The Faculty of Fine Arts has developed a strong relationship with the Jeffrey Rubinoff Foundation since 2016 when the late BC sculptor created the Jeffrey Rubinoff Scholar in Art as a Source of Knowledge Endowment at UVic in 2016.

Today, that relationship is being strengthened further by the Jeffrey Rubinoff Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge — this includes $230,000 in new funding which creates a named professorship, a robust set of graduate student scholarships, and the expansion of experiential learning initiatives at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park (JRSP) on Hornby Island.

Rubinoff understood art to be a source of knowledge because of its capacity to influence the viewer’s perspective by means of original perceptions. Indeed, Fine Arts students who have spent time at the JRSP since 2017 have expressed profound appreciation for their experiences  and their perspectives and ideas have grown.

The Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park on Hornby Island

New professorship rooted in engagement

Art History & Visual Studies (AHVS) professor Allan Antliff has been selected as the inaugural Rubinoff Legacy Professor in Art as a Source of Knowledge. Antliff brings to the position not only a personal history with Rubinoff and an interest in the Modernist ideas expressed in his sculptures, but also a deep history of engagement with the JRSP’s annual Company of Ideas forum — an international gathering of scholars, artists and thinkers which has been exploring key issues in art and knowledge since it was established in 2008.

AHVS has been involved with the Company of Ideas since 2016 in a variety of ways, including a four-year PhD graduate fellowship, travel awards for AHVS grad students, and smaller fellowships for outstanding AHVS grad students in need — all of which was initiated by Antliff and quickly brought to realization by former Fine Arts Dean Susan Lewis and UVic’s Development Office.

“I first met Jeffrey in summer 2015 and we quickly forged a personal friendship based on shared intellectual interests and ethical concerns related to the arts,” recalls Antliff. “Since then, I’ve been organizing annual graduate student participation in the Company of Ideas with the invaluable help of JRSP curator Karun Koernig and Company of Ideas Director and Cambridge University art historian James Fox . . . . Our students derive great benefit from these forums: they are ‘idea generators’ and a chance to meet scholars of note in a congenial atmosphere unlike any other.”

An unparalleled opportunity for students 

AHVS PhD candidate Munazzah Akhtar attended the Company of Ideas forum in 2016 and found the experience invaluable. “The forum offered an unparalleled opportunity for students to learn from and engage with artists, writers, curators and academics from distinguished universities,” she says. “These are fantastic occasions for students to network with renowned scholars, which could certainly be beneficial for their future endeavors.”

The Rubinoff Foundation itself is excited by Antliff’s appointment. In response to the news, the Board of Directors have affirmed that “Jeffrey had the opportunity to exchange ideas with Dr. Antliff on many occasions, and he would be pleased to know that Allan was named as the first Jeffrey Rubinoff Legacy Professor. The Jeffrey Rubinoff Foundation is honoured to continue Jeffrey’s legacy through support for the University of Victoria that contributes to innovative scholarship, connecting art and knowledge.”

Expanded scholarship opportunities

A significant part of the Nexus for Art as a Source of Knowledge is $100,000 in annual funding for a set of new graduate scholarships to be shared by each of our five Fine Arts units — plans for which Antliff and Rubinoff discussed back in 2016.

“The scope of Jeffrey’s critical interests encompassed the entirety of the arts, and it is appropriate that these awards be divided equally amongst our five departments,” says Antliff. “The scholarships reflect Jeffrey’s spirit of generosity and commitment to learning, which the Foundation board shares — and, of course, they are testimony to how important he felt artistic endeavours are for advancing knowledge, both culturally and politically.”

Antliff (centre) at 2023’s Company of Ideas

Fifteen graduate students in AHVS, Theatre, Writing, Visual Arts and the School of Music will benefit from this new funding during the 2023/24, providing them with the opportunity to both visit the JSRP and further their own academic and creative work.

“These scholarships will give students time to contemplate and develop their research free of economic pressures,” notes Antliff. “This is an extraordinary gift — the gift of creative freedom.”

The late Jeffrey Rubinoff with one of his sculptures at the JRSP

New experiential learning opportunities

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Rubinoff’s legacy is his 200-acre sculpture park on Hornby Island, where he lived and worked for over four decades. Home to over 100 of Rubinoff’s steel sculptures — which range from human to monumental scale — the JSRP not only hosts the annual Company of Ideas forum but has also welcomed several Fine Arts field schools since 2017.

With the new Nexus funding, experiential learning opportunities on site will be further enhanced with an annual budget of $75,000.

In his new role as the Rubinoff Legacy Professor, Antliff — who has previously taught a course at the JRSP exploring the intersection of Rubinoff’s views with those of select artists and art critics — is developing a new AHVS seminar, “Sculpting Modernism”. This will offer students three days at the sculpture park to engage with Rubinoff’s artwork firsthand, with accommodation and expenses funded by the Nexus.

“My intent is to transform May into the ‘Faculty of Fine Arts Month’ at the JRSP, with different departments bringing groups of students to the park every week for short residencies,” says Antliff. “To this end, I have invited faculty in other departments to develop their own seminars incorporating the JRSP and offered to underwrite related costs drawing on my Legacy Chair funding. Additionally, I’ll be visiting Hornby Island to consult Jeffrey Rubinoff’s archive and library: this research will enhance my ongoing engagement with his ideas.”

Plans are also underway for the first of a series of related biannual conferences, tentatively scheduled for fall 2024 or winter 2025. “I have a series of topics in mind, which will be themed to my department’s research areas and incorporate issues that concerned Jeffrey Rubinoff,” explains Antliff. “For example, I am in conversation with Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Senior Curator at National Gallery of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum,about collaboratively organizing a UVic-based conference devoted to art historian and anti-colonial activist Ananda Coomaraswamy.”

Inspired by a previous conference Mustafa organized at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2018 (where Antliff gave a talk on Coomaraswamy’s impact on US modernism during the WWI period), this conference might also involve UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives.

“Ideally, I imagine these conferences serving as a catalyst for enhancing the faculty’s impact in the University of Victoria and beyond,” says Antliff. “The conferences will also draw attention to the JRSP and Rubinoff’s legacy as a critical thinker and artist. Finally, they will be a catalyst of learning for faculty, students and the general public.”

Fine Arts students during
previous JRSP field schools

Building the future

As someone who knew him personally, Antliff thinks Rubinoff would have been excited by the renewal of this important relationship with both UVic and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“Before he passed, Jeffrey gave me a copy of a critical anthology edited by James Fox, The Art of Jeffrey Rubinoff (2016), with this dedication – ‘Allan: Builder of the Future.’ I think that speaks volumes regarding his faith in my commitment to furthering the synergy between the JRSP and Fine Arts,” concludes Antliff.

He adds, “Jeffrey spoke of his initial [2016] endowment to AHVS as the ‘institutional mainstay of the unfolding, permanent educational program at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park, which will continue to explore the future of art as a source of knowledge.’ When he characterized art as ‘a source of knowledge,’ he had the interface of art and society in mind, which dovetails wonderfully well with the values propelling research and teaching in the Faculty of Fine Arts.”