war. And while their time at UVic is now complete, in the year since their arrival as School of Music visiting artists, they continued to spread that message with appearances on campus and performances across Canada.

The Orontes with Dr Alexander Dunn (centre) at UVic’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall (UVic Photo Services)

While in Canada, the Orontes took their universal message of peace through music to cities large (Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg), small (Port Alberni, Salmon Arm, Gibsons) and in-between (Kingston, Sudbury, Red Deer). “We were surprised at how huge is Canada, and how long it takes to travel from one part to another,” says Alsharaa. “Everyone was friendly and welcoming, but the beauty of each city and its own character was the most beautiful thing.”

In addition to their travel and concerts, the Orontes also met with students, faculty and other professional musicians, and recorded some new material using the School of Music’s facilities—which, says guitar instructor and fellowship organizer Alexander Dunn, was all part of their APF experience.

“They learned that a high degree of musicianship and learning is the norm here,” he says. “They were exposed first-hand to a stream of virtuoso players that showed not only how inspiration could directly affect their craft, but that international standards and expectations—which may not have been a part of their everyday experience at home—are readily available here.”

As for the future, the guitarists are hoping for extensions to their work permits while they apply for study permits and Canadian citizenship. “The most important experience for every musician is to perform as much as possible, which is something we were able to do thanks to the APF, Alexander Dunn and, of course, UVic,” says Alsharaa. “We want to thank all the people who made our trip to Victoria possible. We are really lucky to be here in Canada, especially in Victoria—which is one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

Faculty award round-up

Speaking of Alexander Dunn, he was one of two recipients of UVic’s 2019 Advocacy & Activism Awards for his hard work and commitment in bringing the Orontes Guitar Quartet to campus. Through his efforts partnering with Remember the River.org—a non-profit organization that brings guitars to refugee camps in the Middle East and, as a Canadian associate, sees Dunn sending guitarists into First Nations and impoverished communities—and the NYC-based Institute for International Education, Dunn was able to secure the Orontes Quartet an IIE fellowship to UVic.

REACH Award winner Patrick Boyle, School of Music (UVic Photo Services)

Also honoured this year at UVic’s 2019 REACH Awards in October were Drs. Patrick Boyle (Music) and Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta (Theatre). The third annual awards celebrate UVic scholars for their extraordinary contributions in research and teaching, showcasing how recipients lead the way in dynamic learning and make a vital impact at UVic, both in the classroom and beyond.

REACH Award winner Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta, Theatre (UVic Photo Services)

“It is an honour for Fine Arts to be represented by colleagues whose work affects people’s lives—from students in the classroom to communities around the world,” says Acting Dean Eva Baboula.

Two of UVic’s nine 2019 Strategic Framework Impact Fund recipients were also in Fine Arts.

Theatre professor Warwick Dobson received funding for the project, “Theatre for Education: Re-examining the child welfare system with current and future gatekeepers”—a one-year initiative with PhD candidate Lauren Jerke that uses theatre to encourage decolonization and address systemic racism among law students, lawyers and judges. And Communications & Special Projects officer John Threlfall received funding to mark the upcoming Fine Arts 50th anniversary with a 30-minute documentary, Cultural Capital: 50 Years of Creating Victoria with UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, being created with current Writing Masters candidates Ellery Lamm and Guochen Wang.

This year’s Faculty of Fine Arts Teaching Awards went to Writing professor Kevin Kerr and Music instructor Alexander Dunn. Music professor Benjamin Butterfield was honoured this fall with one of The Rubies—the annual Opera Canada awards—for “Success in Authenticity”, and Theatre design professor Mary Kerr was honoured as a “living legend” with a showcase at the prestigious Prague  Quadrennial.

“I would like to congratulate all of our awards recipients in 2019,” says Baboula. “Our instructors continue to inspire!”

Fine Arts expands international agreements

As a celebration of global contemporary art, the opening of the Venice Biennale provided the ideal backdrop for the signing of a three-year research agreement between Fine Arts and La Fondazione Morra, a major art centre in Naples. The first formal agreement between the Faculty and an Italian cultural institution, it also paved the way for further engagement, collaboration and exchange between institutions.

Visual Arts chair Paul Walde with Fondazione Morra founder Giuseppe Morra in Venice’s Piazza San Marco

“This moment creates an unprecedented joint venture that allows us to focus the attention of the Foundation on students by offering them a unique and intense experience made of crossings, connections, journeys and intersections,” said Morra director Teresa Carnevaleas, as the agreement was signed in Venice’s Piazza San Marco with Visual Arts chair Paul Walde, La Fondazione Morra founder Guiseppe Morra (above) and Dean Susan Lewis in May 2019.

This new agreement is a vivid example of the Faculty’s efforts to engage globally, promote student mobility and exchange, and share the impact of its research and creative practice on a world scale. Part of this involves visits to UVic by international partners like China’s Yunnan University (above), while Fine Arts is also being added to the more than 200 active international agreements with UVic’s Office of Global Engagement that support faculty and student exchanges.

“We have established and developed new student-focused partnerships with universities in Europe and Asia, such as the University of East Anglia and the East China Normal University,” says Acting Dean Eva Baboula. “The new Fine Arts Student Travel Fund is one example of how the great fundraising success we had will help enhance student excellence.”

This international focus also provides opportunities for more colleagues to further their research and creative goals, and deepen the impact of our activities on a global scale.

Fine Arts is in an ideal position to pursue these endeavours thanks to our Orion Endowment, which both funds faculty travel outside of BC and assists in bringing a number of guests to campus from across Canada and around the world each year.

The year of Newman

Would it have been possible for Audain Professor Carey Newman to have had a busier year in 2019? In addition to his Audain professorship teaching duties in Visual Arts, Newman’s big news was that his Witness Blanket installation would not only be part of the permanent collection at Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum of Human Rights but also mark the first time in Canadian history that a federal Crown Corporation has ratified a legally binding contract through Indigenous traditions, specifically October’s traditional ceremony at Kumugwe, the K’ómoks First Nation Bighouse on Vancouver Island.

CMHR CEO & President John Young (left) with Carey Newman (centre) & CMHR Head of Collections Heather Bidzinski (Photo: Media One)

But this year also saw Newman launch his new book Picking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket, written with former Writing instructor Kirstie Hudson, and present multiple screenings of his Witness Blanket documentary.

Newman was also commissioned to create three ceremonial paddles that were presented to the hosts of the fifth annual Building Reconciliation Forum, held at Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie in October. The paddles symbolize our connections to the past, present and future, and represent Coast Salish canoe teachings of everyone paddling together and encourage post-secondary institutions to work together to honour truth and reconciliation.

As if that’s not enough, he also received $50,000 in Storyhive funding to create a short documentary about carving a totem pole at Oaklands elementary school; unveiled his Saanich 150 commissioned installation, “Earth Drums”, at the Cedar Hill Park; hosted a Visual Arts student exhibit at Saanich Arts Centre; established the new Witness Legacy Award for Social Purpose and Responsibility Through Art with the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria; designed a new T-shirt image for UVic’s Orange Shirt Day (and fought off copyright infringement and illegal internet sales of the knock-off shirt); and was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Unreserved in October, as well as by Shelagh Rogers for a future episode of The Next Chapter.

Newman is also working on various projects for 2020, so stayed tuned for news about those!

Susan Lewis steps down as Dean

The end of 2019 brings a change in leadership for Fine Arts, as Dean Susan Lewis steps up to a new position as UVic’s new Associate Vice-President Academic Planning—a position she has been on secondment with since July 2019.

“Susan has a distinguished record of fostering innovative teaching and research, with a strong record in course design and delivery, experiential and work-integrated learning,” says Vice-President Academic and Provost, Valerie Kuehne.

“It has been an honour serving as Dean and a privilege to work with such a talented and dedicated group of instructors, faculty, and staff,” says Lewis, the ninth Dean since Fine Arts became a faculty in 1969 and  former School of Music Director.

“Fine Arts students and alumni are an inspiration to us all, and we’re so proud of them. I look forward to supporting creative activity, research, teaching and community engagement in my new role.”

Dean Susan Lewis (left) with Fine Arts alumna Anna Lowe, and donor & dedicated Fine Arts supporter, Eunice Lowe

Watch for part two of our 2019 roundup!