Congratulation to the 2024 grad class!

Jude Wolff Ackroyd, BFA Honours 2024

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

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

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

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

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

2024 Victoria Medal winner Stella McCaig 

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

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

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

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

About the artist

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

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

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

—Stella McCaig

“There’s always more to learn” says graduating professional musician Philip Manning

When it comes to career paths, most music students aspire to professional positions after graduation—playing with an orchestra, say, or becoming a chamber musician or band teacher. Not so with Philip Manning, who took a different approach to his own musical career: about to graduate with a Bachelor of Music, he’s already been performing as a full-time violinist with the Victoria Symphony since 2016.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, there’s always more to learn,” he says. “Coming back to school when you’re a bit older, you take different things away from your classes and your instruction . . . you just need a clear focus on whatever it is you want to do.”

Filling the gaps during COVID

For the 32-year-old Manning, the Victoria Symphony’s COVID-era performance closures offered the ideal chance to enroll in UVic’s School of Music in 2020.

“When COVID started, it provided an opportunity to fill in some gaps in my training,” he explains. “Work got thrown up in the air for a time and we weren’t nearly as busy as usual—even when we started playing virtual concerts again—so I thought, ‘Okay, how can I be productive with this extra time I have? What are my long-term goals? I just wanted to give myself more options.”

Born and raised in Victoria, Manning has music on both sides of his family (his pianist mother was also a music teacher, and his centenarian grandfather was a post-war semi-professional jazz musician) but he’s the first to work full time as a professional musician. As a young violinist, he took lessons at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and was involved with the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival, but after graduating from Langford’s Lighthouse Christian Academy he enrolled in Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University in 2014, where he earned an artist diploma in violin performance.

“I’m kind of doing life a bit backwards,” he chuckles. “After high school, I was still trying to figure out if I wanted to carry on with music and make it a career, so I did an artist diploma, which is actually more like a graduate-level program.” After two years of intense training, he then auditioned successfully for both the Calgary Philharmonic and the Victoria Symphony, before choosing to return to the Island.

Long ties to the Symphony

No question, the School of Music has long ties to the Victoria Symphony, thanks to a number of instructors and alumni who regularly perform with them, as well as the likes of the Lafayette String Quartet and VS associate conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia, who has been teaching in Music and leading the UVic Symphony Orchestra since 2022. Then there’s Music’s voice program, whose students sing in the chorus of Pacific Opera Victoria, for whom the VS also play.

“I’ve known Ann Elliott-Goldschmid and the other LSQ members very well for a long time, so it just made sense to study here at UVic because we’ve always had a good relationship,” says Manning.

As part of his degree work, Manning undertook a directed study with Elliott-Goldschmid, focused specifically on the audition process. But, with seven Victoria Symphony seasons already under his bow, how important is a course like that? “It’s actually very important,” he stresses. “Any audition for a professional orchestra involves multiple rounds, and preparing for that means a lot more than just practicing.”

Practical career prep

Case in point? Manning just successfully auditioned for the position of assistant concertmaster with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which has now resulted in the offer of a short trial period with the orchestra—a next-step success story that might not have happened without that directed study.

“My goal was to audition for a title position with another orchestra, which would essentially mean more responsibility—and ideally more pay—and would offer me a new experience. Ann was instrumental in helping me prepare for that audition.”

And while his professional schedule over the past few years meant he didn’t have the time to play with UVic’s own Symphony Orchestra, he does lead sectional rehearsals for them and does a bit of tutoring with the other students.

“It’s not so long ago that I was in the same shoes as they are right now, so I understand how it is for them,” he says. “But I’ve got a different perspective from when I was in my late teens and early twenties, when I didn’t fully understand what was being given to me and was trying to figure out how to implement it. Now, I have a much better focus and have gotten so much more out of my education. This has been a really good experience for me.”

A passion for art history fuels Aashna Kulshreshtha’s international experience

Taking online classes during COVID at 3 a.m. India-time may not have been the ideal first-year experience, but it didn’t deter Aashna Kulshreshtha from enthusiastically pursuing her undergraduate degree in art history.

Born and raised in New Dehli, Aashna finished high school at an international boarding school in Uttarakhand, India, before initially enrolling at university in Rome. Unfortunately, she found that art history program to be excessively Eurocentric (and somewhat racist), which didn’t particularly match her own interests.

“We spent months on Italy and France, but only did a week on India and Mexico, which were clearly not so important from their perspective,” she recalls. “We weren’t even going to be tested on them!”

Attracted by the buzz around UVic’s AHVS

Unimpressed with Rome, Aashna was instead attracted by the buzz around UVic’s Department of Art History & Visual Studies, which offered a far more international approach to the field . . . despite Victoria being significantly smaller than either New Dehli (population 33 million) or Rome (4.3 million).

“Going to school in Rome prepared me to be in a culture that wasn’t India, but it also meant I’ve always been a third-culture kid everywhere I’ve gone,” she admits with a quick laugh. “So yeah, I had a bit of culture shock when I came here, but I don’t know from which culture.”

Rather than the excessive focus on big movements (Baroque, Renaissance), Aashna has been energized by UVic’s more global approach.

“I was just so surprised to see the amount of diversity here and the focus on Indigenous cultures, which had never even been brought up before in other places,” she says. “UVic is a great place to study art history because the people here will support you and believe in you and are there to help you get your work done. Every day I found people in the department who would tell me what I could do with my degree, what they’ve done with it . . . honesty, that open dialogue has been the most important thing for me.”

Learning core skills through workstudy

Like many UVic students, Aashna spent her off-hours at campus hotspots like Cinecenta, Felicita’s and the School of Music’s free concert series, but her favourite part was time spent as a paid workstudy student in the AHVS Visual Resources Collection. “Working here, you kind of get to see your degree in action before you even finish it,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about how to archive and research properly doing this job.”

Aashna’s responsibilities include scanning images from books required by the AHVS faculty members, researching online  gallery and museum collections, and updating the department’s database. “It’s a big responsibility to keep the database updated,” she explains. “Since we’re talking about India, for example, there’s a city called Kolkata but the British name for it was Calcutta—so we’ve been changing that in the database. It takes a lot of data entry just to keep up to date with global events. I’ve also gotten to know so many of the professors and staff up close, which has been nice because a lot of my degree was online during COVID so I felt like I didn’t know anyone.”

Understanding the world through art history

Yet despite a childhood interest in history, she feels the general attitude in India doesn’t exactly encourage cultural studies.

“It’s all about making money there, and most people feel you can’t really do that with these streams,” she says. “But art history is just a different way to help us understand the world: it’s a more subjective look at a time and allows you to have more introspective conversations with that era. It can also help you find your own identity and—when you see that in a historical sense—it gives you a more holistic approach to past civilizations.”

Indeed, Aashna has been so taken with her studies that, now that’s she’s completed her BA in art history, she’s already been accepted into the AHVS Master’s program for the fall, looking at India’s own vibrant history of art.

“I’m interested in looking at the effects of colonialism on modern Indian art, specifically in the case of women—not only as artists but also subjects and patrons,” she explains. “When we think about the 1800s onwards, it’s so influenced by colonialism; no one in India at that time was making art without the influence of colonialism. Even if they were rejecting it, the art was still in response to what was happening . . . that’s the research I’m wanting to pursue, in a very broad sense.”

Advice for future students

Now that her undergraduate studies are complete, she’s looking forward to her parents coming over from India for her convocation ceremony this spring. But does she have any for future students?

“Get out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind, because what you’re studying can really surprise you. Everyone tells themselves that they already know everything and don’t need any help, but it’s so important to be open to new experiences.”

She pauses and then laughs again. “Um, and keep frozen food handy. There’s no shame in it—you have to eat.”

Submission call for Student Impact Awards!

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

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

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

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

Questions? Contact fineartsawards@uvic.ca 

Annual BFA grad exhibit opens April 19

Our final public event of the 23/24 academic season is the annual Department of Visual Arts BFA graduation exhibition, this year titled Silver Bullets. After the public opening night gala on April 19, the free exhibit runs 10am-6pm daily through April 28. With pieces ranging from sculpture and painting to drawing, photography, installation, digital and multimedia art, Silver Bullets features 36 emerging artists transforming the entire Visual Arts building into one giant gallery with 10 different rooms to explore.

The concept of a silver bullet embodies speed and precision: an absolute, instantly effective tool with no ability for error. Its magical powers are compacted into a small space travelling in a  specific direction. Creative practices mimic such a journey in search of a magical solution that remains elusive; the ability to compact the complexities of life into creative thinking and making has the potential to soothe what concerns us, though few would describe the effects as instantaneous or absolute.

Uniquely, this exhibition is organized, curated, installed and run by graduating art students as a for-credit course—you can see examples of all the work via the show’s Instagram feed—but the 36 artists featured in Silver Bullets all explore a means to solve something within them or their environment.

Themes present in the exhibition include locating and quantifying oneself through explorations of sexual, cultural, and racial identity, as well as relationships to the body. Several artists in the exhibition are in dialogue with memory, grief, trauma and generational shifts; their approaches vary from representation to abstraction. Others focus their efforts on issues outside the self, investigating consumerism, propaganda, political ideologies and the deterioration of natural and urban environments. From the safety of their studios, magical explorations of art present the possibility to cure these complex, intangible issues.

Two special alumni receptions

UVic Alumni are also invited to a special pair of guided tours, offering a fantastic opportunity for alumni who work at UVic to get to know campus better, and for alumni in the community to come back to campus and explore the work of our newest Visual Arts grads. These free tours are being offered at noon on two dates—Wednesday, April 24 and Friday, April 26—but capacity is limited, so you’ll need to register in advance. (Any questions about the reception, contact alumni@uvic.ca or 250-721-6000.)

Portland student balances art & athletics

When it comes to making goals, Harry Ritter West is scoring two-for-two. A varsity athlete with UVic’s men’s soccer team, West knows how to keep his eye on the ball—but as a fourth-year Visual Arts student, he also has the creative vision to shoot as a photographer.

 

Why study at UVic?

Originally drawn to UVic by the manageable scale of both the campus and Victoria, West, a dual US/Canadian citizen from Portland, Oregon, was also drawn to the proximity of forests and mountains. Growing up as a frequent visitor to the region, he finds a common Pacific Northwest vibe between Victoria and Portland. Both cities have a vibrant, arts-centric downtown area and draw individuals who value a harmonious connection with the natural world, prioritizing a healthy body and mind.

“I’ve always had an appreciation for Vancouver Island. Victoria is such a beautiful place, it’s got a unique environment and everything’s super-close. As Americans, we don’t really learn a lot about Canada in high school and don’t have many opportunities to visit universities here. But we shouldn’t rule Canada out—anyone even considering studying here should just come and experience it for themselves.”

When he’s not playing soccer or shooting photos downtown, you can often find him biking and hiking around the region. “I love it here. My four years have been awesome!”

But West was also drawn by the reputation of UVic’s Visual Arts department. “I’d heard good things about the arts program here—it’s a really tight knit community and the teaching is at a very high level.”

Harry in action on the playing fields (APShutter.com)

 

A balancing act

No question, it’s tricky balancing varsity athletics and visual arts: depending on the season, West is typically looking at a 12-hour day, six days a week as the team’s left wingback, mixing classes, practices, training, games, study and photography. “Soccer usually takes up the space of at least a course, especially with the travelling,” he says.  A workload that would be challenging for any regular student is made challenging due to the nature of his studies.

“It is a lot of scheduling, especially as a photography student,” he says. “You have to plan when you need to shoot because, as an athlete, you’re going to be gone for a period of time and not have access to a camera or have time to actually create your work. You can’t waste a day.”

The only artist on his team, West faces challenges the other players don’t. “A lot of them are in engineering, economics or sciences and can do their work on the bus. But I’m on a completely different schedule and do completely different work—what if I need to shoot a sunset or a nightscape downtown?”

Realistically, that means he needs to shoot in advance whenever the team is flying off to out-of-province games, just so he can digitally edit photos on his computer while he’s away. Interestingly, West’s athletics schedule has also helped shape his creative vision.

“I do a lot of like urban and street photography with subjects, often at night, because that’s when I have the most time to shoot after practice. Night scenes also improve my understanding of the camera, because it’s a whole other beast when you have to do long exposures and account for lack of light.”

When asked if his teammates appreciate his work as an artist, West offers a quick laugh. “Some have kind of cliché views around art, but I’ve shown them a lot of my work and they really seem to appreciate it and think it’s super cool.”

Harry’s multiple-exposure self-portrait  

 

Looking forward

While he’s still got another year of scoring ahead on UVic’s playing fields and art studios, West has already applied for an internship with National Geographic and loves the idea of working as a magazine photographer.

But while balancing training, practices and games with classes, photography and creative practice may sound like a lot, West wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I’ve always had this kind of lifestyle, balancing athletics and art—I’m a very high energy guy,” he laughs. “If I were to focus on just one and not put as much time and effort into the other, I’d feel like less of a person. I really value all the creative thought I put into my day-to-day life.”