Founded in 1925, Emily Carr University of Art + Design is one of the oldest
post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and the only one that is
dedicated solely to professional education and learning in the arts,
media and design. One of the University's roles is to act as an advocate
for the arts and reinforce the need for public support. At every
opportunity, the University promotes public understanding and
appreciation of fine arts, media arts, and design for their significant
impact on the well-being of our society.
Emily Carr's alumni and faculty are among the most influential and
important artists and designers working in their respective fields.
Graduates go on to careers in a variety of fields, and are regularly
accepted into graduate studies programs in major universities and art
institutions around the world. Our graduate students pursue careers in
Emily Carr received degree-granting authority in 1989 through the
Open Learning Agency, and in 1994 was granted authority to offer degrees
in its own name: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts, General Fine
Arts, or Photography; and, Bachelor of Design in Communication Design or
In 1995 it became Emily Carr Institute of Art +
Design, and in 1997 was granted authority to offer Bachelor of Media Arts
degrees. In 2006, Emily Carr's Master of Fine Arts program received its
first cohort of design, media and visual art students. University status was granted to Emily Carr In May of 2008, and the school is now known as Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECU). In 2013, ECU began to offer a second graduate program, the Master of Design.
In 2015, ECU celebrated its 90th Anniversary. The university moved in 2017 to a newly built, state-of-the art campus at Great Northern Way. The new campus puts the University at the centre of a
new social, cultural, educational, and economic engine for British
On Friday, April 24, 2015, special guests of the University broke ground at a ceremony marking the launch of construction of a new campus on the False Creek Flats of East Vancouver.
Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the new campus, located just off Great Northern Way, opened in September 2017. The campus features sky-lit atria, galleries and exhibition spaces, a natural light-filled library and learning commons, and studios with large north-facing windows. The exterior is punctuated with coloured-glass panels referencing the distinctive palette of Emily Carr the artist.
In May 2018, the campus was officially LEED certified to the Gold Level, having met the Canada Green Building Council’s rigorous set of standards for waste reduction, energy and water conservation, air quality and more. The official project scorecard gives the building the highest possible scores for Innovation in Design and Regional Priority.
A new president
The University’s long-standing President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ron Burnett retired on July 31, 2018, after a 22-year tenure. Under his leadership, the University began offering graduate programs, undertaking original research in creative fields, advancing technological and digital innovations, and making space for Indigenous voices through our Aboriginal Gathering Place. A large part of his legacy is the Great Northern Way campus, which is the first purpose-built facility of its kind in Canada.
Dr. Gillian Siddall was appointed President and Vice-Chancellor on September 1, 2018, following a long career in academic leadership and the performing arts. She holds an Honours BA and MA in English from the University of Guelph and a PhD in English from the University of Western Ontario. She is also a jazz vocalist and co-founder of the Guelph Jazz Festival.
The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design moved confidently into
the virtual and actual global dialogue of the 21st century. In the year
2000, on the occasion of its 75th history, Emily Carr took a backward
glance and held a huge celebration. Ada Currie Robertson, one of the
original graduates from 1929, attended the events. A number of its most
significant graduates from each decade of Emily Carr’s history were
recognized and awarded the newly established Emily Award.
This era marked the beginning of significant growth in number of
students and stature, highlighted in 2008 by the Emily Carr’s attainment
of university status by government decree. The Emily Carr Institute of
Art and Design became the Emily Carr University of Art and Design under
the stewardship of
John (Jake) C. Kerr, the first Chancellor of the University after whom The Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies is named.
Looking back over the course of the first decade of the new millennium reveals curricular
changes, increased internationalization, new programs, investment in new
technologies and increased collaboration with creative and cultural
industries and educational institutions.
The University’s national and international reach was greatly
enhanced through numerous new programs and initiatives. The development
and delivery of online education in both studio and theory credit
courses in art, design and media allowed the University to reach across
the world. In 2009 the student exchange program matched students with 71
partner institutions in 14 countries while the University’s student
body represented fifty countries. Visiting speaker programs also hosted
talks by international artists, architects, designers, theorists, poets
The Great Northern Way Campus, a
collaborative endeavour with Simon Fraser University, the University of
British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology and
Emily Carr University acquired property east of the Granville
Island property that will allow for future growth of the University’s
During the first decade, the establishment of an Aboriginal office and the
initiatives of the Academic Administration saw the development of a
significant number of courses that teach art and design from an
The Critical and Cultural Studies, the academic core of the
University’s degree programs, gained greater prominence as increasing
numbers of academic courses were offered in Art History, Design History,
English, Humanities, Media History, Science and Social Sciences in
support of our degree granting status. A major in Critical and Cultural
Practices was developed where students could complete more than half of
their credits in academic courses. Curricular changes were also made to
reflect the University’s commitment to sustainability with courses
across faculties addressing issues related to ecological sustainability,
green design and other environmental concerns. In addition an
Illustration degree was recently launched.
The new millennium represented significant technological
innovation. The University recognized the need to train designers and
artists with both the proficiency in these new developments and
knowledge and ethic to approach them critically. In 2006 Intersections Digital Studios, the home of Research at Emily Carr University, was launched and
dedicated to ongoing research in art, media and design research. Through Intersections Digital Studios, graduate students and faculty access state of the
art digital technologies and subject matter experts. Alongside it, the Research and Industry office fosters collaborative projects among students, faculty, and outside
industry and community groups and secures significant funding for
research from government and industry.
Another significant change was the development of the Graduate
program. For some time there had been interest in a graduate program at
Emily Carr and in 2006 the University was granted the authority to offer
a Master of Applied Arts degree. In 2013 the Master of Design degree was established. With opportunities in design, visual art and media arts, the Masters Programs offer students the chance to advances their practices through rigorous studio, theory and research classes, critiques by established visiting artists and designers, an internship and the development of a thesis.
Finally, Emily Carr’s graduates met increasing international acclaim
through a variety of sectors. Designers were recognized for their focus
on sustainable design, such as
(03) whose bicycle ambulance, designed for the use in rural communities
in southern Africa, was featured in Bruce Mau’s Massive Change
Exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Emily Carr’s faculty expertise
in documentary practices also contributed to the success of filmmaker
Jason DaSilva whose documentary on his experiences with Multiple Sclerosis was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
A renewed focus in painting at the University led to Emily Carr graduates Etienne Zack (00), Jeremy Hof
(07), Arabella Campbell (02) and Brenda Draney (MAA 09) each to win
first prize in successive RBC Painting Awards, a national painting
prize. Other grads from this decade who made names for themselves in the
visual arts include
(02) with recent solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art
in New York and the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt; and Isabelle
Pauwels (01) the recent recipient of the inaugural Brink Award which
entails a solo exhibition at the Henry Gallery in Seattle.
The 1980s represented diverse forms of
expression and fostered photo-conceptual work as well as romantic
neo-expressionism. Student work was ambitious and outward looking due in
part to a lively visiting artists program
In 1980, Robin Mayor facilitated the move to the new campus on Granville Island. The Charles H. Scott Gallery
opened as a professional gallery with Ted Lindberg as its first
director. Alan Barkley became president in 1986 and hired many new
faculty members. To address the need for gender equity within the
faculty, a concerted effort was made to hire experienced women artists
and teachers. There was a growing interest in issue-based practices in
the arts. In the curriculum, interpretation and content began to take
precedence over technique and pure materiality. The commitment to design
was expanded with the establishment of the Industrial Design
In response to the new provincial mandate,
the University implemented the Outreach Program under Nini Baird. The
program included the Printmobile and workshops in remote communities
throughout the province as well as part-time studies, summer school, and
later the Florence program. An art educational television series,
Mark & Image (1988), was developed with the Knowledge Network by the late Tom Hudson, Dean Emeritus, along with Ann Morrison and Maurice Yacowar.
By the late 1980s the Granville Island
building was too small to accommodate the burgeoning number of students.
The Design and Painting Departments moved off Granville Island until,
in 1994, the south building opened. The building also provided for a
larger library to acknowledge the new degree-granting status (Bachelor
of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Design) and the need for more academic
courses. Along with the degree program came the name change from College
to Institute. Mammoth graduation exhibitions with up to 5000 people
attending, printing grad catalogues, and the student newspaper In Flux
(formerly Planet of the Arts) were characteristic of this period of
growth and increased visibility.
If the 1980s were focused on issues of
gender then the 1990s brought forth those of cultural diversity and
sexual orientation. A student exchange program was instituted. Digital
technology became the primary toolbox for design and media practices.
Dr. Ron Burnett, who became President in 1996, increased the commitment
to digital technology and began redefining the University’s place in the
art and design world.
The 1960s was an era of political and
social unrest and change beginning with the civil rights movement early
in the decade. The
Vancouver School of Art moved into a new
building in 1963 which was a testament to modernism: large open studios,
skylights, high ceilings and well-equipped workshops. During the early
1960s painting was typified by hard edge abstraction but pop and op art
soon found a place in the studios. At the same time, practices were
becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. Programs in photography and
film animation were added. Performance and installation art became
common-place and groups such as Intermedia introduced media-based and
interdisciplinary practices using poetry, dance and visual art. Artists
influenced by Robert Smithson and others explored interventions into the
natural and urban landscape.
The VSA reflected the experimentation of
the times including chemically altered states of consciousness and the
questioning of traditional educational practices and social values.
Grades were all but eliminated, classes were open, and students worked
on self-directed projects long into the night. Formal drawing classes
and art history were optional. Many students thrived in this climate of
freedom and creativity.
During the 1970s the need for more space
became apparent. The Painting Department moved to rented quarters at the
Pacific National Exhibition grounds and Foundation moved to studios on
Water Street in Gastown. Robin Mayor orchestrated the steps toward new
facilities and administrative independence, moving the school from the
Vancouver School Board authority to become part of the Vancouver
Vocational Institute, and finally, in 1978, attaining autonomy as an
independent art college with a provincial mandate. The provincial
government renamed the school
Emily Carr College of Art, which
led to protests by faculty and students. It was felt that the name did
not adequately represent the contemporary environment of the school as
it again moved into new, larger accommodations on Granville Island.
The Great Depression followed by World War II challenged the continued
viability of the fledgling Vancouver School of Art. Financial resources
were limited and many talented young people were enlisted into active
service. Bruno and Molly Lamb Bobak, Orville Fisher, Paul Goranson,
Edward J. Hughes,
and Jack Shadbolt all served active duty as either soldiers or war
artists. Those students and teachers who remained behind persevered and
in 1940-41 produced over 100 posters in support of Canada’s war effort.
In 1943, at the height of the war, the Vancouver School of Art
matriculated only three graduates.
In 1943, teachers Fred Amess and B. C. Binning formed the Art in Living Group to address design in urbanization. Teachers and students studied housing, neighbourhoods, and communities and presented their findings in four exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Binning, with the help of his colleagues, built one of the flat-roofed houses in Vancouver. This decided modern approach brought students and faculty together to consider the social benefits of good art and design.
In 1946, after an active push to attract war veterans on study grants,
conditions at the School improved and between 1946 to 1952, 97 students
received diplomas. Mature and sensitive men and women, their thinking
broadened by experiences of the larger world, came to study fine and
commercial art. The provincialism of the early years was expanded as
ideas and forms associated with international modern art movements such
as abstraction became known to students through teachers like Gordon
Smith and Jack Shadbolt. Painting flourished at the School.
In 1952 the school moved into the larger, renovated School Board
building which included a library space. The result was, as Jack
Shadbolt said, “…a healthier, living, breathing Art School.” Fred Amess
became the Principal upon the retirement of Charles H. Scott. Amess
believed in the importance of teaching crafts and hired ceramists Reg
Dixon, David Lambert and later Robert Weghsteen. These teachers took
promising students to St. Ives in England to study with their mentor
In 1921 the British Columbia Art League was founded to advocate the
establishment of both an art gallery and an art school. Four years later in 1925 the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts opened its doors to 89 day and evening students on the top floor of the Vancouver School Board building at 590 Hamilton Street. Local architect G. Thornton Sharpe was the founding director but within a year Charles H. Scott, artist and former art supervisor for the School Board, assumed the directorship.
Original teaching staff includes Charles Marega,
Theodore Korner, and Kate A. Hoole, the first woman on the faculty, in
addition to Scott and Sharpe. Scott, who was inspired by the Glasgow
School of Art, hired his sister-in-law Grace Melvin from Glasgow as well
Jock MacDonald from England to teach design and craft courses. Fred Varley
came from Toronto to teach painting and drawing. Marega, Scott and
Melvin were committed to traditional approaches in art and to design for
industry and everyday applications. By contrast, Varley, a member of
Canada’s Group of Seven, and MacDonald encouraged a more radical
expressionistic approach to painting and landscape which shook the roots
of provincial art audiences. Their influence had a profound effect on
Vancouver artists well into the 1940s.
Conflicting artistic ideologies and fiscal restraints that resulted in substantial salary reductions prompted Varley and MacDonald to leave the School and found the British Columbia College of Art in 1933. They took with them many of their best students but within two years the school closed due to a lack of funds.
In 1929, the first graduating class of the
VSDAA comprised nine women and two men, and despite the depression, the
school began to grow rapidly. The depression encouraged student interest
in the more practical program of design.
As early as 1929 the administration began to lobby local government for a
new building. In 1936 the renamed Vancouver School of Art moved into
renovated facilities in the former Vancouver (Central) High School
located in the same block. Students and graduates regularly exhibited in
the new Vancouver Art Gallery and also produced murals and sculptural
reliefs in urban spaces.