New apprenticeship program will boost local arts community

Emily Carr University’s network gives students real-world experience in cultural sector

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      (This story is sponsored by Emily Carr University.)

      From sculptors and ceramicists to animators and digital-media creatives, Vancouver is home to a thriving, vast arts community. Among emerging artists, the ideas coming out of Emily Carr University of Art + Design are daring and diverse. And yet while up-and-coming artists bring forth all sorts of projects that open people’s eyes and minds, they don’t always have the opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience in the daily operation of studios, galleries, and production spaces. Even rarer is being paid for that kind of work.

      An exciting new initiative is about to change that.

      It’s called the Art Apprenticeship Network, and it’s run by ECU’s Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship, which helps artists incorporate practical and logistical skills into their design practices. Born out of a gift from the RBC Foundation, the three-year initiative will see 14 students per year placed as paid assistants with local working artists, curators, and cultural-sector professionals .

      With a juried selection process currently underway for mentors interested in participating, emerging artists will soon be able to apply for part-time apprenticeship positions totalling about 150 hours. Students will be paid by the university, and there’s no cost to established artists seeking assistance with a well-defined project.

      The first program of its kind in B.C., the Art Apprenticeship Network is a game-changer, a win-win for experienced artists and the next generation of makers and creators alike.

      “We have this amazing ecosystem locally and regionally with established artists, and up until now there hasn’t been a systematized approach to linking them with emerging artists as apprentices,” says Kate Armstrong, director of ECU’s Living Labs, which developed and now operates the Shumka Centre. “Those established artists who are working in studios might not have the funds to support having a student come in and work with them.

      “We’re building capacity on both sides, so that established artists can build their own production capacity while transferring intergenerational knowledge – knowledge that students can’t get in a classroom, things like how to run a studio, how to archive and document, how to work with curators and dealers: the day-to-day of how to be a professional artist,” Armstrong says. “We’re giving students lived context of more established artists so they can learn.”

      Students might glean insight into how to approach about public artwork commissions or effective ways to handle marketing and communications. They may be involved in fabrication, production flows, or festivals. The possibilities are endless.

      The program will do more than benefit individual participants. It will also positively impact the greater local arts community as a whole, strengthening connections within it. Collaboration and dialogue could have a range of spinoff effects, such as the rise of new exhibitions, venues, employment opportunities or innovations in practices and processes.

      “Keeping our community connected leads to great things,” says Shannon McKinnon, director of ECU’s Career Development + Work Integrated Learning , which connects students and alumni with local and international creative-industry employers. “Being an artist’s assistant really helps kickstart a lot of careers, with that support helping people move forward in the arts. It’s incredible for our community, bringing new life into it while supporting other artists’ practice and their projects. I see real fertility coming from this.

      “I believe in social change through art,” she adds. “Anything that builds up our arts community in Vancouver is good for our society.”

      The Art Apprenticeship Network is just one ECU initiative that helps students learn to develop business skills and turn their talent and creativity into a viable profession.

      Skill Up! is another. Presented in partnership with Career Development + Work Integrated Learning, the lunchtime sessions cover topics like how to price artwork, self-publish, and apply for grad school.

      Then there’s the wildly popular annual Student Art Sale. Taking place November 29 to December 1 and open to the public, this year’s event will feature photographs, prints, wearable works, prints, and more by nearly 200 students. (It all happens on campus at ECU’s Michael O'Brian Exhibition Commons [520 East 1st Avenue].)

      The legendary sale is largely student-run, giving up-and-comers hands-on experience with things like selling work and managing a large-scale event, which last year drew 4,000 people.

      Other initiatives geared to helping grads step into their careers with their best foot forward take place year-round out of ECU’s Career Development + Work Integrated Learning Office. Professional-development opportunities include the upcoming Industry Day, a networking event to put students in touch with leadership from companies such as Microsoft, Google, EA, and Sony Pictures Imageworks. Design students are also treated to panels from industry leaders, who speak to the inner workings of their companies and professional practices, give advice, and review the portfolios of ECU students.

      Similar programs exist for visual arts students as well, including Crit Night, which brings a suite of curators to campus from artist-run, commercial and public galleries to critique student work and offer guidance on how to develop a professional practice. Last year’s curators included Equinox Gallery director Sophie Brodovitch, Access Gallery director/curator Katie Belcher, Vancouver Art Gallery associate curator Stephanie Rebick, and Or Gallery director/curator Denise Ryner.

      For more information about the Art Apprenticeship Network and other ECU programs, visit