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

Beth Stuart’s monumental Montreal art commission

When it comes to her creative output, award-winning Visual Arts professor Beth Stuart works in an expanding range of media including writing, painting, ceramics, performance, textiles and sculptural installations. Picking up on overlooked historical moments, as well as characters and material techniques, she creates alternative plot points in the narrative of modernist abstraction in order to examine the physical and metaphysical implications of dissolving the figure-ground relationship. 

Her newest public art sculpture is Les Tendresses, commissioned by La Banque Nationale du Canada and installed in the lobby of their Montreal headquarters at a cost of nearly $1 million. “Les Tendresses represent a playful offshoot of a longer artistic passage through the history of the relationships between architecture, garment construction, modernist abstraction, queer embodiment and feminist practice,” says Stuart. 

Les Tendresses offers three monumental sculptures that animate the architectural forms of three adjacent columns through a lively transformation of stone into the suggestion of clothed figures.  Each “posture” and “costume” is distinct from the others: one upright and elegant, one soft and flowing, one ornate and whimsical. The molded sculptures are made using a centuries-old architectural plaster technique called scagliola, which authentically imitates marble, creating a double trompe l’oeil: architecture come to life, and cloth turned to stone. 

Les Tendresses is inspired by the delight emerging from unexpected transformations of the inanimate into the animate; the hard into the seemingly soft; the inorganic into the organic. The sculptures introduce a playful distortion of regular geometries, contrasting the calm, sober look of the surrounding grey stone and concrete against bright, lively columns made of the same materials. This juxtaposition suggests a bridge between the architecture of the space and the humans who move through it — recognizing the role of individuals within the community and the capacity of the imagination to draw connections.

Congratulation to the 2024 grad class!

Jude Wolff Ackroyd, BFA Honours 2024

Congratulations to our 2024 grad class! Whether you’re graduating from our department of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual ArtsWriting or the School of Music, you’re now part of an extended community of nearly 10,000 other Fine Arts grads!

“While many of you started your current academic journey back in 2020—arguably, the most trying of recent times—we’re hoping you’ll look back on your degree as a time of rewarding and inspiring creative and scholarly exploration,” says Dean Allana Lindgren. “While the weeks ahead will be a whirlwind of emotions ranging from excitement and uncertainty to relief and anticipation, never forget that you’re well-prepared for wherever life takes you. Be bold. Be creative. Believe in yourself. Know that you are ready to succeed.”

Watch the livestream of the Fine Arts convocation starting at 10am Friday, June 14.

We would also encourage you to pause and thank the people who have supported and mentored you during your studies— be they family, friends, faculty, staff, donors or anyone who helped along the way. No matter your career path or the distance you travel, let us know about your projects and events, so we can celebrate your accomplishments.

“The world urgently needs fresh ideas and fresh energy: I challenge you to use your critical thinking and creative skills to give back to society and make a difference as you become the voice of a new generation,” says Dean Lindgren. “Always know that we are very proud to call you a UVic Fine Arts grad!”

2024 Victoria Medal winner Stella McCaig 

Special congratulations also go out to Visual Arts student Stella McCaig, who is graduating with a truly remarkable grade-point average of 9.0. Her perfect GPA earns her the 2024 Victoria Medal, presented annually to the Fine Arts student with the highest grades. 

“Stella McCaig is a daring and sensitive artist,” says Visual Arts professor Beth Stuart. “She combines personal narrative and material investigation fearlessly and from a place of raw vulnerability — in a way that generates art that is singular and resonates deeply with those who have the privilege to experience it.”

Stuart well knows of which she speaks: in summer 2023, while completing and installing a mammoth public art commission in Montreal, she brought Stella along to help with the process as a directed study — which involved undertaking many processes and pathways with which she was not familiar.

“Stella took up this task with effervescent good humour, meeting each obstacle and new set of knowledge with tenacity and grace,” says Stuart. “The project unfolded at breakneck speed, and Stella was completely instrumental in its success . . . . There is no standard metric that can express what this person is capable of — she’s a gift to the field, and I count myself blessed to have been able to work with her. Someday I will say, ‘I knew her when’.”

About the artist

“My sculptural work considers the idiosyncratic material language and forms that are developed through diving into the material and process, responding to and solving the challenges that exist due to experimentation and play. The body dispersed; transformation from the organic to the synthetic — and back again; a growing positive embrace of female sexuality, and an ownership of the gaze. These threads of interest become the genesis of intense sculptural works and installations, and become contemplative rather than predictive.

“Through an entirely personal practice of sewing, I create mangled and uninterpretable objects, that which become sanctified, having an unmatched virility in their endlessness. Because I primarily work from banal found objects and materials, the work enshrines the objects asking the viewer to realize the beauty of that which exists in the world; artificial or once alive. In an attempt to realize this idea, I adorn, embellish, and prettify the forms and objects that emerge, in preserving the infatuation I have with the unaesthetic, the disingenuous, and the absurd.

“I present the installations and sculptural works that I create in a moment of transmutation, from what they once were, to how they stand in front of the viewer. Every choice is presently there for the viewer to see. Everything is something, even the tiniest morsel of material becomes a point of love and thoughtful consideration. Each of the works arrive to and for the moment, functioning as tools gently resting between what is real and what is imagined, acknowledging the beauty of artificiality.”

—Stella McCaig

Remembering guitarist Alexander Dunn

It is with profound sadness that we share the news that our friend and School of Music colleague, Dr. Alexander Dunn, passed away unexpectedly on the morning of May 8. “This is a loss that will be deeply felt by members of our School and the wider music community,” says School of Music director Alexis Luko. “On behalf of the School of Music, our deepest condolences go out to Alex’s to loved ones, family, friends and colleagues.”

His sudden passing at just 68 was marked in this May 11 Times Colonist article, which quoted his cousin and lifelong guitar partner Robert Ward as saying, “even in high school, [Alex] was singled out as having a really unique talent.” Ward and Dunn performed together in Boston as recently as April 20, with Ward noting he was in fine health, good spirits and played magnificently. “It was a brilliant performance,” Ward told the TC. “We had a great time playing what was a very difficult program.”

An enviable musical legacy

Beyond spending nearly 34 years at UVic building one of the strongest guitar programs in Canada, Alex also served as president and artistic director of the Victoria Guitar Society, the board of examiners for the Royal Conservatory, and worked as an instructor at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and at the University of California, Irvine.

“This news is a great shock to the classical guitar world and leaves a chasm in the Victoria guitar scene, where Alex was instrumental in bringing us an amazing array of performers over the years,” posted the Victoria Guitar Society. “We will always remember Alex for his passion for music and his talent at passing this knowledge down to new generations. We’ve lost a friend and an artist.”

An internationally renowned guitarist, Alex was the recipient of UVic’s Sessional Lecturer Teaching Excellence Award in Fine Arts (2019/20), and he received the Provost’s Advocacy and Activism Award (2019) for his work in bringing the Orontes Guitar Quartet from Syria to UVic as visiting artists.

International respect

A virtuoso performer, acclaimed teacher, dedicated mentor and enthusiastic supporter of emerging young talent, Alex was a frequent guest performer at international guitar festivals and a popular adjudicator and competition judge across North America. He was also a protégé of internationally acclaimed flamenco guitar master Pepe Romero, with whom he toured.

“His sight reading and analytical skills are phenomenal,” Romero noted on Dunn’s website. “One need only to bring up his name in the guitar world, and you will sense immediately the respect he commands.” As the TC article notes, Dunn hosted several fundraising concerts by Romero in Victoria, and was instrumental in arranging for his former instructor and mentor to receive an honorary doctorate from UVic. Romero regards Dunn as one of the finest teachers he has encountered. “When I think of Alex, I think of a musician’s musician — a man who commands a vast knowledge of the repertoire,” Romero wrote. “He seems to know more about lute and early music than most specialists.”

Alex was also the recipient of an Institute of International Education grant and the prizewinner of the Internationaler Wettbewerb Freiburg. As a performer, he enchanted audiences across North America and worldwide in South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Mexico, Cuba, South Africa and New Zealand.

With a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a PhD in musicology from the University of California, San Diego, Alex also spent extensive summer studies at the Aspen Music Festival and the Salzburg Mozarteum.

Dunn with the Orontes Quartet in 2018

Advocacy & Activism

Alex passionately advocated so that people who come from less fortunate backgrounds could excel—a perfect example of this advocacy and activism was his effort in 2018 to bring the Orontes Guitar Quartet to UVic from war-torn Syria.

After the classical guitar ensemble were denied entry to the US in 2017 due to the ongoing Syrian travel ban, Alex spent nearly 18 months working with two US-based organizations — the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River — to secure the Orontes a placement at UVic.

As the Canadian arm of Remember the River — a non-profit organization that brings guitars to refugee camps in the Middle East — Alex had already been helping send guitarists into impoverished communities, including on some First Nations. Building on that experience, he helped the Orontes Guitar Quartet escape war-ravaged Syria and to come to UVic to work under his mentorship. He described it at the time as “an exhilarating experience”. 

“Knowing that a group of musicians on the other side of the world — connected by common interests but separated by the chasm of human rights abuses and the outrages of war — was life-changing,” he said. “Suddenly the abstraction of religious and cultural conflict occupied my thoughts in a very real way.”

As a result, the quartet performed across Canada in numerous events supporting refugees and people from war torn countries, bringing a unique narrative of music surviving in times of violence and war. For his efforts, he was named one of just two recipients of UVic’s 2019 Advocacy & Activism Awards (below)

Alexander Dunn with UVic’s Director of Equity & Human Rights Cassbreea Dewis (left)
&  fellow award winner Sage Lacerte, plus then-VP Academic & Provost Valerie Kuehne

Climate Disaster Project wins national award

UVic’s Climate Disaster Project has been named the winner of a Special Recognition Citation at the National Newspaper Awards—Canada’s top journalism awards.

Announced at a gala event in Toronto on April 26, the award is designed to recognize exceptional journalism that doesn’t fit into existing categories and to open the door to experimentation in journalism. This is only the second time the National Newspaper Awards have bestowed the honour.

“We are entering a new era of disaster, where our seasons will become increasingly defined by the traumatic events they bring, and we need to learn how journalism can help us survive those traumas together,” says Sean Holman, UVic’s Wayne Crookes Professor of Environmental and Climate Journalism, who founded the project in 2021. “We are so honoured the National Newspaper Awards have recognized our efforts to empower disaster-affected communities inside and outside Canada.”

About the Climate Disaster Project

The Climate Disaster Project is an international teaching newsroom whichtrains students to work on the frontlines of humanitarian crises and create an extensive archive of eyewitness accounts. To date, 219 students in 13 post-secondary institutions have been trained in trauma-informed interviewing skills and co-created 288 disaster-survivor testimonies, many of which have appeared in local, national and international publications.

Their work has also been featured in national radio and television broadcasts, and at the Royal BC Museum. “Each semester, educators at post-secondary institutions across Canada and around the world spend hundreds of hours teaching students how to compassionately help survivors share their stories,” says Holman. “Our students then take that knowledge into the community to co-create a people’s history of climate change that honours the human dignity of their experiences.

Our partners 

Institutional partners for this award include Carleton University, the Campus Journalism Lab (Philippines), First Nations University of Canada, Humber College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langara College, MacEwan University, Mount Royal University, Simon Fraser University, Toronto Metropolitan University, and the University of British Columbia, the University of the Fraser Valley and the University of Stirling.

Media partners include the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Asparagus magazine, Canada’s National Observer, The Fraser Valley Current, Megaphone street news and The Tyee, plus Neworld Theatre, the Reach Gallery and Royal BC Museum.

The Climate Disaster Project aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of good health and wellbeing, quality education, sustainable cities and communities, climate action and life on land, and demonstrates how UVic is powered by climate traction.

More for the CDP

The Climate Disaster Project, in partnership with The Tyee, is also currently nominated for awards with the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

Brazil’s largest newspaper will soon publish testimonies co-created by students at the Federal University of São Paulo. A live theatre project from Neworld Theatre featuring verbatim testimonials will be making its debut at UVic in fall 2024, and an anthology of survivor testimonies from Purich Books is forthcoming in 2025.

Coming up next, the Climate Disaster Project will be hosting the two-day workshop Stories on Fire: Sharing Lived Experiences with Climate Change as part of the Legacy Gallery’s new exhibit, Fire Season.

In this two-day workshop (running 9am-5pm Sat-Sun May 11-12), CDP editors will teach you the trauma-informed process to create powerful first-person testimonies from fellow participants’ experiences of climate change. Past testimonies have been published by Reader’s Digest, the Royal BC Museum and The Tyee, and interviews from this workshop may be shared by similar publications and organizations. Register online for this free event.

Through learning how to compassionately listen to other people’s stories and telling them, you can help show the world that climate change isn’t something that’s far away. Instead, it’s something close at hand that’s affecting each of us in countless ways: from the smoke that keeps us indoors during the summer to the floods and droughts that affect so many communities in so many ways.

Submission call for Student Impact Awards!

Are you a current (or graduating) Fine Arts undergraduate student who’s been involved with a community-engaged creative project in Greater Victoria between Jan 1/23 & May 31/24? If so, you could qualify for $1,000 via our annual Fine Arts Student Community Impact Awards! Since 2021, we have awarded over $8,000 to 8 different students! (Read about our 2023 winners here.)

Arts activities may include (but are not limited to) any exhibit, performance, workshop, publication, curatorial, educational, digital, production and/or administrative role within the regional boundaries of Greater Victoria (Sidney to Sooke). This award is open to any current or graduating undergraduate student in Art History & Visual Studies, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts or Writing.

This year’s Impact Awards will be presented in Fall 2024 to 1 or more undergrads who’ve demonstrated an outstanding effort in community-engaged creative activity that went over & above their academic studies. Good news: if you’ve applied before but didn’t get an award, you can apply again (as long as the project falls into the current timeframe).

A completed submission package—including the submission form and all supporting materials—must be received by 5:00pm Friday, May 31, 2024. Full details & application criteria can be found here: https://finearts.uvic.ca/forms/award/

Questions? Contact fineartsawards@uvic.ca