Student Learning

Transforming visual arts at UBC

Audain Art Centre
Photo: Kathy Lea Moyou

“Art comes from a desire to do something other than what we already have,” explains Scott Watson, Head and Professor at UBC’s Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory. “It’s fundamentally about how we can create a better world—and that’s a social function.”

A new leading edge facility is changing the way visual arts are taught and experienced at UBC, enabling the university to play a key role in promoting culture and creativity in British Columbia.

Established through a $5-million gift from visual arts supporter Michael Audain, the new Audain Art Centre is a dynamic, inspiring and technically superior learning environment for all UBC arts students.

Contributions from local philanthropists Bob Rennie, Kevin Leslie and the McLean family will be recognized in the Rennie Collection Faculty Studio, the Kevin B. Leslie MFA Studio and the Brenda McLean MFA Studio.

Since opening in 2013, the 25,0000-square-foot centre has brought together facilities that were previously spread over five buildings and two campuses. The purpose-built space spans four levels and features professional studios, flexible study areas for students and enhanced technology, such as new printmaking equipment– including a large-format silkscreen table known as a “Jaguar” for the production of larger works.

Watson says uniting these facilities has helped to create a stronger sense of community. The open layout of the building allows for collaboration and mentoring between graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty and professional artists, including Beau Dick, a master First Nations carver and current Artist in Residence at the centre.

Watson explains that this interaction inspires creativity, and that having access to cutting-edge facilities – including a new, world-class print media centre – is raising the level of work being produced.

“A well-designed building can change a program for the better. It’s really helping the students produce better work.”

Art student works under the guidance of Artist-in-Residence Beau Dick in the Rennie Collection Faculty Studio (Photo: Martin Tessler)
Art student works under the guidance of Artist-in-Residence Beau Dick in the Rennie Collection Faculty Studio (Photo: Martin Tessler)

The Centre is located in the Ponderosa Commons at the heart of the Vancouver campus, giving visual arts a higher profile. The main floor features a spectacular gallery, which is drawing visitors from campus and the broader community in to see the students’ artwork.

This year, the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory is celebrating its 60th anniversary. UBC has fostered some of Canada’s best-known visual artists – including Jeff Wall, Ken Lum and Ian Wallace – helping to make Vancouver an international hub for visual art. The Audain Art Centre is raising the bar for the program and making arts at UBC more accessible to everyone.

“UBC is a major actor in BC culture,” says Watson. “We train artists; we train curators. We have something to do with the future of the art of B.C. These donations are helping to ensure that this future will come into being.”