Phoenix Theatre’s “Trojan Women” takes us back to the war that begat all wars

It’s an ironic contradiction of the human condition that the only thing as timeless as war is our simultaneous desire for peace. Sadly, this makes Phoenix Theatre’s mainstage production of Trojan Women as current as when it was first performed in 415 BCE.

Theatre student Una Rekic as Athena in Trojan Women (Photo: Dean Kalyan)

“The play is as relevant as this morning’s Twitter feed,” says director and Department of Theatre professor Jan Wood. “Turn on the news and you’ll find another instance of Trojan Women being played out in the world.”

Running from February 14 to 23 (with previews Feb 12 & 13), Euripides’ tragedy follows the perspective of the wives, mothers and daughters of the defeated Trojan warriors as they struggle with grief, uncertainty and, ultimately, courage while their fates are decided by the conquering Greeks. “I like to think art has the power to change things, but this play proves that it hasn’t,” admits Wood. “If we’re not learning the lesson that war is bad, then it must be teaching us how remarkable our ability to survive is.”

The women of Troy lament their fate (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Apart from Wood and movement director Treena Stubel, who is both a Phoenix alumna and current instructor with Theatre, this production of Trojan Women is firmly in the hands of the next generation of theatre artists, thanks to the 27-person all-student team of cast, crew and designers. “They know what’s happening in the world. They’ve seen the images and they’ve incorporated the power of that loss into the piece,” says the director. “Young people today are at the forefront of enacting real change in the world. Our survival depends upon it.”

Theatre professor and Trojan Women director Jan Wood

Wood feels the intentionally timeless war-torn set and costume design helps the nearly 2,500-year-old play feel current for today’s audiences. “When I see those boatloads of Syrians coming onto the shore, I think about refugees wandering with no destination, being forced out by war,” she says. “One of the things I’ve tried to do with this production is talk about the resilience of the human spirit, and its ability to move forward: how do we go on when our families have been devastated? How do we walk forward into the future? How do we survive?”

A performance professor with Theatre since 1996, and an accomplished actor and director in her own right — many will recognize Wood from her on-stage work at the Belfry, Blue Bridge Theatre, Bard on the Beach or the Stratford Festival — this show actually marks Wood’s directorial debut at the Phoenix.

“I am definitely an actor’s director,” she says. “I try to create an atmosphere where people have the freedom to create and follow their instincts. Theatre is a collaborative art form: during rehearsals, the more my actors feel comfortable giving, the more I have to work with, and the easier my job becomes. After all, that’s why we got into this business—because we have instincts, a creative desire and a passion, and we need to trust that.”

Ultimately, however, Wood feels the real impact of Trojan Women shouldn’t be felt on the stage. “As the audience, we bear witness, not only to lives lost but to the capacity of humanity to move forward in times of great darkness.” 

The public is also invited to a free pre-show lecture by Dr. Laurel Bowman of UVic’s Greek & Roman Studies department at 7pm Friday, February 15, where she will discuss how the play would have been originally received by an Athenian audience of largely military personnel who were in the middle of a 30-year war between Athens and Sparta.

UVic Orchestra explores New World

The UVic Orchestra concert on February 1 takes its inspiration from Dvorák’s From the New World Symphony “by turning towards the future in presenting new and recently discovered musical ‘worlds’ and landscapes,” says conductor and School of Music professor Ajtony Csaba.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major (Haffner) is the musical point of reference for the first half of the concert. This symphony began as a serenade, commissioned as background music by the — a prominent Salzburg family — for the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner in 1782. Mozart converted the serenade into the symphony as we know it today, and it was premiered with great acclaim in 1783 in Vienna.

Georg Friedrich Haas composed …è finisci già?, paraphrasing another Mozart composition in D-major: the unfinished Horn Concerto K. 412. The title — translated as “Is that all [you’ve got]?” — quotes one of Mozart’s many provocative annotations in the score that reveals a humorous communication protocol between the composer and soloist.

Also on the program is Music alumnus Max Murray’s new composition, Cântece. Written specifically for the UVic Orchestra, Cântece reflects on the “essential wisdoms imparted by [Mozart]: the evocation and sustain of dramatic precariousness amidst textural transparency.”

Alumnus composer Max Murray

Dvorák wrote his famous Ninth Symphony in 1893 while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. While living in America, Dvorák became interested in African-American spirituals, plantation songs of the American South as well as Native American traditions. From the New World — a synthesis of many musical traditions — became a fusion of both the Old World and the New.

Hear more about this program at a special pre-concert talk with Professor Gregor Kokorz (Wirth Institute, University of Alberta), composer Max Murray and conductor Ajtony Csaba. This free pre-concert talk begins at at 6:45pm in room C110 of UVic’s Clearihue building.

From the New World with the UVic Orchestra begins at 8pm Friday, February 1 at The Farquhar in UVic’s University Centre. Tickets are $10-$20 — but are free for any UVic student. You can buy tickets here.

Faculty concert series a January highlight

2019 is off to a harmonious start, thanks to a stellar series of faculty concerts at the School of Music. But while all of these performances feature current teaching faculty, there are also a number of concerts and recitals featuring current students and alumni. Be sure to check the School of Music’s online events calendar for complete listings.

Crossing Boundaries

Klazek and Schryer

Classical and folk music traditions are woven together in the Crossing Boundaries concert on January 13, where trumpet professor Merrie Klazek will be joined by fiddle champion Pierre Schryer and guitarist/vocalist Andy Hillhouse for an energetic concert showcasing a variety of musical styles ranging from Celtic and Latin to classic jazz and baroque.

Crossing Boundaries will take you on a journey through music ranging from 1560 to 2018. Expect to hear everything from ’70s pop and Irish reels to contemporary ballads, Latin Samba and Baroque court music, along with anecdotes and stories shared by the performers. The program will give Klazek an opportunity to demonstrate the many colours of the trumpet family—including piccolo, cornet, flugelhorn, and standard C and B-flat trumpets—while treating the audience to some the finest fiddle and guitar playing around.

Merrie Klazek is well-known as a performer, teacher and recording artist of orchestral, chamber, traditional and popular music, and her career has taken her around the globe. A celebrated performer and producer, Schryer is one of Canada’s leading traditional fiddlers and has established himself as a gem among fans and fellow musicians for his captivating performances. Hillhouse is a touring bandleader, choral director, music and culture scholar, and festival organizer.

Crossing Boundaries runs 2:30-4 pm Sunday, Jan. 13, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets are $10-20.

The Cross-Cultural Clarinet

Shawn Earle

Clarinetist Shawn Earle performs solo contemporary works influenced by non-western cultures in an afternoon concert on January 15. The clarinet is very versatile, with the ability to produce a variety of different tonalities and timbres. This concert explores this versatility through works imitating and influenced by South Asian Indian Raga, East African guitar, Balinese music and Japanese visual art. Other instruments such as a kick drum, Tibetan tea bowl and electronic sounds will be used to broaden the sonic pallet. Works on the program include Evan Zyporyn’s Four Impersonations, John Mayer’s Raga Music, Judith Shatin’s Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing: After Hokusai, and others.

Shawn Earle teaches clarinet at UVic, performs regularly as a soloist and has been a chamber musician with the Albemarle Ensemble, Cascadia Reed Quintet, Vancouver Clarinet Trio, Trio Dolce and guest artist with the Novo Ensemble. He has also performed with the Charlottesville Symphony Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Okanagan Symphony, Victoria Symphony, Vancouver Island Symphony and Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra.

The Cross-Cultural Clarinet runs 12:30-1:20 pm Tuesday, Jan. 15, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Admission is by donation.

Almost Blue: Chet Baker at 90

The late, great Chet Baker

The great American West Coast trumpeter and singer Chet Baker left a profound mark on jazz in his 40-year career. The iconic poster boy for West Coast cool jazz, Baker would have turned 90 this year. Take a journey through the fascinating world Baker lived in with a concert on January 18 featuring School of Music professor and trumpet personality Patrick Boyle, Victoria veteran pianist Tom Vickery, Don Cox on double bass, and drummer Morgan Childs.

Cool jazz refers to a style performed by jazz musicians in California in the 1950s and early 1960s. As opposed to the harder edged sound popular on the East Coast during that time, this cooler West Coast style was more lyrical and soft—Baker’s hallmark sound. Like fellow trumpeter Miles Davis, he could express himself in a few choice notes with his lyrical, poetic playing. Three decades after his untimely death, Baker’s music continues to resonate with listeners today.

Almost Blue: Chet Baker at 90 runs 8pm Friday, Jan. 18 in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets are $10-25.

Music for Cello, Soprano and Piano

Highbaugh Aloni, Vogt & Young

On January 27, School of Music professors cellist Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, pianist Bruce Vogt and soprano Susan Young will present a concert of works for cello, piano, and soprano by César Franck, Johannes Brahms and Leila Lustig.

Pamela Highbaugh Aloni has enjoyed performing both as a chamber musician and soloist in North America and Europe and is a co-founding member of the beloved Lafayette String Quartet. Among the elite of Canadian pianists, Bruce Vogt is a unique and dynamic performer. He appears regularly in concerts within Canada, but has also inspired audiences in England, the USA, Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, China, and Japan. Canadian soprano Susan Young is in demand as a performer, choral conductor, clinician and adjudicator. Educated as both and singer, she is known for the diversity of her skills and has performed in Canada, the United States, Spain, France and Austria.

Music for Cello, Soprano and Piano runs 8pm Sunday, Jan. 27 in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall.  Tickets are $10-25.

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2018

There was certainly no shortage of Fine Arts news in 2018, given that we tracked nearly 300 local, national and international media stories about the creative activities of our faculty, alumni, students and staff . . . and those are just the stories we know about.

From our new faculty members—including Rick Leong, Sasha Kovacs, Deborah Campbell, Katharina Clausius and Michael Elliott—to a new batch of websites for our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and the School of Music, Fine Arts continues to grow and evolve as we move closer to our 50th anniversary in 2019/20.

While it was hard to choose favourites from amongst the many stories that appeared in both traditional and social media, here (in no particular order) are our choices for the top 10 Fine Arts stories from our faculty blog.

Benjamin Butterfield named to the Royal Society of Canada

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Three UVic faculty members received the country’s highest academic honour by being named 2018 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in September—and among those joining the distinguished ranks was School of Music professor Benjamin Butterfield.

While Butterfield has won international plaudits as one of Canada’s best operatic tenors, he is equally passionate about his role as head of voice for UVic’s School of Music.

“With a performance career, the more you’re in the game, the more you’ll be asked to be in the game,” he explains. “But my obligation is really to teaching . . . for me, it’s less about pursuing my ‘career’ and more about being here for students who sing, and who want to learn to sing—that’s my day job, that’s my real life, that’s what’s most important.”

Butterfield is now the eighth Fine Arts faculty member to be inducted into the RSC, including Fellows Mary Kerr (Theatre), Harald Krebs (Music), Tim Lilburn (Writing), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Sandra Meigs (Visual Arts), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).

Read more about Butterfield’s RSC appointment here.

Esi Edugyan wins second Giller Prize

Fine Arts has no shortage of alumni success stories, but it’s hard to top internationally acclaimed Department of Writing alumna Esi Edugyan, who won her second Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2018 for her latest novel, Washington Black.

Edugyan won $100,000 on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s richest literary award, and also earns the distinction of being one of only three authors to twice win the Giller Prize, alongside M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro.

Washington Black was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize—as was her previous 2011 Giller Prize-winning novel Half-Blood Blues. Indeed, having only published three novels (including her debut, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne), Edugyan’s back-to-back wins for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues is doubly remarkable, especially when you consider both were shortlisted for the coveted trifecta of fiction awards.

Read more about Edugyan’s Giller win here.

Carey Newman is the new Audain Professor

Carey Newman receiving his Order of BC from
Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan in September

When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department

“This is breaking new ground for me,” said Newman in June. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

It’s been a big year for Newman: on top of being declared the Audian Professor for the next three years, he was granted the Order of BC, was named the inaugural recipient of the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria’s Regional Arts Award, played a role in the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs program with the Gustavson School of Business, received a Saanich150 art commission and debuted his new “Witness Blanket” documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Read more about Newman’s Audain position here.

Carolyn Butler Palmer advises on new $10 bill

When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”

While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.

“It was a real honour to be asked and to be able to work on such an important change in our currency,” Butler-Palmer said in this recent interview with the Martlet. “I think the change is really reflected too, [particularly] that they changed the orientation as well . . . to signify the change in the way that they represent Viola Desmond on that bill.”

Find out more about Butler Palmer’s involvement in the $10 bill here.

The Drowsy Chaperone a stunning success

Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair (photo: Dean Kalyan)

The response to Phoenix’s fall mainstage production of The Drowsy Chaperone, directed by Jacques Lemay, was fantastic. Audiences and reviewers alike praised this production as one of the finest in Phoenix’s 50-plus year history.

“This is one of the best shows staged by the university’s theatre department in recent years and should not be missed,” notes thisTimes Colonist review by Adrian Chamberlain. “Everything about this elegant, detailed production works well: the excellent costumes, set, acting, dancing, choreography . . . . [this is] a truly superior piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season.”

It was such a hit, in fact, that they ended up adding two additional shows after the entire run was essentially sold out in November!

Read more about the amazing success of The Drowsy Chaperone here.

The Orontes Guitar Quartet welcomed as Visiting Artists

(l-r) Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh & Mohammed Mir Mahmoud in front of UVic’s Fine Arts Building, November 2018. (UVic Photo Services)

The dramatic story of four musicians escaping daily violence in Syria for a fellowship in UVic’s School of Music caught the attention of The Globe and Mail in December, and became one of UVic’s top news stories of 2018.

Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and UVic music instructor for nearly three decades, played a vital role in bringing the guitar quartet to UVic by working for the past 18 months with two US-based organizations—the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River.

Now safely in Victoria as the recipients of a prestigious Artist Protection Fund Fellowship grant, the Orontes quartet offer a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination. The quartet told the Globe and Mail that their peaceful lives in Syria had been disrupted by the civil war, and violence and terror became commonplace. But when the ensemble started to play together, “we forgot everything because we just focused on what we are doing,” as recounted to The Globe’s arts reporter Marsha Lederman in a December 8 article in the national edition of the newspaper.

Read more about the Orontes Quartet here—and be sure to watch this Globe and Mail video of the quartet playing together.

Colton Hash named Artist in Residence for Ocean Networks Canada

Colton Hash with his full-size sculpture of an adolescent female orca (photo: Ashton Sciacallo)

Victoria-based artist Colton Hash became the inaugural recipient of an Artist-in-Residence program by the Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. The new ONC residency will strengthen connections between art and science, and broaden perspectives on major issues ranging from technology and the environment to biodiversity and healthy communities.

A recent graduate of UVic’s combined undergraduate program in Visual Arts and computer science, Hash was selected for the residency from a field of nearly 70 local, national and international applicants. He will hold the position from November 2018 to March 2019 and, following his residency, will provide a public exhibition of the resulting body of work.

“I see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with ocean scientists and experiment with digital media to communicate some of the dynamic processes that play a critical role in coastal waters,” says Hash. “Whether it’s how a kelp forest responds to climate change or how the thawing of frozen methane affects sediment stability of submarine slopes, I hope I can use interactive art to inspire viewers to care more about what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface.”

Read more about Hash’s ONC residency here.

Fine Arts hosts Reconciliation & the Arts forum

There was a capacity audience for the Nov 15 forum at the Baumann Ctr (photo: Fiona Ngai)

The fourth annual Building Reconciliation Forum was hosted at UVic in November and, as part of the two-day event, Fine Arts hosted a panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation.

Presented in partnership with Universities Canada, the Building Reconciliation Forum brought together close to 250 thought leaders from universities, Indigenous governing bodies and communities, and federal and regional government officials from acorss Canada to consider how universities are answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

As part of the Forum, Fine Arts Dean Dr. Susan Lewis hosted a near-capacity panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation at downtown’s Baumann Centre, featuring a range of local artists, administrators, activists and alumni discussing how Victoria’s arts community can advance decolonization and reconciliation.

Panelists included Visual Arts MFA alumna and the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence Lindsay Delaronde; the Belfry Theatre’s Indigenous cultural advisor Kristy Charlie and executive director Ivan Habel; Pacific Opera’s director of community engagement Rebecca Hass; Open Space board member and Visual Arts sessional instructor Charles Campbell; Legacy Gallery director Mary Jo Hughes; and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria curator of engagement Nicole Stanbridge.

Also during the forum, the Theatre department hosted Nomad, a musical and visual journey through Inuit history with Inuk singer-songwriter and Order of Canada recipient Susan Aglukark.

Find out more about the First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation event here.

Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre). Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague and Dean’s External Advisory Committee member Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Gaston is also one of 10 authors nominated for the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for his 2018 memoir, Just Let Me Look At You (Hamish Hamilton).

Read more about Gaston’s win here.

Twin Kennedy win Distinguished Alumni Award

Twin Kennedy are now Distinguished Alumni (UVic Photo Services)

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. The sisters headed back to UVic in February to be honoured as the Fine Arts winners of UVic’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award—an award that’s doubly special this year, given that it was presented during 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) have been dubbed “the next big thing in country music” by the Nashville Music Examiner and Twin Kennedy’s 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!

“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.

They now join the ranks of our previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award winners: visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), director and 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).

Find out more about Twin Kennedy’s award here.

TubaChristmas a “sonic hug” for the city

Support your local tubas!

For 40 years now, tuba and euphonium players from all across Vancouver Island and beyond have been gathering at Market Square in downtown Victoria for one of the city’s most anticipated holiday traditions. TubaChristmas returns to once again raise money for the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, a charity that assists the people most in need in the Greater-Victoria community.

TubaChristmas, as performed by the Victoria TubaChristmas Ensemble, runs from 1-3pm Saturday, Dec. 8, in Market Square, 560 Johnson Street. Donations will be accepted throughout the duration of the event.

Last year, an impressive 101 brass musicians gathered to play an afternoon of favourite carols, and the resulting donations far exceeded those collected in previous years. Tubist and UVic instructor Paul Beauchesne — who will lead the ensemble for the fourth year — has his sights on record-breaking numbers for the 40th anniversary of this beloved event. And this year, local video production company Roll.Focus and CHEK TV are partnering to produce the first livestream of the event.

Paul Beauchesne leading the TubaChristmas ensemble

Beauchesne describes the sound of massed tubas and euphoniums as a “sonic hug,” filling the square with music that will echo through the surrounding streets. Jointly sponsored by Market Square and UVic’s School of Music, TubaChristmas was established in Victoria by the much-loved tubist, Eugene Dowling, who succumbed to cancer in June 2015. Dowling was one of Beauchesne’s tuba instructors, as well as a mentor and friend, and Beauchesne is proud to carry forward the TubaChristmas torch.

TubaChristmas dates back to 1974 where it originated in New York City by the late Harvey Phillips of Indiana University. Concerts now take place in over 200 cities worldwide and this year marks the 45th year for TubaChristmas internationally. The original concept was to honour the late William Bell (1902-1971) — Phillips’ teacher and former tubist with the New York Philharmonic — who was born on Christmas Day, but over the decades it has grown to become so much more.

Don’t miss this once-a-year occurance, which has grown into one of Victoria’s most beloved seasonal events!

AHVS professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer advised on new $10 bill Copy

When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”

While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.

“They knew I had an interest in women and issues of diversity,” she says. “And while they’d already determined Viola Desmond would be on the front side of the bill, they were trying to get different regional perspectives on options for the flip side—including what they ended up with, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”

Carolyn Butler Palmer with one of Ellen Neel’s masks in the Legacy Gallery exhibit

Often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks, the 32-year-old Desmond refused to leave her seat in the “whites only” section at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, back in 1946. As a result, she was dragged out of the theatre by police and then jailed; it wasn’t until 1954 that segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia, partly due to the publicity around Desmond’s case.

While over 450 iconic Canadian women met the initial qualifying criteria, that list was then narrowed down to a dozen candidates by an independent advisory council for possible inclusion on the $10 bill; Desmond was eventually selected by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Canada from a shortlist of five (including poet E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), engineer Elsie MacGill, athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean) in December 2016. “It was long overdue for a banknote to feature an iconic Canadian woman,” said Stephen Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada, when the new bill was unveiled in March 2018. (Butler-Palmer says she “had, in fact, already voted for Viola.”)

And while we now know the new $10 bill features the exterior of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, as well as an excerpt from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an eagle feather representing the continuing struggle for recognition of the rights of Canada’s Indigenous people, the question of what was going to appear on the reverse of the bill was still up in the air during Butler-Palmer’s consultation. But does she like the final design?

“To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve gone with what they selected—without going into specifics, there were other objects I thought were more favourable,” she says with a  chuckle. “But I understand why they went in that direction—it’s a new museum and suits the broader issue of human rights. And the vertical design does have more impact.”

All in all, it was a unique experience for Butler-Palmer, who also teaches an AHVS elective titled “Fakes, Forgeries and Fraud” (returning in January 2019), which deals specifically with art forgery and theft—both of which are popularly associated with money. “It certainly was interesting to be contacted by a federal agency and be asked your professional opinion,” she says.

Now that’s news you can take to the bank!