Crit Night Offers Students An Opening to Art Community Connections

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Stefan Gibson

L-R: Nico McGiffin (centre) showcasing their piece 'Pathway for Hands' to Lauren Lavery (Catriona Jeffries), Sue Dorey (Executive Director, Student Engagement, Retention + Success), Godfre Leung (Contemporary Art Gallery), and Steven Tong (CSA Space)

By Rumnique Nannar

Posted on June 18, 2024 | Updated June 18, 2024, 2:49pm

Crit Night was held during the Show on May 15 and offered an opportunity for local curators and students to meet.

Shannon McKinnon, Director of Career Development +Work Integrated Learning, surveys the bustling activity and chatter in the hallways of Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECU) as curators and students connect during Crit Night. She reflects on how much the event has grown since its tentative beginnings in 2016.

“I noticed there wasn’t a real connection for students back then to engage with local galleries and artist-run-centres. Students kept coming to me, not knowing how to make those external connections with the art community. The first year, I did something called Futures Week in 2015 with a panel simply called ‘How to Get Your Work In Front of a Curator.’ We had curators such as Helga Pakasaar from the Polygon Gallery, Andy Sylvester from Equinox Gallery, and Cate Rimmer. Then, in 2016, I invited six curators we’d worked with before to meet students and view their portfolios.”

This year’s Crit Night was the largest yet, with 24 participating curators and local gallerists from the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Contemporary Art Gallery, the Polygon Gallery, Audain Gallery, Equinox Gallery, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Bill Reid Gallery, and more meeting with graduating students to learn more about their practice.

Curatorial reviewers were divided into groups of three composed of curators from commercial galleries, artist-run centres, and established public galleries and given 20 minutes to chat with exhibiting students and offer critiques of their work in the grad exhibition. Crit Night offers curators a window into the thinking and practice of an emerging artist they may want to work with one day and a way for these graduating students to make vital connections with their peers in the arts community.

As one of the longest-running artist-run centres in Vancouver, Western Front is a key arts institution with an ongoing relationship with ECU. They have supported co-op students through the Work-Integrated Learning program and featured exhibitions by Emily Carr alumni and staff. Susan Gibb, the executive director of Western Front, spoke to how unique the event is for the wider arts community.

“It’s a special event for celebrating the student’s achievements and for student’s making meaningful connections to what’s happening in the broader arts sector outside of the university,” says Susan. “It has the mutual benefit of supporting students to engage in curatorial dialogue about their work at this pivotal moment in their professional practice, and provides a chance for curators to engage in dialogue with other colleagues too.”

At Crit Night, BFA student Nico McGriffin showcased their final piece, Pathways for Hands, an investigation into halfway representational objects using wood, silicone, and handmade collectibles as a commentary on masculinity and trans identity. Nico’s work is bracing and defies categorization, which Nico grappled with when meeting curators at Crit Night.

“My experience with Crit Night was exciting. I was left thinking about how I spoke about my work. As artists, we have a complicated job of trying to strike the right chord when explaining what we do, and it always changes depending on who we’re speaking to. This experience helped me think more critically about how I frame my ideas and to what end.”

Nico Mcgiffin (BFA, 2023)

This fruitful connection between students and their future community is a relationship Shannon and her team are keen to foster through Crit Night and Creative Industry Day, which was held in March for students in the Design + Dynamic Media degree programs to meet with local and international studio and creative leads from design and media.

Shannon encourages future students to take advantage of the opportunities offered at these events, “Don’t think of this as only an opportunity to be discovered. Think about this more as an opportunity to build your professional network and become part of the creative community here in Vancouver. It’s more of an icebreaker. It’s our gift to you as you transition from student to emerging artist.”

For more information about the Career Development + Work Integrated Learning Office and their programs, please visit their website here.