Denisa Kraus
The Navigator

A new Bachelor of Arts major in visual arts will provide VIU students a direct focus on a wide range of art courses as well as the unique opportunity to complete their degree on Vancouver Island.

VIU’s Visual Arts department has been approved to list the major as the second institution in the province, the first being the University of Fraser Valley.

“It’s really exciting,” professor Gregory Ball says. “We are gearing up for implementation in September 2014.”

Ball says there will be new studio courses such as advanced printmaking, art career courses, and First Nations art history class, with the possibility of bringing in a First Nations art instructor.

“There are some really interesting ideas and opportunities,” professor Justin McGrail says. “It’s going to push our current faculty to work very hard with different new courses, and it will also push our students. There is the sense of achievement that we’ve got it, but now the hard work start. I am very proud of the department for making it happen.”

Ball says students were in tears and jumping up and down with happiness when they learned about the news. He explains that now most of them don’t have to transfer to other art schools to complete their degree.

“It’s great for us as a faculty because we can continue to connect with them in a more focused and concentrated way for the full four years,” he says. “It is beneficial not only for us as faculty, but across campus, having those talented students stay longer in the community of Nanaimo. There will be huge advantages. When I teach students that are here for the two years and they transfer off, we miss them. We wanted them to stay here. Now they can.”

Jennifer Scott, a third-year art student, says she is very excited to be able to finish her degree in Nanaimo. She completed her two-year diploma three years ago and has been waiting for the major.

“There are a lot of students that go elsewhere to do it, but I don’t want to leave Nanaimo,” she says, and adds that she didn’t mind waiting.

“I do not need [the degree] for work right now, so it was not stopping me or pressing me, but it is something I wanted to have and get without having to travel.”

Although Sophie Morgan, a second-year student, has applied to Emily Carr for next year, she now considers the possibility of finishing her degree at VIU as well.

“I don’t know if I’m in yet, so this would be a great back-up plan,” she says.

The department will still offer a BA minor, retaining the four-year Minor structure and building on that to implement the major. Now the students have the option of declaring a visual arts major and have a minor in different programs.
Morgan says that, when applying to VIU, she felt a pressure to choose a major and do arts on the side.

“I think a lot of people would benefit from having a major in just visual arts because it’s pretty popular to be in,” she says.

Ball says the major will allow students to concentrate more fully on studio classes, but also add breadth and depth in taking other academic courses.

Morgan, for example, plans to specialize in digital illustration but wants to continue in traditional art techniques like print making, drawing, and painting.

“A lot of people want to experience the whole spectrum of art, and a major will be a good way to do that. They’ll be able to take more classes in more areas.”

The Visual Arts department has been applying for the major since 2006, but their application was turned down to the disappointment of both the faculty and students. According to Ball, new hope came with the new dean, Ross McKay, who decided to review the documentation and generate interest of the government with a new application.

“With his enthusiasm and our feelings and thoughts about progressing, we started going forward again,” he says, adding that it brought a lot of extra work for all faculty members, especially the proponent Jane Cole, chair Pamela Speight, and provost David Witty.

The application was also submitted at the same time the department was going through a program review where both VIU arts students in the program and external candidates were interviewed about their perspective about the program.

“It was really valuable for us, because these opinions allowed us to build and develop the major,” Ball says.

It was approved just in time for the faculty to announce the news and make arrangements with the bureaucratic side of the program.
Advising and faculty now have to make sure the students that are presently in the program will understand what credits and courses they have to take in order to complete the major.

“It will be generally just clarification,” Ball says. “For beginning students, it will be a clear and easy path.”

Ball notes the approval of the major may reflect a shift in focus of VIU’s upper administration. He says the Visual Arts department seems to be gaining more attention and support despite the cutbacks in the past.

“I think they realized that arts and humanities are very viable and important,” he says. “Everyone keeps talking about the economic downturn and this kind of stuff, but, honestly, nothing is stable. You can be downsized whether you are a business accountant, an engineer, or an architect. So that idea of arts as a viable career is there for our students. And I think the administration recognizes that.

“I hope there will be more art-based things going on in town like they do in Victoria,” Scott says.

McGrail believes the major, will bring the potential for more art activity, and that student spending all four years in Nanaimo will benefit the whole town.

“What I’d love to see is more informal exhibition space,” he says. “Over the years I’ve been here, students have rented out store fronts and had shows, and I hope to see more of that—student-led activity. I think that would be really good for Nanaimo. The more artists, the better.”

“We are proud to have this major, and we can stand tall,” Ball says. “There are so many positive things we do in the department, and I think this will provide a further context, networking, and link to the cultural community in Nanaimo, like the Nanaimo Arts Council, and the Nanaimo Art Gallery. These are all friends and links we have that we can build on further.”

For more information on the BA major in visual arts, visit