New program at U of M introduces young artists to careers, experts in the field

A new experimental program entitled “Art Now,” will expose first-year students to contemporary art and design practices and career opportunities in the School of Art at the University of Manitoba, and is breaking new ground for the faculty.

“In looking at all the different programs and looking at all the different aspects of this school, I recognized what we were lacking was a really exciting situation where student[s] coming into the school of art could get opportunities to be exposed to contemporary art and design practice,” explained Paul Hess, director of the school of art.

The program includes all first year students enrolled in fine arts, who meet in the Art Barn every Friday at noon when either a guest gives a presentation, or current issues in contemporary art and design practice are discussed.

“We had our first meeting last week [ . . . ] we’re doing something that we’ve really never done at the school of art which is to give [students] that exposure.”
The program is an opportunity for the faculty to incorporate this exposure into part of the student’s curriculum.

“Part of being an artist or art historian is visiting art galleries, learning the background of exhibitions [ . . . ] This is part of the professional training,” said Donna Jones, special assistant to the director’s office.

“Going to exhibitions can be very mystifying for anybody, and so the idea is that students will just get some background and just get a step ahead of where they might be if they aren’t able to come to a class like this.”

This exposure acts as a key component in career development. During the hour-long slot each Friday, students will listen to presentations from a wide variety of professionals working in contemporary art and design, including local artists, curators and writers.

“What I really think is so important, especially today, is that, as an artist, you always get that question, ‘Why are you going to be an artist? You’re never going to get a job! You’re going to be broke!’ [ . . . ] Today, all of a sudden you start to see people who actually work as professionals, and they’re all over the place,” said Roy.

This week’s presenter was Mary Reid, curator of contemporary art and photography at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, who gave a short presentation on her career as a curator.

Art Now programs at post-secondary institutions are typically offered by art history departments for second or third year students, unlike the program at the University of Manitoba, which is intended for first-year students as part of the studio department of the School of Art.

“The thing about art education or post-secondary art education is that you have to tell people early on what’s involved, because people are interested in making career choices,” said Hess.

One of issues that concerned organizers of the program was that many first-year students coming directly from high school had had limited access in the past to information on contemporary art and design.

“A lot of times in art history you start with cave drawing to the Renaissance [ . . . ] it takes a long time to catch up to what they’re doing today,” said Elizabeth Roy, instructor in the foundations department of the School of Art.

“It’s important to look at the past, we know that, but these students are the future so they have to be on top of it.”

The students will be given a mark based on participation, which includes completing journal exercises. “I think that’s a good way to do it because it’s a personal document, a personal diary. When they complete the journal they’ll get a grade for that, meaning, they have to do it. If they don’t do it, they won’t get the grade,” said Hess.

Currently, Art Now is a pilot course that is well on its way to being a credit course as of next year.