The art of saving a program

What does the future look like for Queen’s Bachelors of Fine Arts?

In November of 2011, admissions to the fine art program were suspended, meaning they wouldn’t be accepting students for the 2012-13 school year.
Credit: 
Vincent Lin

After a close brush with program closure, the Queen’s Fine Art program can be remembered as the program that just wouldn’t die.

Queen’s Fine Art program focuses on painting, printmaking and sculpture/installation. Its “small class sizes and professor-to-student ratios” are what gives the unique faculty “an interactive learning environment”, according to its website.  

While its cheerful description hints at its problems, it doesn’t tell the whole story of a program that has had to struggle for existence at Queen’s. 

In November of 2011, admissions to the program were suspended, meaning they wouldn’t be accepting students for the 2012-13 school year. The decision was due to budget constraints in the Faculty of Arts and Science. According to Alistair MacLean, the dean of Arts and Science at the time, Fine Arts was one of the most expensive programs at Queen’s. 

Following the suspension, the AMS created a committee to investigate the University’s decision and work to restore enrollment for the program. At the same time, many students in the program protested what seemed to be the beginning of the end for Fine Arts at Queen’s.  

On Dec. 2, 2011, 20 Fine Art students gathered outside of Summerhill, standing in a formation that spelled out “BFA”.

“The goal of today was to bring people together in one moment, for one cause — to speak about art in society and using society to speak art,” Kaisa Moran, president of BFA’s student council told The Journal in a 2011 article.

“For a small program, we’re only 107 students with a few faculty members, they didn’t expect it to be a big deal — but it is,” Moran, BFA ’12, said of the Senate’s reaction towards outraged students.

Fine Arts students congregrate outside Robert Sutherland Hall to protest the program suspension. November, 2011. Journal File Photo. 

The Arts and Science Faculty Board also got involved, voting to reinstate admissions, to little effect. Students staked out Senate meetings, holding their artwork in protest. Months after the decision, Queen’s hired an independent lawyer to look into the decision, after Mark Jones, an English professor, brought a motion to Senate. 

Less than a year later, in June 2012, the program reopened admissions in the fall of 2013 due to the dedication shown by the students in the program.  

When Kelly Baskin found out admissions had been reopened, she began to cry she was so happy. 

Baskin is a current fourth-year BFA student, who will graduate this year. She enrolled as a student the year admissions reopened. 

Although she knew that the program was having difficulties, she was still set on coming to Queen’s. She originally came to visit knowing that the program had been suspended. 

“The interest in being in a school that has more than one disciplinary [is because] you can meet different people,” Baskin said, speaking to why she chose Queen’s over other art schools.  

Many other fine arts schools now focus on digital elements of art and the use of modern technologies, but Baskin appreciates that “the type of art produced and what we have access to resource-wise is very traditional.”

Habiba Esaad, BFA ’19, is another student who proudly chose Queen’s, even though she knew about the financial struggles that the Fine Art program was having. 

“I like the fact that all of our professors are also practicing artists,” Esaad said.  

Esaad explained that the studio spaces are big and the class sizes are small. Having a smaller program helps students to connect more easily with professors and practicing artists, thus opening more doors for future opportunities — two reasons that Esaad chose Queen’s over all the other art schools in Canada. 

“There are things that you wouldn’t really find at other schools. For instance, our print making workshop is one of the best in Canada,” Esaad said.  

Esaad has one concern with the program though — the excess fees students have to pay on top of tuition. Because the students do modules in intervals, they have to pay their fee every six weeks. On top of those two fees, they also have to pay for all their supplies. 

Overall, she explained that although the program still continues to struggle financially, the students make the best of it and continue to show dedication to both art and Queen’s itself. Both Esaad and Baskin say that the benefits outweigh the losses.

The reason Esaad and Baskin were able to become Queen’s Fine Arts graduates had a lot to do with what the program’s suspension led to.

In May 2012, a  subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Academic Development released a draft proposal outlining recommended procedures for the suspension of academic programs and ensuring that all possibilities are explored before the suspension of any academic program. 

This was just one month before the Fine Art program announced it would reopen admissions.

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner at the time, Isabelle Duchaine, commented that the document was the result of a previous lack of clearly-outlined procedures for the suspension of admissions.

“The complication that arose last year was that there was no clear indication of what that process was,” Duchaine, ArtSci ’13 told The Journal in 2012. 

The guidelines specifically addressed how to increase transparency and communication between deans and students, what Lauren Long, a member of the committee said “was a major problem during the suspension of the fine arts program in 2011.”

Whether the reactions of Fine Art students played into those guidelines or not, they’ve stood since, through the closing of other academic programs including the Theology program just last year. 

It might be a while though before the Fine Art program faces the same fate again. 

Students and members of Occupy Queen's protest outside a Senate meeting in support of the BFA program as Principal Woolf walks past. March 2012. Journal File Photo. 

“I think that the University Administration better recognizes our value since the suspension of admissions,” Fine Art Professor Rebecca Anweiler wrote to The Journal via email.

“Some of that has to do with the public outcry that happened, but lots also have to do with how this encouraged everyone at the University to think about what Fine Arts brings to the table that is unique, and even necessary, to an academic environment.” 

Although she has concerns with the program’s lack of funding, the University has become more supportive which she hopes “helps to redefine what’s important in the bigger picture, and how Visual Art contributes to that.”

“Here’s the future I choose to see: we find a home for our program with another creative art department that help us to broaden our program while recognizing the value of how we teach the in-depth medium development we teach already,” Anweiler said recently via email. 

The Fine Art program is continuing to accept applications for the BFA as well as for the BFA Continuing Education stream for 2017-18. 

Vicki Remenda, associate academic dean, explained that a program is only suspended to allow time for review if there is “lack of student demand and quality, market trends, government and other funding sources changes, or availability of qualified academic and support staff.” 

BFA students from the year the program was suspended. November 2011. Journal File Photo. 

The BFA program has an admission target of approximately 30 students per year and has consistently been close to that target for the last couple years, according to Remenda. 

As the program is fully operational now, it will continue to develop and aim to make changes to support its future. 

“The program has just received and is in the process of implementing the recommendations from its Cyclical Program Review, which did include recommendations to consider new courses offerings,” Remenda said.  

As much as the reason behind the program’s reopening came down to policy, without the dedication of it’s students and faculty standing up for their program, Ontario Hall might look very different today. 

Upon the reopening of admissions in 2012, Associate Dean of Arts and Science, Gordon Smith summed it up: “I think it’s important for people to understand the incredible amount of work that’s gone into this the past eight months, on the part of students, all the BFA faculty.”

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