Each December, the halls and studios of Victoria College of Art reach a frenetic pace, as many of the school’s full-time students prepare for their annual Christmas show and art sale.
But this year’s show, marking VCA’s survival through 40 years of a sometimes tumultuous history, is a particularly proud moment for president Peter Such.
“This is completely privately funded college,” Such says. “There hasn’t been a single cent of public money in this school ever. We run the whole show.”
Such and his colleagues comprise the eclectic faculty at VCA, where many of Victoria’s respected artists have had their start or taught.
“The greats have all worked here,” says Yvonne Owens, VCA’s academic director and art history instructor. Artists like James Gordaneer, Andy Wooldrige, Flemming Jorgensen are just some of the dozen names she lists as she muses about the school’s history.
Such, professor emeritus at York University with an infectious enthusiasm for his work, said part of the appeal of an arts college to established faculty is the openness to new curriculum and ideas.
“These artists don’t want to teach in a university setting, or if they do, they like to come to us as well, because university settings are really a department in a corporate university, if you like,” he says. “There’s a certain flexibility at VCA. We don’t want to be teaching 40-year-old techniques and calling it modern.”
While many of VCA’s alumni have gone on to boast successful art careers, Such has brought in fresh blood to teach practical artistic programs like digital animation and illustration in the face of difficult economic conditions.
“The first year I ran this school, we only had two people on student loans. This year, we’ve got at least 20,” Such says. “It’s been a really amazing shift. For us, it’s kind of a barometer of young people’s aspirations, of being frustrated. That’s why we’ve instituted a lot of these career-oriented programs as well.”
Some of the school’s more innovative classes include e-book publishing for illustrators, taught by Steve McCallum, while Escape from Planet Earth producer Luke Carroll will soon begin teaching animation courses.
With visual artists, Such and his colleagues are now instructing established artists and third-year graduates on fine-tuning their work for gallery exhibitions, rather than putting effort into introductory courses for continuing education.
“The rec centres are doing basic theory courses now, so we’re concentrating on people who want to have a gallery show and already have a lot of experience,” he said.
VCA’s annual Christmas show and sale begins Dec. 19 at 7 p.m., and continues Dec. 20-21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information and a list of 2014 courses, visit vca.ca.