Snapshot of a year

We’re excited to share with you the latest edition of the Faculty of Fine Arts Annual Review. While it’s always difficult to encapsulate an entire year’s worth of activity into a single 36-page magazine, we do enjoy the creative challenge of sharing our top stories with you!

“This past year, colleagues continued to reconceptualize the contours of arts education, creative expression and scholarly knowledge,” writes Dr. Allana Lindgren in her introduction. “The arts continue to be essential for cultivating dexterity through creative thinking and fostering the empathy needed to navigate our increasingly complex world.”

Dean Lindgren also notes the ongoing inspiration Fine Arts students provide. “Their commitment to creativity continues to inspire me and gives me confidence that the next generation of arts leaders has the temerity to transform life’s challenges into opportunities for intellectual reflection and artistic innovation.”

Inside, you’ll find a variety of stories about the recent activity of our faculty, students, staff, donors and community partners.

Education equates with action here in Fine Arts: we are committed to helping our students cultivate the skills needed to become innovative artists and engaged leaders.

Our curriculum, artistic practices, research and creative activities are rooted in our belief in the power of creativity, experimentation and the efficacy of the arts to help us to understand and address today’s most urgent and vexing issues.

If you missed a previous Annual Review, issues dating back to 2017 are archived here.

Laura Ramoso is that one girl who became an internet sensation

Laura Ramoso live on stage (Angelo Manalac photo)

Like many artists, Theatre alumna and comedy sensation Laura Ramoso (BFA ’16), struggled to find a way to practise her craft when the pandemic turned out the stage lights in 2020. Her fledgling career in live comedy was just beginning when the world shut down. Instead of giving up, Ramoso got creative.

She decided to post a quick-cut observational comedy montage on TikTok as way of pivoting to a new platform. Her first video was “Girl who loves hikes.” That led to more posts over a year, including “What you look like putting money in a street musician’s guitar case,” which became her first video to go viral. She kept creating and finally posted a video about her German mother—which changed everything.

Today, the 28-year-old Ramoso has more than a million followers on TikTok and Instagram each plus over 300,000 more on YouTube and Facebook, all thanks to her enormously popular videos featuring characters like German Mother, Italian Father and That One Girl Who Just Got Back From… (Australia, France, Copenhagen, etc). But she’s also re-embracing live audiences with a 25-city global tour of her new show Sit Up Straight, which culminates in a performance at LA’s Netflix Is a Joke comedy festival alongside A-listers like Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Seth Rogen and some 300 other rising comedians. In the fall, she’ll be in Victoria for a Nov. 1 show at the Royal Theatre as part of her North American tour, and was recently a featured guest on CBC Radio’s national show, Q.

“I’m flabbergasted by it all,” says Ramoso, speaking from her home base in Toronto. “I just got really lucky. I mean, I prepared for it and did the work, but it is weird: what I was doing somehow cosmically matched up with people who were ready to receive it. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing if COVID hadn’t happened.”

Growing up globally

Born in Italy to—yes—a German mother and Italian father, Ramoso had an international upbringing that saw her grow up in Cameroon, Azerbaijan, China and Vietnam, due to her mother’s career with the World Health Organization. As a high school student in Vietnam, she decided to move to Canada for university and enroll at UVic.

“I wanted the North American college experience that was in all the movies I watched, and my high school counsellor had a poster of UVic in her office,” she recalls. “She suggested I apply because they had a great theatre program—so I did, and then I got in. It was honestly that simple.”

She had never been to the west coast of North America before, let alone Vancouver Island. Did it live up to her expectations? “Absolutely! I had a great time. I drank alcohol out of red Solo cups, which was, like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m in a college movie.’ And I really enjoyed my classes.”

Kristina Ruddick photo

Ramoso dreamed of being a classical actor when she was a theatre student at UVic. She appeared on stage in the supporting cast of Phoenix Theatre’s 2015 production of Amadeus, and also worked front-of-house and backstage. Projects like the traditional end-of-run crew-show parodies planted a seed for unscripted satire. (Check out the 2016 student spoof of The Office called The (Box) Office for an early indication of her character-driven comedy chops.) “I always thought I wanted to be a classical actor, which is why I went to theatre school,” she says. “But then I found I enjoyed comedy and improv more.”

Ramoso fondly recalls her role in the show Jewel by then-Writing professor Joan MacLeod, which she performed as a graduation showcase with director and Theatre professor Fran Gebhard. “It was my first solo show, and I really enjoyed that experience,” Ramoso says. “It was foundational for me to learn how much I enjoyed being on stage on my own.”

Gebhard recalls Ramoso as a natural. “She was a fantastic student who was always thinking out of the box. She was very funny in class and had a great physicality; her writing was very intelligent and she had an excellent work ethic,” says Gebhard. “She was such a clown, and I use that in the best sense of the word. Imagination is the greatest tool an actor has, and Laura was able to use hers exceptionally. Am I surprised by her success? Not at all. I always saw a special quality in her.”

Ramoso at the Phoenix in a supporting part in Amadeus

Video made the comedy start

On-stage talent aside, it’s the internet that has crowned Ramoso a comedy queen. “It’s a completely different medium than working live,” she explains of her fast-cut, home-shot, slice-of-life videos. “It’s a different set of comedy skills and a different way to get ideas out.”

During a trip to Chicago, Ramoso experienced the famed Second City sketch comedy troupe. “That was an epiphany for me,” she recalls. “In that moment I thought, ‘OK, that’s what I wanna do.’” She moved to Toronto to be part of its comedy scene. She then spent three years in the city feverishly taking improv, writing and sketch classes. She performed most days and also wrote her first special, Diane. Amazingly, she was also earning an MBA from York University at the same time—something her German mother supported as practical.

But then the pandemic hit and Ramoso’s creative outlet was shuttered. “I felt this real emptiness, because all I wanted to do was comedy. And when I saw other people making videos, it felt like one of the only ways I could use all that energy to express myself.”

Ramoso found her childhood experiences fueled her skill for observational comedy. “Growing up in international schools meant we had little in common with each other, so the easiest way to connect with people was through the small things that happen to us all. That’s why I don’t write about big things like politics or religion—it’s the little stuff that’s more universal. To this day, I’ll get most of my ideas at house parties, social gatherings and public transport—the kind of places where people don’t have their guard up and are just being themselves.”

Then there’s her parents. Ramoso’s German Mother and Italian Father are her two most popular characters. (“My German mother when we go to the beach” currently has 22.9 million views on TikTok, while “My Italian father when he makes us dinner” clocks in at 10.5 million.) “My parents do like the online portrayals. They watch them, they send them to their friends, but obviously, these are two-dimensional characters while my parents are three-dimensional people. And yes, they do make suggestions, ‘Oh, this could be a sketch’ or ‘Don’t repeat what I just said.’ But it’s actually the things they aren’t aware of about themselves that are the most interesting.”

When it comes to creating her videos, Ramoso logs ideas on a phone app, then she’ll pick one, work up a rough script and shoot 30 to 45 minutes of raw performance footage, which then gets edited down to a series of (often intentionally sloppy) quick-cuts. While the final one-minute video goes by hilariously quickly, each one actually takes between 10 to 20 hours to make. And with online analytics, she’s able to instantly glean insight into her audience.

“That’s the difference with being a 21st century comedian: you’re on a digital platform, so you have access to analytics,” she observes. “OK, I’ve got a million followers on Instagram and TikTok: who are they and where are they based? I know over 50 per cent of my audience are women between 25 and 32, and I know the top cities and countries my followers are based in—which is a great place to start when planning a tour.”

But all that insight also comes with a price. “It can really affect what I make: suddenly I’m thinking about who they are and where they’re from and why they’re watching and will they like this more than this? To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. You don’t want to start creating content for a specific audience; I just want to make what feels good, which is how I got here in the first place. You just have to be yourself and the right audience will follow.”

On the road again . . . finally

When we spoke, Ramoso was just about to embark on a 2024 world tour to bring her latest live show Sit Up Straight to audiences in Canada, Australia, England, Finland, France, Holland, Ireland, Germany and Italy. “I cannot wait, but I really have no idea how it’s going to go,” she laughs. “Because I’m starting the European tour in Italy and ending in Germany, I’m hoping it feels like coming home, you know?”

Any pressure in bringing the hit characters German Mother and Italian Father to those respective countries? “Uh, I speak German less well than I speak Italian, but one of the reasons German Mother is funny is the way she says things in English, so while I might bust out a bit of German, I’ll probably stick to English to stay true to the character. And currently the Italian Father is actually a mime piece set to a musical soundtrack in the live show, so he doesn’t actually speak at all.”

After Europe, Ramoso is off to the bright lights of LA to appear in the 10-day Netflix Is A Joke comedy festival, alongside most of the contemporary comedy scene. “It’s my first time in LA and it’s totally unbelievable this is why I’m going,” she marvels. “I’m honoured to be part of that lineup, but I’m really excited to just go and do my thing—which is actually a great feeling, because it doesn’t mean I have to change anything about myself.”

Quick Talk with Laura Ramoso

  • Best way to spend a free day in Toronto? “Get a flat-white and a pastry at one of the many cute cafés and hang out with your friends.”
  • Favourite street food? “Mm, any sort of grilled meat.”
  • What’s a movie you always return to?Love Actually.”
  • What’s your karaoke staple? “Gloria.” (Preference for Umberto Tozzi’s version.)
  • What’s one condiment you can’t live without? “Olive oil.”
  • Favourite city you’ve been to or lived in? “Been to? Montréal. Lived in? Beijing, just for the everything-everywhere-everyyear-bigness of it all.”
  • Where do you have the most followers? “Australia.”
  • How often do you post your videos? “Once a week, on average.”
  • Who are your comedy influences?  “Mr. Bean, Charlie Chaplin and the Italian sketch comedy trio Aldo, Giovanni & Giacomo.”
  • Best performance memory? “The first time I took my solo show Frances to Vancouver.”
  • Worst performance memory? “At my mother’s 60th birthday party. I was just out of UVic and I tried to do a sketch of her but I had never done it before, and I completely bombed in front of 70 of my mom’s closest friends. It was worse than bombing in front of an audience.”
  • How was it being on CBC Radio’s Q with Tom Power? “It was mind-blowing. They showed me the green room where all their guests have signed the wall and I was, like, ‘What am I doing here?’”
  • You’re performing at the Netflix showcase and a producer offers you a dream gig. What would it be? “My own TV special.”
  • One piece of advice for current students? “Create your own work—just make what you want to make.”
  • Best advice you were given? “It’s so cliché, but never give up, never stop.”
  • Best decision you ever made? “Making my first video.”

More micro-certificates for the GLAM sector

Working in partnership, the department of Art History & Visual Studies and the Division of Continuing Studies launched two new micro-certificate programs this past year: Digital Planning for the Cultural Sector and Indigenous Cultural Stewardship. 

Fine Arts is at the forefront of this new professional development area at UVic, thanks to the continued popularity of our long-running Cultural Resource Management program, through which AHVS and Continuing Studies already offer a diploma and professional specialization certificates. 

Micro-certificates are small, focused, competency-based qualifications that align with the needs of industry and community, foster respectful relationships with Indigenous communities, and offer opportunities to upskill or reskill with new practices that are in demand with cultural organizations. 

While largely of interest to professionals already working in the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), these new micro-certificates consist of a single course each and can also be taken by undergraduate and graduate students and applied toward any certificate, diploma or degree program to be more industry-ready upon graduation.    

Digital Planning for the Cultural Sector provides timely training for working professionals to develop the critical competencies and skills needed to make informed decisions around the future of digital technologies for cultural organizations. Learners develop a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities for cultural organizations in a digital economy, alongside tools and strategies to successfully plan and implement digital initiatives.

Distinguished Alumni & Indigenous Cultural Stewardship instructor Lucy Bell with student

Indigenous Cultural Stewardship weaves together skills and knowledge to create a more diverse, positive and sustainable future in the GLAM sector, while enhancing relationships with Indigenous Peoples by recognizing and safeguarding Indigenous cultural heritage and cultural practices.

Both courses are proving to be successful additions to our professional development offerings: Indigenous Cultural Stewardship has run once and Digital Planning has already run twice at full enrollment — with a waitlist each time.   

New mural connects art & wellness

When the head of UVic’s Island Medical Program decided it was time to freshen up the lobby of the Medical Sciences building, he reached out to Fine Arts Dean Allana Lindgren for inspiration. Together, they came up with a plan that would result in the commissioning of a new mural by a Visual Arts student plus the curation of a new set of artworks from UVic’s 18,000-piece collection, with the participation of the Art History & Visual Studies department.

Selected by a jury to create an uplifting and welcoming mural reflecting themes of health, wellness and happiness, Visual Arts undergraduate student Claire Jorgensen created the large-scale painting “A Dream of Vitality”, which is now a permanent addition to the Medical Sciences building.

“I wanted to enliven our lobby with something happy and beautiful that would inspire a sense of wellness in our building’s community,” notes Dr. Bruce Wright, head of UVic’s Division of Medical Sciences and the Regional Associate Dean (Vancouver Island) of UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

“Partnering with Fine Arts to install a mural was the perfect way to do this, and including a curated art collection was an amazing opportunity to spread that positive energy throughout the rest of the first floor,” says Wright. “The Island Medical Program is proud of the successful collaboration between our programs and, especially, to have supported student learning through this project.”

Jorgensen—whose work was recently seen in the 2024 BFA graduation exhibition Silver Bullets and who did the 2022 commission “Scenes of Knowledge” for UVic’s Equity & Human Rights office—feels her mural is a good fit with Wright’s vision. “It depicts native plants and landscapes as a demonstration of the resilience of the land and people in the face of oppression,” she explains. “I chose a nature scene because of the role the natural world plays in health and wellness: whether it be climate change, colonization or other factors, the continued pursuit of wellness and health shines through. It’s a hopeful piece, and works to instill optimism into those who view it.”

Together with Jorgensen’s mural, the newly curated art on display not only enlivens the building’s lobby but also offers Island Medical’s community of students, faculty and professional staff a new relationship with visual art when they gather in the building. 

This new collaboration is just one of the many ways Fine Arts contributes to health and wellness on campus, and in the community.  

Claire’s “Scenes of Knowledge”, now mounted in the AHVS student commons

Eva Baboula marks a decade as Associate Dean

For the past 10 years, Art History & Visual Studies professor Eva Baboula has been a consistent and guiding force as our longest-serving Associate Dean — a position from which she steps down on June 30. During that time, she not only continued teaching with AHVS but also worked with three different Deans, was Acting Dean for six months and served a year as the Associate Executive Director with UVic’s Learning & Teaching Support & Innovation division.

“When I first came into the position, I was really interested in helping students in a wider way than just teaching — there was an opportunity to understand what they were going through, and what issues were affecting them beyond content and courses,” she reflects. “I was also very interested in supporting students with accessibility issues, which has become an increasing priority in the last few years.”

With Fine Arts being the only UVic faculty with a single Associate Dean, Baboula has seen her role grow well beyond student support. Her portfolio includes not only academic success and support, but also recruitment and retention, curriculum development, international and Indigenous partnerships, interdisciplinary programs, and working closely with the Faculty of Graduate Studies.  

“It’s a joy to lead these initiatives,” she says. “This has developed into a more holistic position over the years: how can we support the students from the beginning to the end? I also often took on the support of research and creative activity in Fine Arts and across UVic; I have truly loved coaching graduate students with their SSHRC applications. And helping the professors also supports the students — I have enjoyed mentoring sessional instructors and taking care of our growing interdisciplinary programs.”

Baboula is particularly proud of the relationships she has developed with the entire Fine Arts community over the years: students, staff and teaching faculty included. “The kind of mentoring we do and the relationships we all have are quite different from the rest of the university; maybe it’s because we’re a relatively small faculty, but I find we’re all very close in an organic, integrated way.”

She also feels her skills as a mother of two have helped her succeed as Associate Dean. “I think we’re very much like parents to our students . . . you need to have compassion and understanding but, at the same time, you have to have good judgment and clear boundaries. That’s very important for a position like this.”

For now, AHVS professor Catherine Harding will be Acting Associate Dean until December 31, 2024, with a new Associate Dean beginning in 2025.