What better way to learn about making a career as an artist than by asking those who have done it?
More than 35 graduates from York University’s programs in dance, design, digital media, film, music, theatre and visual art/art history returned to the Keele campus Oct. 20 for Connect/Reconnect, the Faculty of Fine Arts’ fourth annual student-alumni networking event. Current undergrads turned out to meet successful alumni in their field of study and engage in conversations about creating community and careers in arts and culture.
Participating alumni included Katherine Monteith (BDes ’07), a senior consultant for strategy and brand engagement with the international brand consultancy Interbrand; soprano Michelle Danese (BFA ’07) of the internationally touring opera-crossover ensemble Naria; mobile game app developer Joshua Freeman (BA ’12); theatre maker Ins Choi (BFA ’98) whose debut play Kim’s Convenience took Toronto by storm last season; indie dance artist and arts policy blogger Shannon Litzenberger (MA ’05); filmmaker and Canova Media founder Brent Martin (BFA ’07), an award-winning graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles; and photo artist and educator Rafael Goldchain (MFA ’00), who has exhibited his work across North and South America and in Europe.
Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young welcomed the alumni at a luncheon on stage in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre to kick off the day’s events.
“Thank you so much for making yourselves available to the students following in your footsteps,” Sellers-Young said. “Over the past year, I’ve met with your fellow alumni in Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Those conversations, and this gathering, demonstrate yet again how York’s Faculty of Fine Art has a strong reputation for excellence not just locally and nationally, but also globally. Thank you for your contributions to our international community of arts scholars and practitioners, and to the next generation of York artists poised to step on to the world stage.”
After lunch, the alumni guests, ranging from established artists to new graduates, joined Q & A sessions with students in their discipline. Over the next two hours, they shared stories about their professional paths and formative experiences, and tips for success. Students were encouraged to relate their own experiences and ask specific questions about what to consider for their future careers.
In music, there was an animated discussion of the famed quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca, who said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” In film, grads talked about how their student productions were a foundation for their careers, and that in many ways their professional work continues in the similar vein, though with larger budgets, tighter timelines and more complex challenges. In all the sessions, students gained insight and inspiration from their predecessors in the programs.
Second-year design student Chris Coulthard found the discussions “invaluable and uplifting”.
“A lot of students, including myself, get anxious thinking about careers after graduation, so it was good to hear about all the opportunities and directions I could pursue,” he said. “I always knew design was an extremely diverse field, but it
never really clicked until I was able to talk about it openly and get a real idea of the paths I could take.”
Following the panels, alumni and students reconvened in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall for a keynote talk featuring art history graduate Srimoyee Mitra (BA ’04, MA ’08), curator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Windsor, in conversation with Sellers-Young.
Mitra shared the story of her cross-continental educational journey that took her from her native India to York’s Glendon campus, where she studied drama and international studies, followed by her return to India, where she volunteered, worked in the theatre community and freelanced as an arts reporter, eventually becoming the visual arts critic for Time Out Bombay. Then she decided to come back to Canada and York to pursue a new course.
“As much as I enjoyed the writing and the connections I was making with artists and galleries, I eventually felt I’d reached a plateau in both my theatre practice and my writing,” Mitra said. “I was thinking about my interest in art in various international contexts and making links to expose audiences to different perspectives and to promote global understanding. I thought I might have something to offer the art community as a curator.
“Taking time off from school to work helped me focus and come back with a stronger idea of what I wanted to gain from further education, even if I wasn’t yet certain where I wanted to end up,” said Mitra.
Among other things, her graduate studies in art history at York gave her a deeper understanding of the western art canon, though she continued pursuing ways to talk about Indian art. Many people encouraged her to connect with the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC), which initially annoyed her.
“I challenged and resented the SAVAC suggestion, as I saw it as a limiting, narrow context for Indian art,” said Mitra. “But I did end up doing my internship there, and I loved it. After graduation, SAVAC hired me as a project coordinator. It was a great transition from academia to professional work that I felt deeply invested in.”
Mitra talked about several exhibitions she has been involved in, including the popular Alley Jaunt, where artists took over garages in the lanes around Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park, and Changing Stakes: Contemporary Art Dialogues with Dubai, a show she curated for Mercer Union, which she described as an artistic exploration of a city’s development “on steroids”. In India, this kind of rapid growth is admired, she said, whereas western culture sees it as excessive and unsustainable.
“The world today is so connected, but somehow this hasn’t necessarily developed our understanding of each other,” Mitra said. “I’m not trying to change the conversations we’re having, but I hope my curatorial practice adds to the dialogue.”
After the keynote, students had the chance to connect once again with the alumni and each other at an informal “meet and mingle” tapas reception, enlivened by a jazz trio from the Department of Music.
“Connect/Reconnect was a great opportunity to meet and network with grads who have created unique career paths that incorporate their passion,” said fourth-year music student Amanda Ault. “It gave me ideas for career directions and professional development that I can incorporate into my own plans for when I graduate.”