Inside the Inaugural Year of ECU’s Accelerated Visual Arts Foundation Program

Jada A Williams Bella Martin Rune B Brocklebank Johnson Naimah Anna Friday Griffiths

Work by AVAF students Jada A. Williams, Bella Martin, Rune B. Brocklebank-Johnson and Na'imah Anna Friday Griffiths at the 2023 Foundation Exhibition at Emily Carr University (Images courtesy Xinwei Che)

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By Perrin Grauer

Posted on October 24, 2023 | Updated October 24, 2023, 12:56pm

Students say the compressed timeline and intense focus help foster enduring artistic improvement.

Students from Emily Carr University’s first Accelerated Visual Arts Foundation program say the intensified timeline brought a host of benefits for their education and creative practices.

ECU student Sophia Benson enrolled in the AVAF program after realizing a political science degree at UBC wasn’t a good fit. As an artist with no formal training prior to attending ECU, Sophia says access to faculty during the summer-long intensive was a particular highlight.

“Having that amount of one-on-one contact with my professors was so beneficial for a better, stronger overall idea of my art practice,” she says. “It was an experience I’ve never had in university before, where you’re able to be that in-touch with your professors about everything. With every assignment each week they’re checking in and giving feedback. I felt like all of that was super helpful.”

ECU student Cassie Mifflin joined the program after completing a certificate program at another college. She says that access to studios and other specialized facilities was generous, since the university is so quiet during summer months.

“There was never a time where I wasn’t able to get access to what I required for my assignments,” she says. “I never had to move my plans or reschedule since it was such a small group of students. Everything was available and there was never a worry, which was nice.”

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The 2023 Foundation Exhibition included artworks by students in the AVAF program, including: Axel-Winterburn, Nataliia Naumenko and Emma A. Smith (left); Sophia G. Benson, Cai Walters and Seohye Jeoung (centre); and Imisioluwa Adeoye and Emma A. Smith (right). (Images courtesy Xinwei Che / prOphecy sun)

The AVAF program launched in 2023 to offer an accelerated path through Foundation year for motivated students. The 15-week program ran from May through mid-August, culminating in an opportunity to participate in the annual Foundation exhibition. Courses run for 15 weeks with a week-long, mid-program break. Students split their time between hands-on studio work in drawing, sculpture, and time-based processes; Indigenous Presence; and engaging with humanities and writing.

“It’s a great space for very highly motivated and productive students. It’s an intensely focused time that can yield high results,” says artist and ECU faculty member prOphecy sun, who was the AVAF program coordinator. “It’s a very unique experience, too, because there’s more studio space, more opportunities to use the school and connect with other students in coinciding programs.”

Cassie agrees that the pace can feel intense.

“I’d say only take the program if you’re serious about actually pursuing your passions in these fields,” she says. It’s a full-time job. You have to go all in and be willing to dedicate everything to it.”

But she adds that this intensity set her up well to roll straight into her second year.

“If anything, it made me over-prepared,” she continues. “Going into second year is a lot calmer and I’m a lot less stressed out.”

Photo by pr Ophecy sun Cassie M performance Procession 1

AVAF student Cassie Mifflin performs her artwork Procession at the 2023 Foundation Exhibition at Emily Carr University. (Photo by / courtesy prOphecy sun)

prOphecy notes that while summers are quieter at ECU, the AVAF cohort still had plenty of opportunities to build community. For instance, AVAF students could visit ECU’s Low-Res MFA Thesis exhibition and discuss interdisciplinary and performative approaches to art-making. They also shared space with students enrolled in the Junior Art Intensive and Summer Institute for Teens.

Due to its small size, AVAF students formed tight bonds with one another as well.

“It was definitely a special thing to have a really close connection with all my classmates,” Sophia says. “Now that I’m in my second year, I’m still seeing people from the summer all over campus. We’ve stayed in touch and we’re all still pretty close. If we see each other, we stop and say hi.”

And despite a few challenges with the rollout of the AVAF’s first year, Cassie and Sophia say their experience in the program was rewarding both personally and artistically.

“I like learning new things and being able to use my hands, so it was really exciting,” Cassie says. “I’m so glad I did it.”

Visit the ECU website to learn more about studying in the Accelerated Visual Arts Foundation program.

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