Outside of 600 Cumberland St.
600 Cumberland St. is home to the virtual arts department at the University of Ottawa, and Gallery 115. Bardia Boomer/Fulcrum
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The visual arts department at the University of Ottawa is bigger than ever this year, in more ways than one

The Fulcrum spoke with three visual arts professors from the University of Ottawa about their experiences teaching art both online and in person.

According to Jennifer Macklem, who has been a professor at the University for 14 years, “registration and enrolment are up a lot, there seems to be a lot of interest in visual art.” The department saw a higher number of first-year students than in recent years, as well as a growing graduate program.

Macklem said one challenge the department faced during the COVID-19 pandemic was that they “had to get really creative and inventive” in delivering their courses. The “scale of the work changed a lot, especially for the undergrads.”

David McDougall, a part-time professor in sculpture and a full-time technician in the department, mirrored Macklem’s sentiment. As a department, they tried to “make the transition as seamless as possible,” with kits being packaged and sent to visual arts students to allow them to complete their work at home.

McDougall, who has been teaching courses since 2008, had seen that the department was going in the direction of using more technology in the process of creating art. Having to transition to virtual learning “reaffirmed the value of having fluency in digital technologies.”

That isn’t to say the transition went seamlessly. Jinny Yu is a painter with more than 20 years of experience and has been teaching at the U of O for 16 years. This year, Yu is teaching first- and fourth-year painting courses. She said in recent years teaching these subjects has been difficult, because colour doesn’t always translate well through a webcam.

“Just in my case, in terms of painting, you have to see the colours. And the colours that come through the student’s camera in bits and that get conveyed on my screen are not the same colour as what it will be on the painting.”

To adapt to virtual learning, Yu modified her courses to avoid colour-specific projects and instead had her students focus on composition. Being back in the classroom will allow Yu and her students to look at the same painting together.

In Yu’s classes, both first- and fourth-year students get the opportunity to paint during class and get individual feedback, allowing for lots of “one-to-one learning.”

All three professors also pointed out how resilient students were during the pandemic.

Macklem said she herself feels “more attuned to the emotional needs of the students” after returning to the classroom. Students and professors alike seem to be happy to be back in the classroom, and excited to be creating art in a space dedicated to it.

Yu, Macklem, and McDougall each took the time to mention Gallery 115, a gallery dedicated to student exhibits on campus.

For those who are interested, Gallery 115 is set to open an exhibit of work by first-year graduate students called Fragmented Collections on Oct. 3. The gallery is located at 600 Cumberland St., on the U of O campus.

There is also an upcoming Stonecroft lecture on Oct. 6. This year, Stan Douglas is the artist who will be speaking at the lecture.