Three Music alumni win CBC’s Music Class Challenge

Some people train for years to achieve Olympic glory, but two local school groups are already sounding like gold thanks to the efforts of three local music teachers — all of whom are School of Music alumni.

CBC Music Class Challenge winners & Music alumni (from left) Jennifer Hill, Jody Onuma, Michael Mazza

When the results of the annual CBC Music Class Challenge were announced in December, two of the six winning ensembles turned out to be from Greater Victoria: the Arbutus Mixtape Orchestra, led by Michael Mazza and Jennifer Hill at École Arbutus Global Middle School, and the Campus View Instrumental Ensemble, led by Jody Onuma at Campus View Elementary. All three are alumni of the School of Music’s Music Education program.

“We’re really proud of our students,” says Mazza. “We were just looking for something new to do in our music program, a way to fire the kids up and connect with other schools across the country doing the same thing.” And while it’s a first-time win for Mazza and Hill, this is the second time Onuma’s class has won their category, following their 2016 win for their cover of “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes.

The annual contest sees K-12 schools across the country competing to arrange and record one of 17 specially selected Canadian songs. (2017’s other winning schools were from Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.) Among the 17 options for songs were tracks ranging from current hitmakers like Basia Bulat, Jully Black and The Strumbellas to Canadian icons kd lang and Joni Mitchell, and the regional likes of Quebec’s Jérôme Minière and Inuktitut artists the Jerry Cans. But both local schools chose Marc Cholette’s “CBC Olympic Theme” to work with.

“CBC said if schools chose the Olympic theme, they might be able to be broadcast it,” says Mazza. “And that was part of it—I wanted the kids to be watching the Olympics with their parents and have the thrill of seeing themselves on TV.” As a result, not only does each winning class receive a state-of-the-art recording kit (valued at over $5,000), but they will now have their videos seen on CBC TV during the Winter Olympics broadcast in February.

The 2017 contest saw 500 submissions from every province and territory, which were judged by rocker Ewan Currie (The Sheepdogs), concert violinst Ming-Jeong Koh, Indigenous singer-songwriter IsKwé, CBC Radio’s Tempo host Julie Nesrallah, CBC Music Class producer Kelly Kitagawa and representatives of Canadian music education charity and contest co-creators MusiCounts.

Mazza says music is a “big part of the fabric of our school,” noting that over 75 percent of Arbutus students are enrolled in 10 performing ensembles led by their two full-time music teachers. The Arbutus Mixtape Orchestra is made up of grade 7 and 8 students in Mazza and Hill’s music classes. Their contest entry began with one class, then expanded as more and more kids became interested in the project; Mazza says the whole project took about seven 30-minute rehearsals, plus time for arrangement and recording.

“It started out just with the brass and string quartet, but we wanted to fill it out some more so we added the boy soprano at the beginning, then the vocal jazz singers in the background,” he says. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night sometimes thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we should add some clapping.’ It just organically evolved as we went along in a way we couldn’t have predicted and then came together in the end.”

One interesting aspect are the Indigenous drums being played in the video are all student-made, which Mazza says act as a “representation of the diversity of our school and our country. We also really liked the juxtaposition of the indie-rock claps and the First Nations drumming.”

Judge Julie Nesrallah of CBC’s Tempo says she “loved the performance because it had so many fun and interesting things going on: singing, drumming, the funky guitar solo, clapping and the ‘heys’ all came together to provide a dynamic, multi-layered performance that was very entertaining and moving. The whole performance was delightful to listen to.”

As for their recording-kit prize, Mazza says he’s just setting it all up and learning the software. “There are some students who are really interested in recording engineering and technology, so I’ll help them understand how it works and give them the opportunity to record some of our school ensembles,” he says. “Part of my philosophy is I want music to be part of the kids’ identity when they leave school—whether that’s playing the trumpet or knowing how to record.”

Mazza is both an alumni and sessional instructor with the School of Music (teaching, appropriately enough, a course on Music in the Middle School Curriculum). A band kid himself in high school (on trumpet), he says he always intended to become a music educator. “The best thing about going to UVic is that I basically got two degrees: music education and performance.” When asked if he still plays, he chuckles.  “You can catch me down at Pagliacci’s every second Sunday—I’ve been playing there in a klezmer band since 2001.”

While all three alumni — Mazza, Hill and Onuma — represent the kind of top-flight talent that come out of UVic’s Music Education program, Mazza singles out Music professor Gerald King as a shining example of how inspiring a music educator can be to students of any age. “Gerry was a mentor to all three of us. He set such high standards and inspired us to do excellent work with the kids. We’re lucky to have him.”

As for the course he teaches in UVic’s School of Music, Mazza brings third-year Music Education students directly into his middle-school classroom. “It’s real experiential learning on their part; for many of them, it’s their first time being in front of a large group and teaching real kids. It’s a wonderful partnership between the university and the school district.”

And while the Music Class Challenge is a great salute to music education in Canada, Mazza says it pales in comparison with the effort his students made.

“We’re really proud of our kids,” he says. “They really aspired to do something memorable, and I don’t think they’ll ever going to forget this.”

Now that’s the kind of education we like!

Fine Arts grads shine during Alumni Week

UVic’s annual Alumni Week is back, and Fine Arts is well-represented in the various events happening across campus and around the city from February 1-7. 2018 marks the 11th annual celebration highlighting the achievements and impact of our alumni, and offers everyone — current students, faculty and alumni alike — the opportunity to show our UVic pride and celebrate UVic grads in communities all over the world.

While there are over 15 events and activities happening over the week, we’re only going to highlight those involving Fine Arts alumni. And be sure to check out the Flashback Foto Contest, where you can submit photos of yourself from your UVic days and enter to win prizes.

AHVS grad student & exhibit curator Nellie Lamb

At 3pm on Saturday, February 3, Art HIstory & Visual Studies alumna and current AHVS graduate student Nellie Lamb will be hosting a special curator’s tour of her current exhibit, Innocence: West Coast Art & Artists Through a Visitor’s Eyes at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery Downtown. A fascinating look at west coast creativity in the early 1960s, Innocence pairs original works from UVic’s Art Collection with a 1963 NFB documentary.

“Sometimes seeing something we are familiar with through another’s eyes reminds us how incredible that thing is,” she explains. “I hope visitors leave the gallery with a feeling of wonder about the place that we live, and the artists who have worked here for thousands of years and continue to . . . . that’s the feeling in [both the film] and the artworks in this exhibition give me.” You can read more about Lamb’s Innocence exhibit here.

Twin Kennedy

The main event of the week, the gala Distinguished Alumni Awards Night, begins at 7:30pm Monday, February 5, at the Songhees Wellness Centre. All are welcome to attend this free event and see 12 distinguished alumni honoured, and hear what they have to say about how UVic has made — and continues to make — a difference in their lives, and the greater communities around us. Among the recipients are the Faculty of Fine Arts DAA recipients, Carli and Julie Kennedy — School of Music alumni who, under the stage name Twin Kennedy, have been shaking up the world of country & roots music from their new base in Nashville.

“There’s a lot of people in Nashville who can’t do what we can, because they never went to school,” says Carli. “We’re so grateful to have had the time to study and learn before we got out there.” Read more about Carli & Julie in this exclusive interview.

Celebrated Writing alumnus Daniel Sieberg will be In Conversation with UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers starting at 7pm on Tuesday, February 6, at First Metropolitan United Church. Not only is Sieberg a graduate of the Writing department but he’s an Emmy-nominated and award-winning TV correspondent/host and the author of The Digital Diet, as well as a former Google executive and the co-founder of Civil.

The big event on Wednesday, February 7, is the special free concert by Twin Kennedy starting at 8pm at Felicita’s Campus Pub. Enjoy a rare intimate and acoustic local performance by these Canadiana stars, who are a little bit country and a little bit classical. With a steadily growing amount of industry recognition — including multiple nominations from the Canadian Country Music Association (three) and the BC Country Music Association (12) — Twin Kennedy have also already won two John Lennon Songwriting awards for their song “Secondhand Gold,” which picked up the Grand Prize (Country) in 2015 and Best Country Song in 2016, as well as a pair of Vancouver Island Music Awards (Country Album of the Year).

Also running all week (and through to March 29, actually) is the exhibit Distinctly Canadian: The Malahat Review’s Relationship with the Visual Arts at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery in the McPherson Library – Mearns Centre for Learning. Curated by AHVS alumna Caroline Riedel, this exhibition pays tribute to the role of art in The Malahat Review — one of Canada’s most iconic and long-standing literary journals.

In its50-year run, its pages have featured the work of established writers, emerging talent and critical essays on both literature and the visual arts. The synergy between art and literature is particularly evident in the cover art and essays of the journal’s first decade, which presented new work by internationally acclaimed artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Featured artists in this exhibit include Maxwell Bates, Robert De Castro, Glenn Howarth, P.K. Irwin, Davidee Kavik, Jack Kidder, Tony Hunt Sr., Elza Mayhew, Eric Metcalfe, Myfanwy Pavelic, Margaret Peterson, Bill Reid, and Gordon A. Smith.

For a complete listing of Alumni Week events please visit our Attend an Event page for more details. If you have any questions please contact Alumni Relations at 250-721-6000 or alumni@uvic.ca.

It’s twice the charm for 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award winners, Twin Kennedy

It’s only been 10 years since sister duo Twin Kennedy graduated from the School of Music, but during that short decade, the acclaimed country/roots duo already released two albums, toured across North America, moved to Nashville and  won the hearts of country radio and fans alike. Now, the sisters are headed back to UVic on February 5th to be honoured among UVic’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award winners — an award that’s doubly special this year, given the School of Music’s 50th anniversary.

Know for their distinctly “Canadiana” country roots sound, seamless harmonies and heartfelt songwriting, Carli and Julie Kennedy (BMus ’08) are the latest recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award for the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Dubbed “the next big thing in country music” by the Nashville Music Examiner, Twin Kennedy’s latest album — 2015’s It’s a Love Thing — was produced by Canadian country superstar George Canyon, and their 2017 winter single “Cold Weather” was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the “10 new country and Americana Christmas songs to hear right now!

Each year at Alumni Week, UVic’s Alumni Association — in partnership with the universtiy’s faculties and divisions — present Distinguished Alumni Awards to outstanding members of the alumni community. The recipients are selected by their respective faculties or divisions based on a number of criteria, including career accomplishments or service to their community.

Twin Kennedy now join the ranks of previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award winners, including 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).

“We’re very proud of years at UVic,” says Carli. “Not everyone in the popular-music world has a degree, and it’s an important part of our story. To be recognized for that side of our career is a huge honour; it means a lot to us.”

“And we did it together!” laughs Julie.

Twin Kennedy will be performing a free, on-campus show as part of the Orion Series in Fine Arts during Alumni Week: their intimate, acoustic concert at Felicita’s kicks off at 8pm on Wednesday, February 7, and is already almost sold out. Reserve your free tickets now. And you can read more about them in this Feb 1 Black Press article.

First, and best, choice

Originally hailing from Powell River, the twin sisters specifically chose UVic’s School of Music to study for their Bachelors of Music, with Carli focusing on classical guitar performance and Julie on violin. “We didn’t plan it, but guitar and violin go really well together,” says Carli.

“UVic was definitely our first choice, because it’s the best string program in Canada, hands down,” says Julie. “We did go and do some lessons with teachers at other universities while we were deciding, but fell in love with the Lafayette String Quartet and [guitar professor] Alexander Dunn.”

“I distinctly remember Carli’s audition at UVic,” says Dunn. “After a few moments, it was apparent there was a true musical mind at work — innate musicianship, ease of execution, effortless focus. I was made aware that her sister was auditioning as well. I nervously contacted the strings instructor to make sure she was aware of the Kennedys. Naturally, they both sailed through and, in the course of their studies, evolved into mature musicians and a wonderful duo.”

Lafayette String Quartet violinist Ann Elliott-Goldschmid similarly recalls her time working with Julie. “Innately talented, Julie had the disposition of a performer from the moment she auditioned,” says Elliott-Goldschmid. “She had a beautiful, singing tone and a will to constantly improve. I remember her captivating Franck Sonata and excellent Saint-Saens concerto to this day!”

Beyond focusing on their individual instruments, the Kennedys were also instrumental in the development of UVic’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, which is still very active today, under the guidance of Wendell Clanton. “He created a directed study for us, and helped to build the whole vocal jazz program—we were the first year of that,” says Carli. “He really encouraged us to try some really out-of-the-box stuff, which is a big part of what we do now,” agrees Julie.

Victoria had an impact on the Kennedys beyond their studies, however, resulting in their family moving to “this beautiful city” and their sister Katelyn choosing UVic for her Education degree. “Where you go to school can really change your life in ways you never even realize,” says Julie.

“We found this out later, but we were both asked the same question at our entrance interview: ‘What are you going to do if your sister quits music?’ And I just couldn’t conceive of that,” she admits. “We’ve always known from the beginning that our path would be together, so I said, ‘That’s not a possibility.’ And they were like, ‘Sure, sure.’” Both sisters pause, look at each other, and burst out laughing. “Look at us now!”

For his part, Dunn isn’t surprised by their success. “I know their dedication and hard work have afforded an unshakable musical foundation,” he says. “I am proud of their accomplishments and will always regard the Kennedys with great fondness and admiration.

Perhaps because they are twins, there’s a clear connection between the two sisters that goes beyond both the personal and professional. (“And we are actually twins—which we got asked recently—although it’s pretty obvious,” laughs Julie.) They frequently finish each other’s sentences, and never hesitate to chime in with additional details.

“Lots of family groups break up, but we work really hard at our professional and personal relationships,” says Carli. “And because we’re legitimately best friends, we’re also pretty lucky. You have this built-in best friend who agrees with you musically 99% of the time.”

“It’s only with Carli that I could do this, and I couldn’t do this without her,” Julie admits with a smile.

Achieving, and inspiring, excellence

With a steadily growing amount of industry recognition — including multiple nominations from the Canadian Country Music Association (three) and the BC Country Music Association (12) — Twin Kennedy have also already won two John Lennon Songwriting awards for their song “Secondhand Gold,” which picked up the Grand Prize (Country) in 2015 and Best Country Song in 2016, as well as a pair of Vancouver Island Music Awards (Country Album of the Year).

“I’m really delighted that Julie and Carli have succeeded so brilliantly in this business,” says the LSQ’s Elliott-Goldschmid, “but I never doubted for a moment that they would go far with their many talents and incredible generosity of spirit.”

But it’s their roots in classical music that continue to set Twin Kennedy apart. Combining classical training with country roots allowed them to not only establish their signature sound and unique live show, but also develop their unique “Classical to Country Workshop” geared towards young musicians. By visiting elementary schools, high schools, and community music programs, Carli and Julie help music students craft their skills and find their confidence on stage.

“It’s really fun to bring both styles into classrooms,” says Julie. “We bridge the two worlds, which are totally different worlds. My favourite thing is when people come up and say, ‘You know, I don’t really like classical music but I really like what you did.’ You give them a taste and hopefully they’ll go to the symphony next.”

“But music is music,” Carli interjects. ”Being in Nashville, we’re surrounded by more people who do what we do, but we’re also exposed to more audiences and more styles of music. The world is getting more genre-less.”

As part of Alumni Week, Twin Kennedy will also be visiting the School of Music and sharing their experiences as recording and touring artists with the likes of the “Business of Music” class. Now based in Nashville, the sisters feel they’re getting “a Master’s degree in songwriting” just by living there.

“All the publishing houses, record labels, writers, artists . . . they’re all there — and not just doing country,” says Julie. “In the music industry, there’s LA, New York City, Toronto and Nashville. And for Americana — or Canadiana — Nashville is the place to be. You’ve gotta go where your music is the thing.”

“Every country song you hear on the radio, 99% of the writers live in Nashville, so we just go to their houses to write,” says Carli. “It’s really elevated our songwriting, once we started working with these hit writers; you can’t help but grow. It’s like coming to UVic—you get to work with the best professors.”

“This is your best possible foundation”

When asked for advice for current students, the Kennedy’s stress the importance of what students are actually doing right now.

“This is the best possible foundation ever: developing your technique and discipline, honing your abilities, dealing with performance pressures,” says Julie. “The study seems incredibly intense, but it really pays off.”

“There’s a lot of people in Nashville who can’t do what we can, because they never went to school,” agrees Carli. “We can do country and classical, but we can also do workshops and recording sessions and write songs . . .  that’s the way to make it nowadays. We’re so grateful to have had the time to study and learn before we got out there.”

Beyond an academic background, however, the Kennedys stress the importance of keeping it real. “As an artist, the biggest thing is staying true to who you are,” says Carli. “Maybe it changes, maybe you don’t figure it out right away, but in the world of popular music, it’s all about getting on the road, touring, making an album, putting it out there, booking the gigs, getting a deal, losing a deal, finding an agent . . . you learn by riding the wave.”

“That’s true of any business, but with music it feels so much more personal,” says Julie. “It’s essential to stay genuine to yourself and follow your path, however it may change.”

“People ask what we do for fun, and . . . we do this,” laughs Carli.

And really, how much better can it get than that? “Oh, a world tour, Madison Square Gardens, the Grand Ol Opry, the Grammys, a JUNO Award,” laughs Julie. “How much space do you have?”

“If we get to keep writing songs, making music, building fans — and that’s our career? I’m so grateful for it every day,” concludes Carli. “This award just proves that — we’re so lucky.”

“We really are,” Julie agrees.

And if the School of Music can keep producing talents like Twin Kennedy, then so are we.

Following their homecoming in February, Twin Kennedy will be hitting the road once again for a US tour in March. Keep a close eye on their social pages for further updates.

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2017 – part two

What else happened in Fine Arts in 2017? More than we can mention in one blog post, so here’s part two of our top-10 stories of the year.

International attention

Considering we’re based on an island at the edge of the continent, it’s surprising how much international attention UVic continues to get — and while there’s no arguing our extraordinary sense of place here in Victoria, credit must go to our exceptional faculty who always seem to be busy across the country and around the world.

Ajtony Csaba at the Hungarian Liszt Academy of Music (photo: Réka Érdi-Harmos)

School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró and some Music students participated in UVic’s interdisciplinary field school “Narratives of Memory, Migration, and Xenophobia” this summer, which brought together scholars, students and artists from Canada and Europe to examine issues including the recent resurgence of nationalist and xenophobic movements in North America and Europe. Biró also had a number of compositions commissioned, premiered and performed in Europe this year, as well as in Brooklyn. Ajtony Csaba was honoured to perform a special Canada 150 concert for the Hungarian Ambassador in Ottawa this summer, as well as having the opportunity to lead the orchestra at the Hungarian Liszt Academy of Music this fall. Merrie Klazek presented a solo recital at the International Women’s Brass Conference in New Jersey in June, Joanna Hood was featured on German radio this fall, and Benjamin Butterfield appeared once again at the Amalfi Coast Music Arts and Music Festival, teaching and directing the opera Gianni Schicchi with some of his UVic voice students, past and present (including Kaden Forsberg, Margaret Lingas, Ai Horton and Nick Allen).

Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson saw her art exhibited in solo and group exhibits in Scotland, England, France, China and the United States this year, while Paul Walde had two separate exhibits on view in Norway and Scotland, and Cedric Bomford had work in California, as well as an ongoing public art commission in Seattle. And sessional instructor Charles Campbell had work exhibited at both the Los Angeles’ Museum of Latin American Art and San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora this year.

Finally, Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors was the only Canadian selected for the prestigious 2017 World Stage Design exhibition in Taiwan, and Art History & Visual Studies professor Marcus Milwright published a new book, Islamic Arts and Crafts: An Anthology  with Edinburgh University Press.

Indigenous action

Lindsay Delaronde supported by dancers during ACHoRd (Photo: Peruzzo)

Considering the City of Victoria declared 2017 a Year of Reconciliation, it was perhaps fitting that we saw a great deal of activity by Indigenous alumni, guest speakers and faculty — most notable of which was the announcement that Visual Arts MFA alumna Lindsay Delaronde would be Victoria’s first Indigenous Artist in Residence. “I hope to create artworks that reflect the values of this land, which are cultivated and nurtured by the Indigenous peoples of this territory,” she said at the time. “I see my role as a way to bring awareness to and acknowledge that reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is a process, one in which I can facilitate a collaborative approach for creating strong relationships to produce co-created art projects in Victoria.”

2017 also saw the completion of Rande Cook’s two-year term as the latest Audain Professor in Visual Arts — on top of his duties as chief of Vancouver Island’s ’Namgis Nation and his commitments as an in-demand contemporary artist with an international practice. “Two years in the position allowed me to really reach students,” says Cook. “I was able to delve into the role art plays in politics, and got them to dive deep within themselves. I pushed my students a lot and they seemed to appreciate that — the feedback at the end of the year said it was one of the more profound classes they had ever taken.”

The call is currently out for the next Audain Professor, with a January 31 application deadline.

Theatre professor Kirsten Sedeghi-Yetka continues her applied theatre work in the area of Indigenous language preservation, and Theatre also hosted acclaimed Indigenous playwright Marie Clement as a guest this fall. AHVS professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer‘s 2017 Legacy Gallery exhibit on early female Indigenous carver Ellen Neel was featured in this national Globe and Mail article, Legacy Gallery also hosted an exhibit by Visual Arts MFA alumna Marianne Nicholson focusing on the impact of smallpox on local first nations, and fellow Visual Arts MFA Hjalmer Wenstob had a high-profile longhouse installation on the lawn of the BC Legislature this summer as part of the OneWave Gathering.

High-profile Indigenous Writing alumni Richard Van Camp and Eden Robinson were in the news repeatedly this year, with Robinson being shortlisted for the Giller Prize and winning a prestigious Writers’ Trust Fellowship. And everyone in Writing and Fine Arts were saddened to hear of the passing of former Southam Lecturere, Richard Wagamese.

Daniel Laskarin with his new public art sculpture, now installed in Richmond

Art with impact

Visual Arts faculty had a busy year with a number of prominent exhibitions and projects. Paul Walde’s Tom Thomson Centennial Swim project received a great deal of local, provincial and national media attention this summer — with 10 different radio interviews and day-of coverage by the Toronto Star — as well as making UVic’s list of top news stories of 2017.

The spotlight was definitely on the recently retired Sandra Meigs — now professor emeritus — who was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in September, opened a solo exhibit at Winchester Galleries early in 2017 featuring work created after winning the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, and launched an impressive solo show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in October, in collaboration with Music’s Christopher Butterfield. Listen to this interview with Meigs on CBC Radio’s Q, in which Butterfield’s audio component is also discussed.

Daniel Laskarin debuted a new public art sculpture at the Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 / Richmond North Ambulance Station and had a local solo show at Deluge Gallery, while Robert Youds had no less than three solo exhibits this fall, with two in Victoria and one in Toronto. Cedric Bomford had his work on view in California, Quebec and Toronto’s Nuit Blanche this summer, and very busy new professor Kelly Richardson participated in 14 solo and group exhibitions across Canada and Europe — with more planned in 2018.

10 years of acclaimed journalists

The stage may have been crowded, but not as much as the audience!

For the past 10 years, Writing students have benefited by learning from veteran journalists and authors, thanks to the Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction. In November, Writing celebrated a decade of Southam Lecturers with a special “all-star” anniversary panel featuring six former Southams together for the first time, in a lively moderated discussion on “The Future of Journalism in the Age of #FakeNews”

“The idea for the panel was sparked by a perfect convergence,” says Writing chair David Leach. “A chance to mark the 10th anniversary of the Southam Lectureship, the opportunity to thank the Southam family for their generosity, and to respond to a sense of global urgency around the role of journalists as guardians of our democratic institutions — especially when the most powerful elected official on the planet keeps attacking the free press as #FakeNews.”

Leach acted as emcee and moderator for the event, which broke all previous Southam attendance records and saw close to 250 fill every seat, aisle, ledge and doorway. six returning Southams — Jody Paterson, Terry Glavin, JoAnn Roberts and Tom Hawthorn, plus departmental alumni Mark Leiren-Young and Vivian Smith — as well as recent Writing grad Quinn MacDonald, now the publisher/editor of the local urban agriculture magazine Concrete Garden.

“All were keen to talk about their experiences as guest lecturers and debate the future of journalism,” says Leach. “Taken together, it offers a broad range of ways to look at contemporary journalism.”

A strong year for new donors

Samantha Krzywonos (far right) marks the
98th birthday of longtime donor Tommy Mayne, with three Theatre student recipients of his scholarship, in 2016

Another way to measure a faculty’s health and success is through the strength of its donors. And while Fine Arts couldn’t boast of another monumental donation like the one we received in 2016 from Jefferey Rubinoff — who sadly passed away earlier this year — 2017 remained a healthy year for donors and donations. Fine Arts Development Officer Samantha Krzywonos reports that we attracted 103 first-gift donors this past year — as compared to 48 in 2016 — and received an overall 476 donations for a total of nearly $500,000 that will support students.

Donations of all sizes are essential not only for scholarships and awards, but also for the need for innovative technology, space modifications and equipment upgrades — all of which contribute to the success of Fine Arts students in all our departments. Donors can range from alumni and retired faculty to parents of students, corporate partners, arts patrons, current and former staff, and community members. Indeed, we currently have over 250 active donors and nearly $10 million in planned gift expectancies invested in Fine Arts students.

Krzywonos feels meeting with donors is the most rewarding aspect of her job. “It’s all about saying thank-you and sharing the impact of that support. If a student can focus on their studies and not have to take on extra work just to get by, that donor support can make a huge difference in their life.”

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2017 – part one

There’s no easier measure of just how creative the activity is here in the Faculty of Fine Arts than by looking back at what happened over the previous year. From classes and guest lecturers to concerts, exhibits, plays, readings, seminars and our core research and creative practice, it’s often hard to believe just how much happens in a given year. In fact, a recent tally of this year’s media coverage showed our faculty, students and alumni had been covered more than 250 times in 2017 — and those are just the stories we know about.

In no particular order, here’s part one of our annual wrap-up featuring some — but certainly not all — of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

50 years and counting

Christopher Butterfield, Susan Lewis & Jamie Cassels at the School of Music’s Gala Anniversary Concert in December

2017 saw the wrap-up of 50th anniversaries in both Theatre and Art History & Visual Studies, and the ongoing half-century celebrations in the School of Music. Theatre completed its celebrations with a trio of final events in the spring: their Human Library Project, the Tempest Orion Project, and the public mounting of A Queer Trial, a brand new play by professor Jennifer Wise, in downtown’s Bastion Square. “The people who started our department were fearless in their vision and commitment,” Theatre chair Allana Lindgren said at the time. “They transformed one of the old military huts on campus into a stage and that ‘can do’ attitude has never left.”

AVHS finished their golden anniversary year with a public panel on “Why Art Matters in Dangerous Times” and their extensive Learning Through Looking exhibit at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery. “We were pioneers in the field when we were founded 50 years ago — not just in Canada but across North America,” noted department chair Erin Campbell of what was then the History in Art program. “At the time, art history was very Western-focused but we were one of the few institutions willing to look at Asian and Indigenous art. And we are still one of the largest world art history departments in Canada.”

While the School of Music just wrapped up its own 50th gala and reunion weekend earlier in December, they’ve still got their New Music & Digital Music Festival coming up from February 2-4. Music director Christopher Butterfield feels it’s their unique connection between faculty, students, alumni and the community that sets the School of Music apart. “We’re never going to be the place for everybody, but the people who do come here soon realize we’re punching way above our weight,” he says.

With three anniversaries down and two to go — including the Faculty’s own 50th in 2019 — it’s not hard to see the impact Fine Arts has had on the evolution of UVic itself, which is currently only 54 years old.

Award-winning achievements

Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal

It’s been another year of outstanding achievement for our faculty, with a number of notable recognitions. Department of Writing professor and acclaimed poet Tim Lilburn was the first Canadian to win the prestigious international Homer Prize, while School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró earned a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship, and Visual Arts professor emeritus Sandra Meigs became a Fellow of the Royal Society,

Internally, AHVS professor Victoria Wyatt won the Fine Arts award for Excellence in Teaching, while School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek‘s research into the forgotten works of suppressed composers earned her a place among the 10 recipients of UVic’s inaugural REACH Award, alumna Althea Thauberger was honoured as the faculty’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni, and POV Maestro Timothy Vernon being named an Honorary Doctor of Music at spring convocation.

Grad student successes

Fine Arts saw exceptional success in 2017 when it comes to the research and creative activities of our current doctoral and graduate students. Art History & Visual Studies had three successful SSHRC doctoral recipients — international students Atri Hatef and Hamed Yeganehfarzand (Iran) and Zahra Kazani (Pakistan) — which, considering only 20 were awarded to UVic as a whole, makes AHVS responsible for a remarkable 15 percent across campus in this category. Kazani also holds a CSRS Fellowship, as well as the Sheila & John Hackett Research Travel Award and a top-up to assist with international research at the Warburg Institute and the Wellcome Collection and Library, both in London.

Applied theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Afolabi

Also notable are two outstanding international PhD candidates in Theatre: national Vanier Scholar recipient Dennis Gupta, who also received the Ada Slaight Drama in Education Award, and Queen Elizabeth Scholar Taiwo Afolabi, a Crossing Borders Scholar with UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacic Initiatives and a graduate fellow with the Centre for Global Studies.

Additionally, we’ve had great success when it comes to Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s Awards, with three CGS M’s in AHVS, two in Writing, and one each in Visual Arts and the School of Music. With seven out of 36 awards on campus, Fine Arts earned an impressive 19.5 percent of UVic’s allocations. Two other high-achieving graduate students include AHVS’s Su Yen Chong, another CAPI Crossing Borders Queen Elizabeth Scholar, and Elsie-May Mountford, the Ian H. Stewart Graduate Student Fellow with UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society.

Amazing alumni

Composer & celebrated Music alumnus Rodney Sharman (photo: Bell Ancell)

It’s also worth noting that 2017 has been a remarkable year for alumni achievement. In November, School of Music alumnus Rodney Sharman received the Canada Council’s $50,000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, while composer Tobin Stokes saw one of his compositions performed for Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Canada 150 celebrations in London this summer, sung by alumna soprano Eve Daniell. Several School of Music alumni are featured in the 10-CD Canadian Composers Series on the UK’s Another Timbre record label — including the likes of Cassandra Miller, Alex Jang and Lance Austin Olsen — which also comes with an accompanying book. And Musicworks magazine has a feature on Victoria composers — including current concert manager Kristy Farkas — which comes with an accompanying CD.

Writing alumni have also been receiving a good deal of attention this fall, with Eden Robinson winning the $50,000 Writers’ Trust Fellowship, Yasuko Thanh winning the Victoria Book Prize, Connor Gaston and Karolinka Zuzalek both winning Leo Awards for their latest film projects, Shanna Baker winning the photojournalism category in the Canadian Online Publishing Awards for this Hakai magazine piece, Theatre alumna-turned-author Carleigh Baker winning the Vancouver Book Award, and Writing professor and alumna Joan MacLeod’s 1987 play Toronto, Mississippi being named one of Canada’s 14 essential plays.

In the nominations department, both Deborah Willis and Eden Robinson received Giller Prize nominations, Ashley Little and Steven Price were nominated for the €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award, Carleigh Baker was nominated for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and Writing chair David Leach — himself a departmental alum — was nominated for the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature.

Xiao Xue with her award-winning walking camper

Visual Arts saw MFA alumna Lindsay Delaronde named the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence, while two 2017 alumni won two categories in the national BMO 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition: national prize winner Xiao Xue, and BC provincial prize winner James Fermor. But while graduate students may be taking centrestage, And two very recent alumni were nominated for the Lind Prize in photography: Brandon Poole (for the second time) and Laura Gildner.

In Theatre, alumnus Chris Wilson has joined the cast of CBC TV’s legendary Air Farce comedy troupe, Meg Braem was recently announced as the newest Lee Playwright in Residence at the University of Alberta Department of Drama, Amiel Gladstone continues to reap accolades with the award-winning musical Onegin, which he co-created and directed, and continues to tour across Canada (including a recent Belfry Theatre production starring Meg Roe), and former CBC TV Being Erica star Erin Karpluk continues to pop up on such TV shows as Masters of Sex, Criminal Minds and the continuing A Fixer Upper Mystery.

The Mercer Report

Rick Mercer sings the headlines

And there’s nothing like a bit of celebrity to wrap up part one of this post: the School of Music (and UVic as a whole) was thrilled when legendary CBC TV host Rick Mercer came to campus in October to film a segment for the final season of The Rick Mercer Report — including a live, on-camera singing lesson with voice professor Benjamin Butterfield and student Taylor Fawcett. A highlight was hearing Mercer sing the day’s Globe & Mail headlines!  “I always thought I couldn’t sing but [Butterfield] convinced me that I, maybe, potentially, might be able to in the future. So I’ll be back doing my degree in opera,” quipped Mercer in this Martlet interview with Writing student Cormac O’Brien.

That’s part one—be sure to check back for part two of our top-10 stories of 2017.

Two Visual Arts grads win national art prize

Two 2017 Visual Arts BFA graduates are gaining some national attention this month, thanks to their selection as prize winners in the annual BMO 1st Art invitational competition.

As was previously announced this past summer, recent graduates Xiao Xue and James Fermor have been selected as the national and BC provincial winners (respectively) in the Bank of Montreal Financial Group’s 15th annual BMO 1st Art! competition.

As the national prize winner, Xue wins $15,000 for her sculpture, “Something to Ponder On: A Walking Camper,” while Fermor earns $7,500 as the BC provincial winner for his digital piece, “The Collection No. 3.”

Their work was selected from 303 entries submitted from across the country, and both will have their work displayed as part of a special exhibition at the University of Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, running from November 16 to December 16, 2017. And both will be featured in a special spread in the upcoming Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Art magazine.

As was earlier reported, Xue won the top prize in the Rainhouse Technology Challenge in June 2017, with her camper beating out other prototype entries including a drone, satellite and submarine. And, during her studies, she was also awarded the Dr. Milada Horakova Scholarship and the Martlet Chapter IODE Prize for Scholarship in History in Art.

Xiao Xue with her walking camper

The $15,000 prize is “an amazing financial support for future projects,” says Xue, who is now pursuing her MFA at the University of Guelph and is using some of the proceeds for a “chemical-based project” on which she is currently working. “It certainly helped me move to Ontario as well,” she adds.

Xue also assisted Visual Arts professor emeritus Sandra Meigs on her complex solo exhibit, Room for Mystics, on view throughout fall 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “It was very fun to figure out the technical issues — including electrical, coding and woodworking — and I am very glad it all worked out,” she says. “Sandra is an excellent role model and I am extremely glad to have the chance of working with her.”

Local Times Colonist art columnist Robert Amos featured Xue’s walking camper project in this April 30 article, and while he wrote about both artists in in this October 8 article, he mostly focused on Fermor’s video art projects, which show the human cost of first-person shooter video games. And while the BMO exhibition will feature a colour photograph of Fermor’s “The Collection No. 3,”  the overall work is in fact an 18-minute video.

Fermor describes being named the BC winner as “really affirming. It tells me that what I am exploring in my art practice is not just something that only I find interesting.”

Indeed, Fermor says the inspiration behind his winning piece came from a fascination with “what we embrace, generate within ourselves and ignore” when we interact with specifically narrative-driven video games.

“This piece came about from working with the game Dishonored 2 and thinking about what was going on between the fictional environment that I was enticed by the game to buy into and what was actually there,” he says.

James Fermor’s “The Collection No. 3”

While he’s unsure of what kind of long-term impact this prize may have (“none of my work has had this much exposure before and so I am not sure what to expect”), in the short term, he feels the award “really enables me to pursue my art practice beyond what I did in school.”

As for the prize money, he plans on putting it toward future projects. “Things like getting more equipment for developing content or purchasing a game that I want to explore and experiment with.”

It’s not the first time Visual Arts students have won a BMO 1st Art prize. In 2011, the winner of the BC provincial prize was undergraduate maegan rose mehler. “I had picked up a copy of Canadian Art magazine a couple of years ago and put a tab beside the BMO 1st Art! award and thought, ‘I should apply for this’ — then totally forgot about it,” mehler said at the time. “I just found it again recently, because I save all my art magazines, and realized that’s exactly what I did. It was a pretty focused two years, so it’s pretty cool that that happened.”

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2017, the annual BMO 1st Art! competition recognizes visual arts excellence amongst post-secondary school students from across Canada. Deans and instructors of undergraduate certificate, diploma, and degree arts programs from colleges and universities across the country were invited to select three outstanding graduating students from each of their studio specialties to make submissions to the competition.

“Since this competition’s inaugural year, we have been privileged to celebrate and share the works of 198 promising young artists from across the country,” said Dawn Cain, Curator of the BMO Corporate Art Collection. “Over the past 15 editions of the competition, we have been captivated by the creative range and artistic vision represented in the submissions we receive each year. We look forward to providing this unique opportunity to students for years to come.”

This year’s judges include Hugues Charbonneau, Director of Montreal’s Galerie Hugues Charbonneau; Naomi Potter, Director/Curator of Calgary’s Esker Foundation; Pan Wendt, Curator of Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Art Gallery; Kim Simon, Curator of Toronto’s Gallery TPW; and Dawn Cain, Curator fo BMO Corporate Art Collection.

The exhibit continues until December 16, 2017. Click here to see the winning entries by all the provincial winners.