The Faculty of Fine Arts recently hosted its second annual student-alumni networking event, focusing on creating a career as an artist in the 21st century. Connect/Reconnect brought more than 30 Fine Arts alumni from a broad spectrum of careers and experience back to campus recently to share stories, contacts and inspiration with current students.
Participating graduates included Ross Lynde (BFA Spec. Hons. ’00) of the acclaimed vocal quartet Cadence; Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo (MA ’99), who programs Canadian features for the Toronto International Film Festival; CBC Radio’s theatre reviewer Lynn Slotkin (BA Spec. Hons. ’73); sculptor Gareth Lichty (BFA Spec. Hons. ’04); choreographer and performer Andrea Nann (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘88), artistic director of Dreamwalker Dance Company; Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Djanet Sears (BFA Spec. Hons. ’99); and Suzanne Dimma (BFA Spec. Hons. ’89), editor-in-chief of Canadian House & Home and host of HGTV’s “The Style Dept”.
Right: Visual Arts alumnae Erin Elder, Suzanne Dimma and Leigh-Ann Pahapill
Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young and Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation, welcomed the alumni at a luncheon set on the stage in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre in the Accolade East Building.
“This is a celebration of your success and your generosity in sharing your experience and expertise with those who are following in your footsteps,” Sellers-Young said. “We hope this occasion reflects how much we value your contributions to the artistic dialogue inside and outside of Canada, and how proud we are of your accomplishments.”
“You’ve forged your own paths to success, and – as Milton Berle once said – when opportunity didn’t knock, you built a door,” said Marcus. “Thank you for serving as role models, helping our students shoot for the moon.”
After lunch, the alumni guests joined break-out groups for Q & A sessions with students from their discipline. The students had more than two hours to absorb words of wisdom and pick the minds of some very creative and successful individuals.
Right: From left, alumni Brad Wright, Christine Horne, Lyn Slotkin and Djanet Sears participate in the theatre panel discussion
“Much of our discussion centred around the importance of setting personal standards for excellence, creating and recognizing opportunities and the role of volunteerism in the development of artists and arts managers,” said Rudi Quammie Williams (BA Spec. Hons. ’96, MBA ‘98), director of culture for the City of Barrie.
Following the Q & As, the entire group came together in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall to watch You Can Get There From Here, a short film with interview clips of alumni talking about their career paths. The production was created for Connect/Reconnect by film student Kelsi Dewhurst and Career Development Coordinator Carolyn Steele from York’s Career Centre.
A highlight of the day was the keynote address featuring music alumnus Andrew Craig (BFA Spec. Hons. ’93) in conversation with Sellers-Young. Craig, a performer, composer, producer, music director and broadcaster who has worked with a who’s who of Canadian music, shared the story of his professional path and his life in music.
Left: Andrew Craig (centre) with the student band who accompanied the Connect Reconnect reception, Paul Crocker (keyboards), Chris Chekan (sax), Darnell Thomas (vocals) and Ben Young (bass)
Growing up in a home of music lovers but not musicians, his family never anticipated his career choice but was very supportive, Craig said. He got serious about studying music as a young teen at St. Michael’s Choir School. At York, he found a program that welcomed and reflected his eclectic musical tastes, ranging from the classical and choral repertoire he had discovered at the choir school to what he describes as “the soundtrack to my life”: the music of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Bob Marley and other artists in pop, funk, soul, jazz and R&B.
Craig was heavily involved in student life at York, including a leadership role in the Faculty of Fine Arts’ student government, the Creative Arts Student Association, which he credits with giving invaluable skills for his later professional life.
He described his transition to the world of work after graduation as “bumpy”. After a short stint as an entrepreneur in a film post-production business that failed (“a very educational experience”), he got a sales job at a music store while performing as a side-man after hours. His big break came in the form of a phone call inviting him to join the band of East Coast alternative rock sensation, Ashley MacIsaac. After touring internationally with MacIsaac for several years, Craig returned to Toronto, where he pursued – and created – a wealth of professional opportunities, ultimately leading to his current gig as associate producer and local host of CBC Radio’s national concert program “Canada Live”.
Craig concluded his talk by performing two original, short piano works, including a piece he improvised on the spot based on notes shouted out by the crowd.
|Above: Fine arts students Kelsi Dewhurst, Annandi Merhai, Valida Jafarov and Nicole Lee enjoy the reception|
Following his presentation, alumni and students had the opportunity to connect in a less formal way at a tapas reception in the CIBC Lobby.
Fourth-year film student Adam Clark, who is focusing his studies on sound design, described the whole experience as “amazing”.
Last summer Clark invested more than $15,000 in the state-of-the-art sound equipment he would need to be a freelance sound designer. After a few pro bono gigs, he snagged some impressive professional opportunities, including work as sound recordist on the indie thriller Battleground (a.k.a. Skeleton Lake) starring award-winning Scottish actor Bryan Larkin, plus several other feature films.
Left: Adam Clark
“Two of the film alumni mentioned they’re looking for new sound designers to collaborate on upcoming projects, and they took my business card,” Clark said. “Andrew Craig has also worked in sound design, and when I chatted with him he suggested we stay in touch and that I might be able to arrange a visit to CBC.”
“If you want to work in this industry, you will,” said alumnus Brad Wright (BA ‘84), a screenwriter best known for co-creating the hit sci-fi TV series “Stargate SG-1”, “Stargate Atlantis” and “Stargate Universe”. “You may have to take another job to pay the bills. You may not work at the level you want to right away. But the way I see it, the people who gave it up are the ones who never really began.”
Theatre student Tasha Stewart came away enthused about the alumni she met, and their message. “I attended Connect/Reconnect because I’m close to graduating and wanted to learn a little bit more about the ‘real world’,” she said. “I was incredibly impressed with the down-to-earth, candid nature of the comments of the participating alumni, who – despite having successful careers – seemed to remember what it was like to be an emerging artist. This, I think, enabled them to give very useful advice about establishing a career in the arts.”
Connect/Reconnect was organized by Lynda Tam, director of academic affairs and Tina Pietrangelo, administrative services coordinator in the Faculty’s Student & Academic Services division, with the help of a team of Fine Arts student ambassadors. The event was made possible with support from the York University Alumni Office, the Career Centre and the Creative Arts Student Association.