VISUAL ART SURROUNDS US. From paintings, murals and statues that are traditionally associated with the artform to less obvious examples like clothing, product and website design, visual art plays a critical role within society.
“Although innovative technology often grabs the headlines, the arts not only shape how we see the world, but they’re fundamental to how we learn about it,” explains Myron Campbell, an instructor in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS).
“We live in a very visual world, so being an artist is an asset.”
Since joining UBC Okanagan in 2014, Campbell has worked hard to inspire the next generation of visual artists in the Okanagan Valley — and beyond — through hands-on work in both the classroom and the community. A strong believer in promoting young and emerging artists, Campbell and his teaching colleagues in FCCS have connected numerous students to local businesses and arts organizations, finding eager partners who have embraced the up-and-coming creatives.
“UBCO visual artists have become important contributors to the local community and culture, and have helped develop and build many of the brands the Okanagan Valley holds near and dear,” explains Campbell.
His connections to the community have led to an impressive track record of UBCO alumni going on to jobs and careers in creative and visual arts-related fields.
“There’s a need for products and designs in our community,” he adds. “For graduating Bachelor of Fine Arts students who are looking to get involved, there’s work in this area for people who want to have an impact.”
Craft brewing is big business in British Columbia, accounting for 30 per cent of the province’s beer market and generating $303 million in revenues in 2019. While the industry first started to boom in Vancouver around 2012, it wasn’t long before independent breweries began popping up outside of the Lower Mainland.
During those early days in Kelowna, Campbell formed a strong design partnership with BNA Brewing, creating branding and labels for the brewhouse, including the BNA Bowl logo for their in-house bowling alley.
“Working with students and other young and creative people in our community has been an excellent way for us to bring in unique perspectives, and it provides an opportunity to learn from each other,” explains Jill Jarrett, marketing director of BNA Brewing in Kelowna. “We’re passionate about using our platform to allow others do what they do best, and supporting those who support us.”
Campbell’s long-standing design relationship with BNA has led to new opportunities within Kelowna’s bubbling brewing scene. As the number of breweries jumped from just three in 2016 to now more than 10, so did creative partnerships for Campbell’s students.
“The brewing community has become a place for people to connect, but it’s also become a platform that promotes and benefits from young and emerging artists,” explains Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) alumnus Ben Arcega, who forged a creative partnership with Kettle River Brewing.
After graduating in 2017, Arcega found it difficult to find creative inspiration; his graduation year took a lot out of him. “I went through a period of not making anything I was proud of. I had to find a way to be self-motivated.”
Campbell knew Kettle River Brewing was looking for an artist to paint an outdoor mural and curate a rotation of art within the brewery, so he introduced the owners to Arcega.
“We wanted to offer more than just a place to drink for our customers,” explains Chris Dedinsky, co-owner of Kettle River Brewing, adding that the company chose to work with local artists as a means of building community.
“There’s a ton of great Kelowna talent that just needs space to be seen. We’ve been very fortunate to show some amazing work in many different mediums,” Dedinsky says. “Being able to provide a space for working artists is something we as business owners find a great amount of satisfaction in.
“There are few things we enjoy more than having a beer while enjoying a new collection of work on our walls.”
Arcega’s imposing and striking mural now adorns the outside of the brewery and his visual instincts are expressed within the space.
“Curating the art at Kettle River has become a solid way for me to interact with the community and bring in new artists. It’s been a hub for my creative work.”
Arcega has also painted a mural on the back of BNA Brewing’s building, plus designed a label for Vice & Virtue Brewing Company.
“My success is all due to Myron’s faith in me, and giving me the first opportunity to work on the mural project for Kettle River,” says Arcega.” I’m grateful to Myron for getting this ball rolling.”
Ensuring there is space in the local community to showcase student work is a priority for Campbell. In addition to running the Student Okanagan Film Festival every year, he also works closely with the Kelowna Art Gallery.
The first exhibition Campbell organized at the gallery involving his students was a 2017 digital media work entitled, Monitor. The group video installation examined issues of internet surveillance, a topic his students started exploring in 2015 after Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act was amended to broaden the authority of government agencies to share information about individuals.
“The students created work that explored online identity, private/public data and the dark web through a series of video works which provoked viewers to consider the vulnerability of their data online,” explains Campbell.
“As an artist, putting your ideas out there for others to see, interpret and consider is so important, because it might change how someone thinks about the world around them.”
“It’s all part of teaching them not only how to make art, but why they should make it,” Campbell says. “As an artist, putting your ideas out there for others to see, interpret and consider is so important, because it might change how someone thinks about the world around them.
“It might be as simple as refocusing our attention on the hidden beauty of everyday life, or it could prompt the viewer to think about their social or political views in a new or different way.”
While FCCS students are taught basic art skills, special focus is placed on helping them develop and apply those skills in individual, creative and meaningful ways after graduation.
“Studying art helps sharpen a variety of skills,” explains Campbell. “Take, for instance, the ability to take constructive criticism, which artists face a lot. It’s hard, but learning that skill prepares students to open their minds to a wide scope of ideas and points of view.
“Being able to look introspectively into what you are producing and having the ability to see what you’re doing from other perspectives translates into other parts of life.”
Campbell says staging exhibitions during undergraduate studies provides students with hands-on learning experiences while exposing their work.
Students interested in gaining curating skills have similar practical learning opportunities through projects like Intermission at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art. The series showcases rising artists between regular gallery programming.
Through exhibitions like Intermission: Young 2016, students learn how to curate, install and market a full-scale art show from start to finish, while the UBCO Visual Arts Course Union acts as a liaison between students and the vibrant Okanagan community.
A fourth-year practicum course in the visual arts program also allows students to establish relationships with galleries in the region.
Students like Arcega, who worked at the Alternator Centre through a practicum, are able to hone their skills through hands-on experience. They learn first-hand how a gallery operates, including running exhibitions and events, handling administrative work and managing a non-profit business.
“It gave me the time and guidance to develop my skills as a painter and illustrator and the confidence to take on freelance work and new clients,” says Arcega. “It allowed me to develop a strong portfolio of work that I’m proud of. And it connected me with many other talented artists that I remain in contact with.”
During the practicum, students also help stage FCCS’ annual arts fundraiser called Art on the Line, which features works from alumni and the local artist community. Following the practicum, many graduates find permanent work at galleries.
“With the connections these students make while at university, the skills they learn and experiences they have while studying, there are so many possibilities for students in the job market,” Campbell says.
Alumna Ashleigh Green found her niche in illustration during her time in UBCO’s BFA program.
“I love using bright and clean pastel palettes to create minimalist drawings of everyday objects and characters,” explains Green, whose elegant and simple design style lends itself well to typography, logo and publication design, photo collages, and magazine and cookbook layouts.
At UBCO, Green collaborated with different artists over the years to produce works with purpose, including three books she illustrated while working as a visual artist/research assistant for Associate Professor Nancy Holmes’ Dig Your Neighbourhood: Rutland project.
Working with a class of undergraduate writers, Green created and published a range of printed books and other creative materials.
“It was unlike any visual arts course offered in the fine arts department; it provided such an insight into the publishing world, and there was a wonderful collaboration between different types of creative work,” Green explains.
After graduating in 2014, Green quickly began travelling the world and taking part in artist residencies, which provide living and studio space and dedicated time for artists to work on their practice. Following a one-month residency in New York, a six-month residency in Iceland and travels around Europe, Green returned home to Kelowna to launch a career in freelance graphic design.
“I really like having a few projects that I can jump between. It’s nice to switch gears when I’m stuck on one aspect of a project.”
Green says community relationship-building and word-of-mouth are critical for her growing freelance business. “Often times I’ll get new clients by sharing personal work or other client work online. Most people find me through Instagram or Dribbble, or they see my previous client work.”
That’s how Okanagan Lifestyle — a popular Kelowna-based apparel brand — found her. After seeing Green’s design for a beer can label — which was made into wallpaper at Vice & Virtue Brewing — Okanagan Lifestyle reached out and asked her to design some custom graphics for their clothing line.
“We ended up collaborating on three t-shirt designs together and it’s been a blast!” notes Green, who also developed some more logo designs for the company’s 2020 spring and summer collections.
Looking back on her career, Green credits her undergraduate studies for pushing her outside of her comfort zone.
“UBCO has allowed me to experiment with different mediums, collaborate with others and think more critically about design. It set me on the path to becoming the freelance graphic artist I am today.”