Theatre professor Mary Kerr wins prestigious national award

While the prestigious Molson Prize may not ring any immediate bells, a quick glance through the list of previous winners reveals a who’s-who of Canadian culture: Margaret Atwood, Glenn Gould, Richard Wagamese, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Bill Reid, Mary Pratt, Jack Shadbolt, MG Vassanji, Margaret Laurence, Denys Arcand, Arthur Erickson . . . with over 100 luminaries representing Canada’s intellectual and cultural heritage, it’s like the ultimate CBC guest list.

One category missing from this list of prestigious artists, writers, composers, architects, choreographers and academics, however, is theatrical designers.

But that has now changed forever, as theatre professor and legendary production designer Mary Kerr becomes the first designer to be named a Molson Prize Laureate in the prize’s 56-year history.

Mary Kerr in her office at UVic’s Department of Theatre, surrounded by her various designs, 2016 (UVic Photo Services)

A gifted artist and inspiring mentor

From the iconic likes of Expo 67, Expo 86 and the 1994 Commonwealth Games to nearly every professional stage in the country, Mary Kerr’s visionary theatrical designs have transformed Canadian culture over the past five decades.

“We are so fortunate to have Mary’s talents here at the University of Victoria,” says Vice-President Academic and Provost Valerie Kuehne. “Not only is she an exceptionally gifted artist, she’s also an inspired teacher and mentor. Her work elevates UVic’s position as a national leader in fine arts and brings positive attention to the cultural strengths of Canadian art and production design on the global stage.”

The Molson Prize, which honours contributions to Canada’s cultural and intellectual heritage, is only the latest honour for the theatre professor. Kerr is also a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Royal Society of Canada and has represented Canada at numerous international theatrical design competitions over the past 30 years.

“This award is an important way for other designers to gain heart: they can see their work is being received equal to painting or sculpture,” says Kerr. “To me, good theatre is a vision quest: it can change your life.”

Two prizes of $50,000 are awarded each year, one in the arts and the other in the social sciences or humanities. This is the third Molson Prize for UVic and its first in the Faculty of Fine Arts. John Borrows (Law) received a Molson Prize last year and Angus McLaren (History) received the university’s first in 2008. Funded from a $1-million endowment by the Molson Family Foundation, the Molson Prizes are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

People worldwide witnessed the pagentry of Mary Kerr’s designs during the televised closing of the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria (Image provided courtesy of Mary Kerr)

A career as diverse as Canadian culture

Given her background in dance and sculpture, and her celebrated career as a production designer in Canadian and international theatre, dance, opera, feature film, television, exhibition and special events design, Kerr’s oeuvre is as diverse as Canadian culture itself.

“If we’re lucky, we get the culture we deserve to create in—and I was lucky,” says Kerr, looking back over her 50-year career. “It was exploding, it was exploring, it was a time to break the rules and be authentic.”

From designing the internationally televised opening and closing ceremonies of the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria to creating sets for The Tommy Hunter Show, from working on opera stages around the world to working with children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois and Bram, Kerr has forged her own path through hundreds of projects and numerous awards and nominations.

“If I’m happy with what I’ve done, I move on,” she says philosophically. “While it is work, I don’t just think of it as craft or technique. Hopefully, each show I do—each challenge I’m given, each puzzle I solve—is a movement of growth and creation.”

Not that her work has been limited to Canada: iconic ballet star Rudolf Nureyev invited Kerr to design productions at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he was artistic director—the first Canadian to receive such an honour—and her one-woman musical about Marc Chagall’s wife, Bella—Bella, the Colour of Love (which she co-wrote)—was commissioned and produced for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Kimmel Centre in Philadelphia, before touring to New York, Poland and Toronto.

Her production designs have been described as “kinetic sculpture on stage” and are characterized by experimentation with architectural concepts, scale, materials, colours and often satiric cultural commentary on the human condition.

“Einstein said, ‘creativity is intelligence having fun’—that captures my life practice,” says Kerr. “I’m not that interested in realism; I’m interested in exploration, illusion, what’s going on in someone’s mind . . . that’s what I love about theatre, the ability to bring some kind of transformation and healing to the audience.”

Case in point? Her visionary designs for the 2007 National Arts Centre production of Copper Thunderbird, based on the life and works of Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau, which were later the focus of an exhibit at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery. This groundbreaking exhibit paired Kerr’s sketches, models, costumes, process photographs and nationally broadcast video of the production alongside Morrisseau’s own paintings.

“In some ways, my work was a bridge between Canadian art and Canadian theatre, because there weren’t a lot of theatre designers who came from an art background in the 1970s . . . stylized theatre wasn’t being done that much when I started. But I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t do: I just did. In retrospect, I didn’t realize how experimental or unusual my work was at the time.”

Mary Kerr’s production designs for the 2007 play Copper Thunderbird helped bring the life and work of Anishinaabe artist Norville Morisseau to life at the National Arts Centre, and were the focus of a 2008 exhibit at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery (National Arts Centre)

Mentoring the next generation

Kerr’s work has been the subject of a documentary film (Mary Kerr: the Creative Process) and is housed in many collections including The Mary Kerr Collection at the Metro Toronto Library and the Paris Opera Archival Museum. She was also recently chosen by her peers to have her work shown as “Canada’s Design Legend” at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial International Design Competition. But it hasn’t always been easy.

“Women primarily designed costumes—not sets—when I started out,” she says. “I was often scorned by the professional male designers who felt women were not technical enough to design sets. The director was considered the ‘conceiver’ behind the show, but I work as an equal creator: a visual dramaturge.”

And while opportunities for women have improved, Kerr still feels called to raise awareness in the next generation of designers, and to remind women today what they can achieve in the field. That’s part of what she has brought to her students in UVic’s theatre department since 1998, where she teaches courses in the sociology and semiotics of contemporary and historical fashion, costume and stage architecture, theatrical aesthetics and “Ways of Seeing”.

At the same time, Kerr also guides students through the process of conceiving and designing costumes and sets for productions at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, and regularly mentors students after graduation to successful design careers in Canada and around the world.

As noted in the Molson Prize nomination letter, international opera designer Michael Levine says that Kerr “has always been a leading light in the field of set and costume design, both in Canada and abroad. Her work is bold and brave and thrilling to watch. She has inspired many designers to follow her path.”

As production designer for the 2012 UVic Phoenix Theatre production of Euridyce, Kerr’s artistic vision encompassed every aspect of the stage. (Photo: David Lowes)

Ways of seeing

It should perhaps be no surprise that two previous recipients of the Molson Prize—visionary thinkers Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye—were two of Kerr’s own mentors as a student.

“I based my ‘Ways of Seeing’ UVic class on McLuhan’s method,” says Kerr. “We’d all be sitting around in a circle and he’d just talk—we’d rarely say anything—and his mind bounced around like a wonderful hummingbird, or maybe a big eagle. It totally fascinated me that learning wasn’t something you found in a book but something you put together in your mind . . . it was a very different way of approaching it. Frye, he was more of an academic, but he was also a mystic.”

Given that she’s still guided by the influence of her own mentors, what advice does she offer her own students? “Learn the rules and then break them. Be fearless and authentic in your art.  Do not copy. Be an original. Be a compassionate and curious human first, an artist second and only then perhaps a production designer.”

Over 22 million people attended Vancouver’s Expo 86 and were thrilled by the colourul spectacle of the Canadian Pavilion’s First Theatre, with production design by Mary Kerr (Image provided courtesy of Mary Kerr)

Theatre in a time of crisis

Finally, with international productions at a halt because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Kerr is currently working on a collection of essays and stories about her life and experiences as a designer—which, combined with the Molson Prize, has offered the opportunity for reflection.

“In Buddhism, they talk about the Kalachakra wheel—when the wheel of the world turns, things change—and some say that’s what’s going on right now. Will theatre come back the way it was? I don’t think so—and I don’t think it should,” she reflects.

“I keep wondering what McLuhan, who could see to the edge of the earth, would be saying or doing in this precarious time. He called artists the ‘early warning systems of a culture’ . . . so how can we warn and help today?”

Whatever the future holds for theatrical presentations, it’s a safe bet Mary Kerr will be there on the edge herself, envisioning a dynamic and colourful design.

Playful and bright, Kerr’s production design was an ideal match for the fairy tale classic, The Wind In The Willows, staged at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre in 2007. (Photo: Tim Matheson)

Restart me up

Restart me up

Welcome to issue seven of the Fine Arts Connector, your biweekly listing of news, resources, activities and other shareable content from the Faculty of Fine Arts, specifically compiled for distribution during the current health crisis.

As Premier John Horgan announced on May 6, we’re now looking at a phased-in “restart plan” over the next few weeks in BC, which will ease some of the current restrictions on our lives. But while some sectors will be opening later this month, the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people is expected to remain in place throughout the summer, which will present some creative challenges for the arts sector. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at BC’s Restart Plan here.  

President Jamie Cassels also released his latest campus update on May 11, which notes UVic will be offering programming predominantly online for the fall term. “Where health and safety permits, we are also exploring opportunities for in-person instruction to support essential experiential learning, graduate education and work-integrated learning; the fall timetable will be available later this month.” Watch for more details pending, and how that will affect us in Fine Arts.

As always, please enjoy—and circulate—this collection of material featuring our faculty, students, alumni, staff and guests as a way of both sharing what our creative community is up to and keeping us connected in this difficult moment in history.

You can also help by keeping us in the loop if you’re working on a live-streaming project, have online material to share or are involved in something you’d like people to know about: just email either fineartsevents@uvic.ca or johnt@uvic.ca.

Finally, you can sign up here to receive automatic notice of each issue of The Connector

News

 

A sense of belonging & community

The first Monday of May is always a celebration of Music Education in Canada. Last year saw a few hundred people singing and playing at the BC Legislature, but this year everything went online instead with a series of live coast-to-coast performances.

As the principal researcher on a 2020 national study on the state of music education in Canada, School of Music professor and Acting Associate Dean Adam Con appeared throughout the entire 12-hour stream promoting the importance of music education.

“Have you noticed the news on TV and in social media constantly sharing how music plays an important role in how we express our feelings and how music creates a sense of belonging and community?” says Con in this YouTube message that ran throughout the entire broadcast. “The skills that allow us to share these musical moments are directly linked to the strength of our Canadian music education programs.” 

School of Music professor and Acting Associate Dean Adam Con in his Music Monday message 

Create Victoria 

The City of Victoria is proposing a restart of their Create Victoria initiative—including the hiring of a new staff position, a new Cultural Infrastructure Grant fund and a $5,000 grant to the ProArt Alliance of Greater Victoria for the creation of a City of Victoria sponsored award at the annual ProArt Regional Arts Awards in the fall. 

Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic crisis has had a profoundly negative impact on the arts and cultural sector in Victoria, city councillor and poet Jeremy Loveday is bringing this forward to City Council meeting on May 14, with an eye to how the arts & culture sector can help fuel regional recovery and supporting the mental health and well-being of area residents . . . following provincial guidelines, of course.

“Investment in arts and culture and support to the struggling sector should be a key recovery priority for the City,” says Loveday. “This will help to drive the recovery of our local economy. It will also provide much-needed opportunities for residents to experience the benefits of engaging with arts and culture opportunities—albeit in new and creative ways—after being cooped up at home during the pandemic. In addition to economic stimulus, investing in arts and culture as part of the City’s recovery strategy is also good for the mental health and well-being of our residents.”

Livestreaming this week

Fine Arts alumni continue to be active in National Arts Centre’s ongoing #CanadaPerforms series: appearing this week are Theatre alumni Laura Anne Harris, Kathleen Greenfield and Ingrid Hansen. 

Destiny USA: Seen briefly at the Belfry’s SPARK Festival in March before its run was shut down, Laura Anne Harris‘s solo production captures the true daily drama of her job as a relay operator for the deaf and hard of hearing—but when Laura moves from Toronto to Syracuse, New York, she certainly wasn’t expecting to be living in Trump’s America. Can she discover the hidden humanity of the American people? Find out at 5:30pm PST on Wednesday, May 13.   

SNAFU in Epidermis Circus: This is a collection of new and experimental works by the legendary SNAFU artists, who create live theatre, puppet theatre and dance theatre here in Victoria, while also touring across Canada to theatres and festivals. Led by artists Kathleen Greenfield and Ingrid Hansen, get ready for anything when Epidermis Circus debuts at 7pm PST Thursday, May 14. Note: all tips and donations will go to Victoria’s Our Place Society, who help people who are homeless.

Laura Anne Harris in Destiny USA

Shelagh Rogers keeps good company

As if her long-running CBC Radio show The Next Chapter and her duties as UVic Chancellor weren’t enough, Shelagh Rogers is now launching a new online show: Good Company with Shelagh Rogers debuts at noon Thursday, May 14, on UVic’s Facebook page

The first episode features Department of Writing professor emeritus and iconic Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, who will talk about poetry and art in the age of COVID. 

 

DIY cycling adventure

While it’s not part of the #CanadaPerforms series, Theatre alum Keshia Palm has received financial support from the National Theatre School of Canada’s Art Apart program, an emergency fund for emerging artists who are affected by physical distancing, to create Make Me An Alleycat a step-by-step guide to making your own adventure.

Now Toronto-based, Palm has created this interactive digital community arts project where individuals are invited to share stories and locations with their community during this time of social distancing as a way to be together while apart. It’s a collection of little journeys, and a window into secret worlds, where you go for a bike ride with your friends!

Using the Make Me an Alleycat email template, you create a one-of-a-kind bike route generated by 10 of your friends. They pick the location, you go for the ride. Each stop has a story behind it, and on this alleycat, you get to listen in. Find out more here

Keshia Palm’s Make Me An Alleycat 

 

Theatre in the dark

Theatre alum Mackenzie Gordon is mounting Three Stories Up—a murder mystery staged entirely in a pitch black room—for two weekends only, May 14-16 and May 21-23. Gordon originally wrote the play in 2014, and it’s been mounted twice since, including a production with Chicago’s aptly-named Theatre in the Dark. With just two actors playing dozens of characters, plus strong foley work and an original score, Gordon felt it would be ideal for a live digital delivery.

“We thought it was perfect, in these times, to stage again as a live audio performance,” he says. “We’ve IT’d the hell out of Zoom and gotten professional microphones to make sure the production is so much more than just filmed theatre.”

Mackenzie Gordon (left)

Inspiring change

Each year, Leadership Victoria celebrates community leadership and recognizes people who have made a lasting contribution to the communities that make up Greater Victoria.

Among this year’s recipients of the Victoria Community Leadership Awards is Department of Visual Arts Audain Professor Carey Newman, who was named one of 2020’s “Inspiring Changemakers” and honoured with the Extending Reconciliation Award.

Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme, is a multidisciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, author and public speaker. “As a leader he demonstrates his ability to bring together community members from different backgrounds through specific activities,” notes the award citation. “Carey believes in collective responsibility, learning from the past and creating art based on accumulated knowledge, experiences and traditions . . . He also works with young and at-risk populations, where carving is central for Indigenous people and for whom this kind of activity is considered a responsibility. Throughout his work, Carey believes the process has to model the goal.”

Watch his interview with Leadership Victoria’s Mark Crocker here.   

 

Carey Newman speaking with Leadership Victoria

Rising stars

In other news, two Fine Arts alumni have been selected for the prestigious Writers’ Trust of Canada Rising Stars program: recent Writing MFA graduate Troy Sebastian/Nupqu ʔa·kǂ am̓ and Theatre grad Carleigh Baker.  

Sebastian, a Ktunaxa writer who has also just been nominated for a pair of National Magazine Awards, and was selected by acclaimed novelist Lynn Coady. “Everything about the work of Troy Sebastian feels original,” says Coady. “His unpredictable structure, his extraordinary characters, his way with a completely unanticipated metaphor. You get the sense of a writer burrowing deep inside his own experience, history, and culture, fitting together the discarded fragments and treasures he finds along the way, until he emerges with something familiar yet utterly fresh—utterly dazzling.”

Baker, a nêhiyaw âpihtawikosisân/Icelandic writer, was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Emerging Indigenous Voices Award for fiction and won the City of Vancouver Book Award in 2017 for her debut short story collection Bad Endings. She was selected by noted writer Thomas King. “Carleigh Baker is one of those writers who can look at humanity and tell you where the bodies are buried,” King says. “And she’s happy to dig a few up, dust them off, and send them on their way to find a story . . . . [she is] a rare talent who can make you smile and cringe and think in the same sentence.”

The Writers’ Trust Rising Stars program is a multi-faceted career development program that recognizes talented authors in the early stages of their careers with $5,000 and highlights their work with an endorsement from a proven, influential author. The Rising Stars will attend a two-week, self-directed writing residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta.

Troy Sebastian, Carleigh Baker

Resources

 

Call for local poster art

What does the city’s leading concert poster creator and distributor do when there are no events to promote? If you’re Metropol—the good folks who have been postering daily on the downtown cylinders for nearly two decades—you decide to change those poles into instant art galleries.

“While COVID-19 has shuttered cultural, athletic and social gatherings in communities worldwide, it does not hold back creative spirit and outreach,” Metropol announced. “We are calling on local artists and image-makers to submit colourful works that we can print and post around town once a week—free of charge.”

Yep, all you have to do is email posters@imetropol.com to submit your digital files (artwork sized to 11″x17″, high-quality-print PDF 300dpi or Vector), plus your name and/or Instagram handle, and you’ll see your work on poster poles around the city.

“Art is a calming and inspiring force,” says Metropol. “Let’s keep our community vivid, bright and alive.”

Movies, books & cats—oh my! 

While UVic’s legendary movie theatre Cinecenta is closed, they’ve decided to take a step into the streaming universe by partnering with indie film distributor Kinosmith to offer a pair of documentaries to enjoy from the comfort of your home. 

DW Young’s The Booksellers was an audience favourite at festivals this year, and sure to excite bibliophiles and history buffs alike. This 99-minute feature documentary takes viewers inside the small but fascinating world of antiquarian booksellers, whose owners are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson . . . and whose clients offer an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers. Watch The Booksellers here.

Cinecenta is also offering the very popular Kedi, a brilliantly shot, charming and family-friendly documentary that will delight anyone who enjoys all things feline. Shot throughout the streets of Istanbul, Kedi takes the inherent appeal of its subject and goes beyond the call of duty, isolating the profound relationship between people and cats by exploring it across several adorable cases in a city dense with examples. Watch Kedi here.

Your ticket for these films ($9.99 for The Booksellers, $6.99 for Kedi) will help support Cinecenta during these strange times.

Walk on 

If you’re yearning to get out of the house and a short turn around the block just isn’t working anymore, why not go on some virtual walking tours around the globe instead?

The Open Culture website is offering a free collection of point-of-view walks through a variety of locations (the streets of Tuscany), weather (rain or shine), times of day (an afternoon in Venice, a night in Tokyo’s Shinjuku) and density (crowds in Bangkok and NYC, empty forest paths).

Some of the walks are as short as 20 minutes, while others are over an hour—more than enough time to fill your need for travel distancing.

Pocket-sized concerts

This week, we offer you a pair of shot-at-home performance videos featuring School of Music graduate student Lea Fetterman accompanying herself in a violin trio. In the first video, she’s performing Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour, Op. 12”.

Given that she is now working without a pianist, Fetterman decided to act as her own accompanist in this video—which marks the first time she has ever created something like this.  

“I arranged the piano accompaniment into two violin parts and a bass line,” she explains. “I left the third violin part out because it muddled the melody too much. Due to all the rubato in this piece, I could not use a click track, so I first recorded the solo violin part, and then played the other parts along with that video.”

These videos were created using her MacBook Air and iPad, plus a Zoom Q4n microphone, the Symphony Pro 5 app and her Skullcandy Crusher wireless headphones.

“I hope this piece brings you some joy during these difficult and uncertain times.”

 

 

Then, buoyed by her success with the first video, Fetterman then created three violin duets from Bartók’s “44 Duos for Two Violins” — fusing “Tót Nóta (Slovakian Song [1])” with “Magyar Nóta (Hungarian Song [1])” and “Oláh Nóta (Wallachian Song)”.

“I hope you enjoy this pocket-sized concert. Be well!”

Look and see 

Unless you live in or near a high-rise, one of the casualties of living in a lockdown situation is the ability to easily watch other people—a popular human pastime, whether one admits to it or not.

Department of Visual Arts MFA alum and sessional instructor Laura Dutton explores themes of looking and watching in her works. To better explain her practice, she has created this new video for The Connector, which offers her thoughts on two of her recent works: the multi-channel video installation Night Comes On (2016) and the photography exhibit Nearness To or Distance From (2018).  

Described as a “meditation on the process of looking, and being looked at”, Night Comes On “allows the viewer to become a voyeur, peering into private space while navigating around imposing structures of flickering, hypnotic light”.

In contrast, Nearness To or Distance From offers a series of abstracted, candid portraits of tourists visiting the Grand Canyon—photographed from about a kilometre away and then further zoomed in during post-production. “It’s as if these people could have been stolen from the background of a Seurat painting, where they had been forgotten,” says Dutton.

Dutton’s work has been exhibited across Canada at the likes of the Esker Foundation Project Space (Calgary), Legacy Gallery and Deluge Contemporary (Victoria), PAVED Arts (Saskatoon), VU Photo (Quebec City), and as part of the Capture Photography Festival (Vancouver).

 

Laura Dutton’s “Night Comes On” (2016)

Laura Dutton’s “Nearness To or Distance From” (2018)

An offbeat comedy about human isolation

This week, we bring you the Department of Writing student-made short film Godhead. Written and directed as an MFA project by now-sessional instructor Connor Gaston, Godhead tells the story of Gary, who, rendered mute by his autism, spends his days racing remote-control boats with his little brother—which creates stress for the boy’s father, a single parent who just wants his eldest son to get a job. However, Gary’s condition conceals a powerful gift that goes beyond words.

“To me, Godhead is an offbeat comedy about human isolation, particularly passing judgment on each other, especially people who are different. Intelligence can take many forms, which is something people too often forget,” says Gaston. “Gary, our mute autistic protagonist, embodies this notion and reminds us that a person can be more than what meets the eye. The film also mixes the micro with the macro, contrasting a dysfunctional family unit with the unknowable cosmos.”

An official selection in 2014’s Toronto International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival and Rimouski Festival de Film, plus 2015’s Victoria Film Festival, Godhead was nominated for a Leo Award (Student Production) and won the Student Short Work award at the Whistler Film Festival.

In addition to his teaching duties, Gaston has since gone on to complete his first feature film, The Devoutwhich premiered at the Busan International Film Festival—one of Asia’s premiere film festivals. The Devout also earned Gaston the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2015 and won Best Motion Picture and Best Screenwriting at the 2016 Leo Awards.

Stay home, get quizzy

Had your fill of jigsaw puzzles? Tired of doing crosswords? If you’re ready for a serious visual challenge, why not tackle the new Stay-at-Home Art History Quiz?

Brought to you by Art History & Visual Studies department chair Marcus Milwright, and based on the same concept he’s been doing for his semi-annual Christmas quizzes, the Stay-at-Home quiz offers 10 composite visual images sourced from throughout art history.

“Our family was always keen on quizzes, from crosswords to tests of general knowledge,” says Milwright. “There used to be a quiz in a newspaper that asked readers to identify a painting from a little section. This provided the inspiration for the original AHVS Christmas Quiz, although I wanted to add some new elements.”

Your job, should you choose to accept the challenge, is to not only identify the art or artist (depending on question) but also solve the cryptic puzzle buried within. Complete instructions can be found on the quiz page

Answers will be posted on the new Gateway to Art site on July 1. Good Luck!

Reclaming First Nations culture & history

What does it mean to dedicate your life to honouring the dead? Harold Joe has spent his adult life following a tradition that has been handed down in his family for generations: the discovery, preservation and rededication of human remains and artifacts, and with them, a reclamation of First Nations culture and history.

As chronicled in the alumni-created documentary Dust n’ Bones, Joe is a revered archaeological consultant, filmmaker and former gravedigger, who has been challenging cultural and spiritual appropriation by museums, universities and private collectors for over 40 years. 

Dust ‘N Bones is a 2018 documentary that brings to light the legal, political, historical and spiritual challenges faced by First Nations leaders and archaeologists as they fight to give disinterred ancestors their proper reverence.

Framed around the pending transfer of artifacts from the Royal British Columbia Museum to traditional Cowichan territory, Dust n’ Bones takes us through the discovery, preservation and rededication of human remains and artifacts—and, with them, a reclamation of First Nations culture and history.  

Created by Less Bland Productions, Dust n’ Bones is produced, co-directed and co-written by Department of Theatre alum and sessional instructor Leslie Bland, also features the musical talents of fellow alum Alexander Brendan Ferguson (composer and arranger). 

Originally commissioned by Telus, APTN and US broadcaster FNX, Dust n’ Bones has since been acquired by NITV Australia, Télé Québec, Knowledge Network, Zoomer Media and CHEK TV. It’s now being used as a tool to help facilitate reconciliation locally between settler society and local First Nations. 

You can read more about Harold Joe in this 2018 Martlet interview.

Leslie Bland

More to come weekly

We’ll be posting more content from our faculty, students and alumni each week—be sure to check back!

Theatre researcher named top SSHRC Storyteller

Department of Theatre PhD candidate Lara Aysal has been named one of the top 25 “Storytellers” in an annual competition announced on May 5 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. SSHRC’s 2020 Storytellers competition celebrates the best in research communication by post-secondary students.

Applied Theatre PhD candidate Lara Aysal

Aysal is one of two UVic researchers named as a finalist, alongside Erynne Gilpin of UVic’s Indigenous Governance program. Each receives $3,000 and the opportunity to compete in the Storytellers Showcase in 2021.

The Storytellers challenge strives to show Canadians—in up to three minutes or 300 words—how social sciences and humanities research is affecting our lives, our world and our future for the better. The 2020 Top 25 Storytellers represent 19 postsecondary institutions across Canada. Their research stories include topics that are a priority for Canadians and have wide-reaching implications: climate change, the situation for refugees, the stigma of mental illness and Indigenous communities.

“This year’s 25 Storytellers competition finalists show exceptional creativity in communicating the relevance of social sciences and humanities research to the daily lives of Canadians,” says SSHRC President Ted Hewitt. “I commend each of them for their outstanding talent and ability to convey concisely and with great impact, why such research matters. Congratulations to the finalists!”

Community collaboration supports Hul’q’umi’num’ language and culture

Applied Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta and her students are collaborating with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society to use tools from theatre to reclaim an endangered Coast Salish language. For the last four summers, the group has met to improvise theatre games to improve fluency and to develop plays performed for the Hul’q’umi’num’ community.

“Working together on plays reinforces traditional values, such as building consensus, overcoming fear, and sharing knowledge with others,” says interdisciplinary PhD student, actor and voice coach, Thomas Jones, Kweyulutstun (theatre and linguistics). “Performing the stories brings out messages and meanings that are not understood when reading from a page.”

Last summer’s performance, “hw’i’ttsus lhqel’ts’Jealous Moon”, was directed by Applied Theatre PhD candidate Lara Aysal. A video documenting the project, Indigenous Performance and Language Revitalization, produced by One Island Media, was entered into the SSHRC Storytellers competition (below).

“Stories have been the guiding principle to take language learning out of the conventional classroom environment and into a theatrical space where it can be practiced in an everyday life setting,” says Aysal, who has worked on applied theatre projects around the world.

 

Voices of Indigenous women form narrative of self-determination

Erynne Gilpin is a mixed Cree-Metis, Filipina and Celtic educator, researcher. She is also a PhD graduate of UVic’s Indigenous Governance program. Her winning submission was based on her doctoral thesis—Land as Body: Indigenous Womxn’s Leadership, Land-based Wellness and Embodied Governance.

Erynne Gilpin (Photo: Kl. Peruzzo, przvida.com)

Guiding conversations with 17 Indigenous women, 21-to-60 years of age from 10 different nations, Gilpin explored definitions of leadership in their everyday lives, their wellness, community well-being and their relationships with land and water.

Gilpin explains, “my research defines wellness within a Cree-Metis framework. These concepts inform what I define as an embodied governance framework of self-determination.” Determined to interrupt the Indigenous story as one of constant crisis, Gilpin proposes new thinking, “which begins with the body as a site of regeneration, resurgence and renewal.”

Gilpin is an Indigenous Learning Specialist with UVic’s learning and teaching unit, and is an instructor with the Indigenous Studies program.

The 2020 Storytellers finalists are invited to participate in the Storytellers Showcase at the 2021 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which will take place in May 2021 at the University of Alberta. Given the exceptional circumstances caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the nature of the Storytellers competition, where the finalists must learn to effectively communicate their research in front of a live audience, SSHRC decided to postpone the Storytellers Showcase that was to have taken place at the 2020 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Western University in London, Ontario, which was cancelled.

The Final Five winners chosen at that event will be featured at SSHRC’s Impact Awards ceremony, to be held in fall 2021. See SSHRC’s Storytellers website for more details.

This story originally appeared on the UVic News page

Star Wars performance supports COVID-19 student fund

Department of Theatre alum Charles Ross will livestream his popular interstellar romp The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy at 5pm Monday, May 4, to help support an emergency fund for students experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Coordinated through The Farquhar at UVic, this is a special opportunity to watch the Victoria actor and active Theatre alum condense 12 hours of cinema into a 75-minute re-enactment of the plots of three Star Wars films (Star Wars IV, V and VI) while raising money to support students.

Click here for the livestream link to this free performance.

UVic theatre alumnus Charles Ross will livestream his popular interstellar romp through Star Wars on May 4 to help support an emergency bursary fund for students affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Image: Courtesy of Charles Ross.

The UVic COVID-19 Emergency Bursary was established in April to help domestic and international students, at the graduate and undergraduate level, who are in financial need as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Money raised will go toward students who have lost their jobs, face housing issues or have trouble paying for food, tuition or the technology needed for online or remote learning. The fund also supports mental health services, child care and transportation costs for students affected by the pandemic.

The emergency fund was established with $200,000 from the university and $140,000 from the BC government. Other contributions include $67,000 from the UVic Students’ Society, $50,000 from the UVic Alumni Association and $98,000 in individual donations from hundreds of alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the university.

So far, more than 2,000 students have applied to the emergency bursary, and UVic anticipates the demand will exceed $1 million. Fundraising is continuing and all gifts are welcome. Viewers are asked to donate to the UVic COVID-19 Emergency Bursary.

The livestream performance coincides with the popular annual “May the Fourth be with you” celebration of the Star Wars series. Ross has toured his world-famous production around the globe, entertaining more than a million fans in London’s West End, at the Sydney Opera House and off-Broadway in New York. Performed with permission of Lucasfilm Ltd, the show is fast-paced, funny and suitable for ages six to Yoda.

Most recently, Ross performed his One-Man Pride & Prejudice on April 18 as part of the ongoing #CanadaPerforms series developed by the National Arts Centre.

The story is the boss for 2020 Distinguished Alumni recipient Richard Van Camp

He’s written in almost every genre imaginable and seen his work adapted for film. He’s won multiple awards and inspired a new generation of writers. He’s been a student and a teacher, and now internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author Richard Van Camp can add the designation of Distinguished Alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts to his list of accolades.

No stranger to UVic since his graduation with a BFA in 1997, the Edmonton-based Van Camp returns to campus during Alumni Week to offer the public talk “My Life As An Author”, receive his Distinguished Alumni Award, visit undergraduate classes and have a frank conversation with current grad students. But before all that happens, he took time to chat with us about his life in words.

2020's Distinguished Alumni Award winner Richard Van Camp (photo: William Au)

2020’s Distinguished Alumni Award winner Richard Van Camp (photo: William Au)

All are welcome to join Richard Van Camp at his public talk, from 2:30-4pm Monday, February 3, in room 159 of UVic’s Fraser building. 

A near miss into politics

A proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT, Van Camp came to UVic’s acclaimed Writing department as a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, before later getting a Master’s in Creative Writing at UBC. But his original intention was not to become a writer, but to go into politics instead.

“I was studying land claims at Aurora College in Yellowknife but had started writing book and music reviews for the Yellowknife newspaper, The Prss Independent,” he recalls. “I was also writing poems and short stories that my English instructor, Ron Klassen, was reading in his spare time. I owe Ron so much because he told me not to get into politics because I was a writer.” (Ron, the Canadian literary scene owes you a debt!)

It was Klassen who encouraged him to attend the En’owkin Centre: not only has their program specialized in Indigenous writers and artists for the past 30 years, but En’owkin also has a vibrant partnership with UVic, which smoothed the path to Victoria for Van Camp.

Once here, he studied with some of the department’s literary legends like WD Valgardson, Marilyn Bowering, Jack Hodgins and Stephen Hume, but was also inspired by his fellow students — many of whom went on to literary acclaim themselves, including Billeh Nickerson, Aislinn Hunter and Teresa McWhirter.

 A story for every genre

Given his vast — 24 books in 24 years — and diverse literary output — including two novels, five collections of short stories, two children’s books, four baby books (the first of which, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns was given to every newborn baby in BC in 2008), six graphic novels and four seasons with CBC TV’s North of 60, plus a feature film adaptation of his novel, The Lesser Blessed, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival — Van Camp seems to revel in taking on new challenges. Was that something he learned as a student?

“It was the En’owkin Centre that encouraged all of us to work in every genre,” says the award-winning writer. “I am continually surprised that so many creative writing institutions limit you when selecting the genres you wish to explore. The one thing I always mention when I teach is, ‘The story is the boss.’ It’s up to you to help decide if the story that’s chosen you is best relayed as a short story, novella, graphic novel, movie, poem, prose piece, mind blur, photo, video, etcetera.”

Between writing contracts, Van Camp has taught creative writing at UBC, Emily Carr University and has held writer-in-residence positions at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. He’s also been quite diverse in the delivery of his works: all of his children’s books are available in Braille for free, anywhere in the world, and his baby book, Little You, was published in Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey.

Helping the next generation

As the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Van Camp now joins the ranks of previous Fine Arts DAA winners, including Banff Centre managing director of performing arts Nathan Medd (BFA ’01), country music stars Twin Kennedy (BMus ’08), visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

And while many of his works feature strong characters mentoring youth — notably his graphic novels, which have tackled issues ranging from gangs, sexual health, restorative justice, peace-making, mental health and suicide prevention — Van Camp also feels it’s important to give back himself.

“Alumni should be looking out for and promoting other alumni,” he says. “We’re a family and we deserve to help new writers the same way I was helped while on campus. I’m also grateful for [UVic’s Torch] alumni magazine that arrives to our home in Edmonton. I find I’m starving to see what everyone’s up to.”

With his latest short story collection, Moccasin Square Gardens, released in 2019 from Douglas & McIntyre, and his public DAA talk titled “My Life As A Writer”, does Van Camp have any advice for current Writing students?

“With 24 books out these past 24 years and five books on the way, working with 12 different publishers and working with two different literary agencies, I feel I can share my experience of how to make a great living as an author today and, at the same time, talk about the challenges writers can face balancing family, touring, writing and deadlines,” he chuckles. “I can’t wait to share the story about how I was fired by one of my publishers . . . only to return years later with a book that changed all of our lives forever.”

And what does it mean to him, personally and professionally, to be named a Distinguished Alumni?

“I wouldn’t be the writer or human being that I am today had it not been for UVic,” he admits. “I’m so grateful for the mentorship, the friendships and the guidance I received while there. I will always say yes when UVic calls me to return to help.”

Grad student call for Ocean Networks Canada Artist-in-Residence program

The Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) at the University of Victoria are sponsoring an Artist-in-Residence program.

The concept strengthens connections between art and science to broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues such as the environment, technology, oceans, culture, biodiversity and healthy communities.

This program is open to all current graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements in UVic’s Fine Arts faculty, with practice in any visual,  written, musical or performance media.

For the previous 2018-2019 residency, emerging artist Colton Hash produced a ​series of interactive art applications centred on the Salish Sea​.

Colton Hash with his “Resonant Disintegration” sculpture

About the position

The Artist-in-Residence intern will interact with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists at ONC as well as with other individuals using the world-leading ocean facilities to ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges. The artist will learn from and engage with the current  research, connecting it to their own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating a body of work to be presented at the end of the program. Regular interaction with scientists at ONC will be arranged, and the interaction with ONC will inform their graduate work (MA, MFA or PhD program).

The selected artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes that may include:

  • understanding human-induced change in the northeast Pacific Ocean​
  • life in the environments of the northeast Pacific Ocean and Salish Sea​
  • interconnections among the seafloor, ocean and atmosphere​
  • or seafloor and sediment in motion​.
The ONC Artist-in-Residence program is established to:
  • explore arts or the potential of alternative cultural practices in the area of the visions and challenges around oceans, as well as philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspect of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it
  • add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects
  • reveal interconnections between indigenous ways of knowing, scientific research and the arts
  • and help envision the potential long-term impacts of ocean changes on humanity.

The details

The period of the residency will be from September to December 2020, or January to April 2021. A cost-of-living stipend of $2,000/month CDN ($8,000 total) is currently available to be paid to the selected artist, and can be held in conjunction with other graduate funding.

During the residency, academic supervision will continue with the regular supervisor(s) in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Following the residency, a public exhibit or performance of the resulting art will be displayed or performed in summer / fall 2021. This showing/performance will be promoted by ONC, UVic and the faculties of Fine Arts and Science.

Please send applications to ONC’s Dwight Owens at (dwowens@uvic.ca​) with the subject line “Ocean Networks Canada Artist in Residence Program.”

The application should include your CV, a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work, a letter of motivation for the residency and a 500-word project proposal with a separate project-costs budget (up to $2,000 currently available). The application period closes on February 28, 2020.

Applications will be reviewed by representatives of UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, and students may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information.

About the residency partners

About ONC: Established in 2007 as a major initiative of the University of Victoria, Ocean Networks Canada operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science  and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical  capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home  laboratories anywhere on the globe in real time. These facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts: With experiential learning at its core, Fine Arts provides the finest  training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through our departments of  Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, we aspire to lead in  arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts. We  integrate and advance creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment. As  British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, Fine Arts is an extraordinary setting  that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural  experiences of the students and communities we serve.